By Mary Macedo, Neighb News Correspondent
On Wednesday, 3/1, candidates running for office in Fairhaven had a chance to get their messages to the public at the candidates night held at the Fairhaven Senior Center. The event was sponsored by and recorded by Cable Access Channel 18. It will run “all day and all night,” until election day on April 3. There are no contested races on the ballot.
Fairhaven Town Moderator Mark Sylvia moderated the event. Each candidate gave an opening statement followed by one question from each of three panelists: Beth David, editor of the Fairhaven Neighborhood News, Taylor Cormier from WBSM, and Christopher McCarthy from WBSM.
Charles Murphy, running for re-election to the Selectboard thanked the voters for allowing him to serve on the board. He said he was honored to work with the other two Selectboard members.
“The glue that holds this town together is teamwork,” Mr. Murphy said.
He added that he has a true love for Fairhaven and would love to continue to serve such a unique, strong, and caring community.
Ms. David questioned Mr. Murphy on the recent political discourse in our country in regards many members of the public no longer feeling that the government has their back. She asked if he felt it was important for local governments to make people of all faiths feel valued and how he could facilitate that as a Selectboard member.
“Everyone matters,” Mr. Murphy said.
He explained that the Selectboard, must listen to what residents want and understand their feelings about certain issues. He said residents and elected officials must work together.
Mr. Cormier asked about the Selectboard’s role with the environment, specifically related to the PCB cleanup in the harbor.
Mr. Murphy explained that the needs and issues within the environment need to be discussed with He Mr. Murphy said that the EPA was invited to meet with residents. The Selectboard cannot stop the EPA, he said, but they can inform the public and keep them up to date.
School Committee incumbent Pamela Kuechler thanked the public for allowing her to serve for the past nine years. She said that in that time, she has learned a lot of lessons.
“No matter how far we come, there is still more to improve on,” Ms. Kuechler said, adding that she would love to continue to serve because continuous improvement is the method of the School Committee.
Ms. Kuechler also said that in the last few years the SC has worked together with the public to improve a education in Fairhaven. In the past few years students have been awarded over three million dollars in scholarships, film students have won National Student Emmys for their film work, they have more school to career offerings, greater collaboration among all the schools, as well as after school programs such as Soul Sister, Band of Brothers, Knitting and Lego Clubs.
Ms. Kuechler said that none of it would have been possible without the huge support the SC receives from the community.
Ms. David asked Ms. Kuechler if she supports school vouchers, charters, or other privatization efforts that will be undoubtedly supported by the federal government with the appointment of Betsy DeVos as US Education Secretary.
Ms. David asked where Ms. Kuechler stands on the issue, especially given the fact that Fairhaven residents strongly opposed charter schools in the last election.
Ms. Kuechler responded by saying it is a “tough juncture.”
“I’ve worked nine years in this job because I believe public education is effective,” Ms. Kuechler said, adding that the residents of Fairhaven seem to like how the public schools are working now.
“I would like to continue on the path that we are on,’ Ms Kuechler said. “I would like the system to stay the way it is now.”
When SC member Brian Monroe was asked the same question, he said he did not support school vouchers or charter schools.
“You have to fix what you have and fix what is broken,” Mr. Monroe said.
He explained that lot of public school issues have to do with funding. He said that creating a charter school would not help public schools with funding to improve the school; it would only hurt the public schools more.
Funding that public schools receive depends on a lot of factors such as population and performance, he said. With the little money that Fairhaven Public Schools receives they have accomplished a lot.
“This year we are hopeful our funding will improve,” Mr. Monroe said.
Mr. Cormier asked Ms Kuechler about issues regarding transgender students. He asked if there have been any issues in the schools and if there are any future plans regarding transgender students.
“Inclusion of all children is our goal,” Ms Kuechler answered.
She said that from the School Committee’s stand point they have been doing a great job making sure all students are equally included in plans. She said that the high school has equality groups for the students to meet and to make all the students feel equal, as well as feel part of a community.
She also said that there have been no issues at any of the schools regarding transgender students that she is aware of.
Mr. Cormier asked a follow up question, asking whether or not Ms. Kuechler felt that transgender health should be something that is discussed in sexual education class.
Ms. Kuechler explained that curriculum instructors are the ones that choose what is taught. Ms. Kuechler explained that she does not know if it is currently discussed in class or if there are plans for transgender health to be discussed in class in the future.
Mr. McCarthy asked Ms. Kuechler about the new Art Honor Society that was just formed at the high school.
Ms. Kuechler explained that the group is very new and the parameters for the group have not yet been set. She said the students thought the work they were doing could be more highly recognized if they formed the Art Honor Society. The program allows students to get recognition for their art beyond the school.
Mr. Monroe thanked the community for allowing him to serve on the School Committee for the past six years. He said that he felt that so many things have been accomplished in the education of Fairhaven students, some mentioned by Ms. Kuechler.
