By Beth David, Editor
Candidates on the ballot for the April 3 election in Acushnet had a chance to face off at the annual candidates night on Monday, 3/20, at the Fairhaven Senior Center. Only two races are contested, and one of those four candidates did not show up, so the only excitement came during the Selectboard portion of the program.
Incumbent Garry Rawcliffe faces challenger Roger Cabral for the Selectboard.
Mr. Cabral said he was prompted to get into the race after what he called a lack of leadership and indecisiveness surrounding the proposed expansion of the liquefied natural gas facility on Peckham Road.
Mr. Rawcliffe told voters that he really enjoyed his time on the board and looked forward to working on some issues he anticipated coming up in the next three years.
He said during his time on the board the town hired a new Town Administrator; got the public works department running more smoothly; started renovations of the Parting Ways building and saved the town a lot of money on other projects.
He said he was proud of his resistance to the original $5.2 million library building, and called the resulting renovation of the old community center into a library for $900,000 a model for other town building projects.
The town has also made progress with street and sidewalk work, including Leonard Street,
Mr. Rawcliffe said in the next few years the town will be hiring a new police chief, will renegotiate a long term water contract with the city of New Bedford, the Comcast contract, and explore regionalizing the school district with Fairhaven.
“I truly enjoy what I’m doing,” said Mr. Rawcliffe, adding he tries to help everyone. “You can’t please all the people all the time.”
Mr. Cabral said he became involved in town events almost as soon as he arrived 22 years ago, starting with the Parent-Teacher Organization. Although he admitted that it is the type of organization that makes you president if you just show up to three meetings in a row.
To bolster the PTO resume, he cited his 12 years on the Finance Committee, four as chair, saying it taught him about the town, all the departments, and how the town’s finances work.
During his time on the Acushnet School Building Committee he said he watched every single penny, and would do the same as a Selectboard member.
“I accept responsibility, I make decisions, I manage priorities, and I get things done,” said Mr. Cabral. “I treat the people that I work with respectfully and I’m a team player.”
He said the catalyst for his run was the LNG proposal, but it was not the only reason and that he had a lot to offer in other areas.
He slammed Mr. Rawcliffe’s refusal to take a stand on the LNG proposal, despite clear public opposition to it.
“Mr. Rawcliffe, be for it, or be against it. Lead, follow or get out of the way,” said Mr. Cabral.
He also slammed the board for taking so long to replace the town administrator, and noted that two key financial positions became vacant under their watch.
“We live in a great town and our leadership should represent the will of the people,” said Mr. Cabral. “You may not always agree with the decisions that I will make on your behalf, but you will never regret that you voted for me. I repeat, you will never regret that you voted for me.”
For his part, Mr. Rawcliffe noted that the search for the TA did not begin in earnest until he became the chairperson of the board. He said the town had an interim TA for awhile because the board did not want to hire “the first guy” for the job.
In response to a question, Mr. Cabral said the town’s biggest challenge was living within its means. He said town departments have consistently been expected to cut, year after year.
“How often can you do that,” he said. “So taking the money given to us and providing [residents] the services they need within the constraints of the budget is clearly the biggest challenge.”
Both candidates were asked how to broaden the tax base and about the possibility of creating an industrial park.
Mr. Cabral said it would not be easy in a town like Acushnet to increased the tax base. He said that maybe they do not want to because adding too much commercial or industrial property would change the rural character of the town.
“I love the rural nature of this community,” said Mr. Cabral, adding that preserving that and still providing the services of a good school system, good roads, police, fire and Council on Aging, require the higher tax rate. “We choose to do those things. We pay for it with our taxes.”
Mr. Rawcliffe said there was a plan for the industrial park to be just down the street, but it got voted down. He agreed that growing the tax base was tricky. If you add industry, you change the town, if you add houses, you are adding a need for more services, including possibly school-age children.
Joyce Reynolds, a member of the Historical Commission, asked both candidates about preserving historic buildings in town.
“I love the history of the town,” said Mr. Cabral. “I love the old buildings.”
