HANSON — The election season officially kicked into gear Tuesday, April 7 with a candidates’ forum between Hanson Board of Selectmen hopefuls televised on the Whitman Hanson Community Access program, “Bring It On.”
Incumbents Donald Howard and James McGahan and challengers Annmarie Bouzan and Joseph Weeks fielded questions from town residents ranging from schools to economic development, size of the health board and the selectmen’s role in government, in an hour-long forum moderated by host Bob Hayes.
The show is being rebroadcast periodically on the Hanson local access cable channel.
Each candidate had the opportunity to make a one-minute introduction, the order decided by lots, and begun with Weeks, a 2003 WHRHS grad and father of two small children.
“I’ve always considered Hanson my home,” he said, stressing economic development — particularly at the Plymouth County Hospital site — and school issues as key. “I consider it a great town and the only place we wanted to live.”
Bouzan, the mother of three grown children and 26-year resident of Hanson, has worked at Camp Kiwanee and on the Finance Committee before becoming administrative assistant to the Building Department.
McGahan, 53, is also a parent of three and had won a recall election last summer, unseating Steven Amico.
“My belief is that I was brought into this board to restore faith in our government,” he said.
Howard, a resident of Hanson since 1948, also has three grown children, said he is running again because he loves the town and serving the public.
Economic development, especially with vacant or underused properties in town was a main focus of attention.
“We always talk about them every couple of years, but we don’t ever actually move forward on a project,” Weeks said, suggesting using part of it as a park and some mixed residential use of PCH. “I’d like to be able to do that.”
He also expressed an interest in actively seeking funds for sidewalk expansion in town.
Bouzan also prioritizes the PCH site where affordable senior housing is one possibility, as well as the vacant Lite Control property and what is being done to attract businesses to town.
McGahan has also proposed residential and walking park uses for the PCH site. But he and Bouzan agreed razing existing buildings is a first step.
Howard said Lite Control is being looked at as a site for a Highway Department salt shed. McGahan said they could also be used to store heavy equipment for town departments, but cautioned about utility costs.
“Hanson doesn’t need another property that doesn’t have a defined and determined use,” he said. “Hanson has a problem maintaining its buildings.”
Bouzan and weeks agreed.
“We don’t want to get involved in another PCH issue,” Weeks said. “We have to figure out if we want it first.”
School issues were a major concern.
All four were against a petition initiative urging deregionalizing Hanson schools on economic basis.
Hanson’s status as a “bedroom community” makes its schools even more important, Howard said.
“Not all of the school [issues] has to do with buildings per se,” Bouzan said. “My idea is education isn’t brick and mortar, however we do need to deal with the buildings and structures in the town. … There’s multiple buildings in town that need some TLC, if you will.”
McGahan noted his involvement in several school facilities committees involved in the repair and maintenance of Hanson’s school buildings.
“We should have a new roof by the end of August on the Indian Head School,” he said.
The candidates were largely in agreement on the proposal to expand the Health Board from three to five members.
Howard, as a past member of that board disagrees with the proposal, arguing it seems to work effectively at three members, but hinted he is open to the idea.
McGahan advocates expansion to five, but Bouzan wants to have a dialogue with Health Board members to get a clear idea why they want expansion.
“Having three members can be a problem at times because of attendance,” he said. “More input from equal members can benefit the town.”
“More people coming into Town Hall for Board of Health meetings will bring more ideas, better attendance at meetings and maybe make meetings easier to [function],” she said.
Weeks said he knows of more people who would like to serve on the Health Board, but the size limit prevents it.
They also agreed the role of selectmen is one of setting policy by which the town administrator manages town government.
“The administrator was hired by the town of Hanson to run the town,” Howard said.
“I don’t believe the selectmen should be involved in the day-to-day operations,” McGahan said. “It is the town administrator’s job to be doing so. But I also know it’s the town administrator’s responsibility to report to the Board of Selectmen on any town issues of any great importance.”
Bouzan said communication between the town administrator and Town Hall staff “gets altered if there’s a selectman standing there.”
Weeks said Town Administrator Ron San Angelo does a good job, but that selectmen should become involved — when an issue warrants it — but doesn’t believe in micromanagement. He, Bouzan and Howard also do not see why the town administrator’s evaluation is being delayed until after the election.
McGahan maintains there are two issues — the evaluation and San Angelo’s contract.
“There are risks associated with this contract,” he said.
None of the candidates advocated placing the town administrator’s contract before Town Meeting for ratification.