Mr. Monroe said that he was excited for the future of the Fairhaven school system and said that it is all about teamwork. He said the SC has plans to discuss new technologies for the schools with the Selectboard, and the possibility of regionalization.
Mr. Cormier asked Mr. Monroe about the condition of school buildings.
Mr. Monroe said he did not believe there will be any extensive work done on any of the schools in the next few years. He explained that many schools in Fairhaven are decades upon decades old and the community and SC have done a great job keeping the buildings maintained.
Mr. Monroe said that the high school needs seven million dollars worth of work done, including a new roof. The historic building has slate roof. The SC hopes to have the money to fund that project within the next five to ten years.
Mr. McCarthy asked Mr. Monroe what the discussions have been around regionalization with Acushnet.
Mr. Monroe said the Acushnet and the Fairhaven School Committees have discussed four options.
One is that both Acushnet and Fairhaven schools stay the way they are and continue to collaborate. Two is a Superintendency union, which allows both Acushnet and Fairhaven to share a Superintendent and includes a different way of organization within the schools, as well as the finances. Option three is the regionalization of grades 9-12, which Acushnet and Fairhaven already have, but it will be more formalized. Option four is regionalizing K-12.
Mr. Monroe said that the next step in the process is to take the idea to town meeting to see if they can get funding to hire a consultant to study the options. He said the SC has also applied for a grant, which they hope will cover all the costs of the study.
The next candidate to step to the podium was Keith Silvia who is currently a member of the Board of Public Works. Mr. Silvia was appointed to fill a vacancy, so he is running to fill the unexpired term.
He explained that he is fairly new to politics and the BPW, only attending four BPW meetings so far. He said that although he is very new, he has enjoyed his first few weeks.
Mr. Silvia said that he and his son became town meeting members a few years ago because they were curious as to where all the money went within the town. He was then appointed to the Board of Appeals for about four months, but when a seat came up on the BPW he applied and was appointed.
Ms. David said that the BPW has a lot of latitude on a lot of issues pertaining to the town layout. She said that sometimes individuals may be favored by the board and asked Mr. Silvia how he will keep town interests in mind, and not just the interests of the person who is sitting in front of the board at the moment.
When a person goes to the board asking for a waiver for a driveway or something pertaining to the town layout, Mr. Silvia said he will take a drive by the property to see if it will cause any issues with other properties.
Ms. David followed up with a question regarding a resident that recently attended a BPW meeting to request a sewer extension for his property. Ms. David said it didn’t seem fair to allow just one person to run the sewer line on his own property and not down the middle of the street, essentially giving him his own line while other people on the street are still not tied into the sewer.
Mr. Silvia explained that the resident said that none of the other neighbors on the street wanted to tie in because they did not want to spend the money. He approved the extension because the resident’s line was going through his own property, he was willing to pay the fees, and agreed that if a more extensive sewer line was built for everyone on the street, the resident agreed to tie in.
Mr. Cormier asked Mr. Silvia what some of the future priorities for the BPW are.
Mr. Silvia said that the BPW is planning on updating the Sewer Treatment Plant. He said he was not sure what the other priority issues are just yet because he hasn’t been there long enough to “feel it out.”
Newcomer to politics Nicholas Carrigg stepped up to the podium, looking for a spot on the Planning Board. He explained that he recently moved to Fairhaven with his wife and their two-year-old child. He said he always wanted to get involved in politics.
Mr. Carrigg said there are some commercial buildings in Fairhaven that are empty and need to be improved. He would like to bring the town forward, while still being able to keep the things that make Fairhaven special. When he is on the Planning Board, he will want to hear the wants and needs of the residents to see what his best for the town.
Ms. David noted that the words “friendly business environment,” are often heard in town, but what is good for businesses, is not necessarily good for the neighbors or the town.
She asked Mr. Carrigg if he would like to see more regulations or fewer.
Mr. Carrigg said it depends on the regulation, as well as what works for other towns and cities. He explained that with retail in the town, we would need to see why they left, noting that K-Mart is leaving because of a national issue, not because of Fairhaven.
Mr. Carrigg said the town needs to research what has worked in the past and in other places. The town needs to do what it can to be fair and do what is best for residents.
Mr. Cormier asked Mr. Carrigg what he thinks needs to be done to attract more businesses, as well as sustain them.
Mr. Carrigg said that he would need to look at who Fairhaven is competing with and see what businesses would make Fairhaven unique, as well as finding out what residents like and or want to see.
“Fairhaven in general has a charm to it with its age,” Mr. Carrigg said.
In response to a question, Mr. Carrigg said that because he is new to the town he has the ability to separate the current state of Fairhaven from its history.
“I come with a fresh set of eyes,” he said.
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