He said when he first heard about saving the Perry Hill Church, he was skeptical, but after hearing the presentation at Town Meeting, about preserving the town the way it was, about how the building showed what Acushnet used to be, he thought, how could the town not preserve it?
“These are our treasures and we have to preserve them,” said Mr. Cabral. “We have to find a way to preserve them.”
Residents, however, “need to understand that it costs. It costs for us to do that.”
He said more people should go to town meeting to vote on those issues. The reverse 911 should be used for town meeting reminders, he said, and took another shot at the current board saying that the system was used to announced that it was cold in January, but not for town meeting.
Mr. Rawcliffe took his shots back one by one, starting with the reverse 911 system. He said they used to pay for each use of it, but now the town had the unlimited plan so they could use it more often.
He said they might even get “inundated.”
“Don’t blame me for that,” retorted Mr. Cabral. “It will be cold in January next year, too.”
As for the Perry Hill Church, Mr. Rawcliffe had quite the different take on the situation. He directly challenged the historical commission, saying they refused to use the town’s in-house workers.
He said he knew all along it would be a “bottomless pit of money.”
He said estimates were too high for all work, including $55,000 for the roof, the high sheetrock estimates, and then the windows that need to be de-leaded.
“We tried to get you to use our kids….and you refused to let us help you,” said Mr. Rawcliffe, adding that Scott Alexander had gotten certified to de-lead the windows and could do it for a fraction of the $1900 that a company in Rochester quoted.
“I’m done with the Perry Hill Church,” said Mr. Rawcliffe. “And if that’s what swings the vote, God bless ya.”
A resident asked why PJ Keating (formerly Tilcon) was not charged a tipping fee, or a tax based on the amount of material it excavates from its quarry.
Mr. Rawcliffe said the board is going to take a look at that possibility, but he said the company would then be appraised at a lower rate, so it may not be better for the town.
Mr. Cabral said knows there are issues there with noise and dust. How deep do you dig that thing, he asked.
“If we can get revenue out of them beore they reach China I think we should,” said Mr. Cabral.
For the other contested race, the Acushnet Housing Authority, only incumbent Lawrence Mulvey faced voters. Robert Lanzoni, a former School Committee member, did show up.
A committee member for 15 years, Mr. Mulvey, who is in his 80s, said this would be his “last hurrah.”
John Howcroft asked if the town would be adding senior housing.
Mr. Mulvey said that the AHA owned property adjacent to its current units that had the old septic system on it. He said now that the development has sewerage they can use the property for more housing, but it has to be voted on by Town Meeting. He agreed the units are necessary. There is a three-year waiting list to get into Acushnet housing he said.
Lori Walsh asked about two tenants who are being evicted for, she said, no reason. She asked why the board is not protecting residents.
Mr. Mulvey said there were two residents who were caught by security cameras “doing bad things to cars” and the community center, and they were getting evicted.
Ms. Walsh, however, said there was no reason to evict the people she was talking about.
Either they were talking about two different sets of people, or someone had the wrong information.
Of the unopposed candidates, only Pam Labonte, incumbent Town Clerk, gave a statement. She told voters she had mixed feelings about running unopposed. She was happy about it for herself, but said it “disturbs” her because she like the democratic process.
In nine years on the job, she has loved “almost every minute,” she said.
“I’m so passionate about the office,” said Ms. Labonte, and told voters about her efforts to preserve documents, comply with new open records law regulations, and keep all town employees up to date on ethics rules and regulations.
“I love this post,” she said.
In other races, the position of Town Moderator has no one on the ballot, since long time moderator Bob Francis has decided not to run again. Officials said Mr. Francis has agreed to run a write-in campaign, but others are encouraged to contact the town clerk’s office and find out how to run.
The Housing Authority also has an unexpired term with no candidate, and the Planning Commission will also have an empty slot on the ballot.
To learn how to run as a write-in candidate, contact the Acushnet Town Clerk’s Office at 508-998-0215.
The candidates night is being run on Cable Access channel 18 and is available on demand through a link on the town’s website at www.Acushnet.ma.us
The election is Monday, 4/3.
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