Candidates promise communication, fiscal responsibility at Q&A

Apr 28, 2023

Hopefuls for a trio of town offices sat in the hot seat during Candidates’ Night on Thursday, April 27, answering questions about the town’s most pressing issues.

Finance Committee member Jody Smith and Wareham Week Editor Wes Cipolla moderated the discussion. 

Election Day is on Tuesday, May 2. Registered voters can find their polling location at the state’s Where Do I Vote? website, or according to their precinct number

The Select Board race will be the only contest on the ballot, with three candidates seeking two seats

Current Select Board Chair Judith Whiteside, who is seeking a fifth term on the Board, wants to ensure that new Board members Jared Chadwick, Ron Besse and Tricia Wurts learn the ropes.

“I believe my experience is valuable not just to the town, but the people sitting on the [Select] Board,” Whiteside said.

Former Select Board member Jim Munise has lived in town for over 40 years, working at Bridgewater State University for most of that time. He served as the head of multiple unions while working at the university. 

“I’m a working-class person and I think I bring those views as a working-class person,” he said.

Current Select Board member Tricia Wurts returned to Candidates’ Night for the third year in a row, after mounting a write-in campaign in 2021 and taking over for outgoing Board member Peter Teitelbaum in 2022.

Wurts said she has been attending multiple board meetings per week for years, even before she was elected, because she wanted to know what was going on in town.

The need for improved communication between town officials and the community dominated the Select Board candidates’ conversation. 

Munise was the most outspoken.

“I’d like to see clear and transparent government, and open government, and I don’t think we have that,” he said.

Munise wants to improve the town website and bring public comment back to Select Board meetings. 

Wurts emphasized her prior experience interviewing citizens when she worked with the Wareham Redevelopment Authority. She said it’s critical not only to increase communications from the town to residents, but to also increase communication between local government organizations. 

Whiteside said she’s working to connect committees in town government, and that residents are free to email, call, visit and send mail to the Select Board.

Contrary to Munise’s claims, Whiteside said Select Board members already regularly communicate with members of the public. She estimated that the Select Board speaks with anywhere from 10 to 50 residents each week. 

The three candidates disagreed on what the town should do with the closed Decas School building. Munise believes the town can and should repurpose the building, specifically for the Council on Aging. Wurts said she’s not sure whether it’s financially viable, but would like to see the building used for the Council on Aging as well. 

Whiteside, on the other hand, said repurposing the Decas building does not make financial sense given the high estimates the town received for prior proposals, and the exorbitant cost of much-needed repairs to the Water Pollution Control Facility. Instead, she believes the building could be sold and the money used for other town building projects.

Uncontested candidates for the Sewer Commission and the Board of Assessors also answered questions.

Sewer Commission candidates Bob Scanlan and Bernie Pigeon are running unopposed for two open Sewer Commission seats, as two current Commissioners have decided not to seek reelection. Scanlan is a write-in candidate, and Pigeon recently ended a 9-year stint on the Finance Committee. 

Both candidates agreed that the controversial Swifts Beach sewer contract was a mistake, and said that the Sewer Commission should have communicated better with the community. Scanlan and Pigeon said they would have studied the contract much more thoroughly had they been on the Commission last year.

Pigeon emphasized that fixing and rebuilding the sewer system is critical to the long-term growth of the community, as the moratorium on new sewer hookups prevents new development. 

Scanlan said he knows that his knowledge of the town’s affairs is lacking, but he’s excited to learn more.

Board of Assessors member Priscilla Porter is running unopposed for her fourth term on the Board. She answered some tax-related questions, such as how much control she has over the tax rate. Porter said there’s not much freedom within the Assessing Department of any Massachusetts community, as they are highly regulated by the state.

Although her position is not an elected one, Council on Aging Director Sharon Rice answered questions as well. 

Rice previously worked in the book publishing industry before “falling in love” with town government while working as director of Parks and Recreation in Norton and at the Council on Aging in Attleboro. She said it’s critical that the Council on Aging doesn’t treat seniors as one unified group, and instead offers programs to meet the needs of all abilities. For instance, the Council on Aging offers both strenuous exercise classes and chair-only exercise classes.