HANSON — Candidates for town offices faced the voters for a question-and-answer session Sunday, May 3 in a forum jointly sponsored by the Democratic and Republican Town committees.
The forum, moderated by Town Moderator Sean Kealy, proved the opportunity for all candidates to present an opening statement and answer any questions asked.
Most candidates, running unopposed, received no questions, but the four candidates vying for two seats on the Board of Selectmen — incumbents Donald Howard and James McGahan and challengers Annmarie Bouzan and Joseph Weeks fielded questions from the audience for almost 90 minutes of the two-hour forum.
As in a recent Whitman Hanson Community Access TV forum, questions Sunday ranged schools to economic development and the selectmen’s role in government.
The show is being rebroadcast periodically on the Hanson local access cable channel.
Bouzan, the mother of three grown children and 26-year resident of Hanson, was first by luck of the draw. She has worked at Camp Kiwanee and on the Finance Committee before becoming administrative assistant to the Building Department.
“I really believe I can bring a better sense of community to the town,” she said. “We need to work together. We need to work things out and we need to work cohesively to move the town forward in a positive matter.”
McGahan, 53, is also a parent of three and had won a recall election last summer, unseating Steven Amico.
“One of the reasons why I decided to run was I because I felt that I could being some positive change, and I believe I’ve been able to demonstrate that,” said McGahan, who has also served community sports leagues in town, focusing on his continuing commitment to overseeing repairs to Hanson’s schools.
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. He is a member of the Plymouth County Advisory Board, the Plymouth County Central Water Division and attends Monponsett and Jones River watershed meetings.
“I keep myself busy,” he said and thanked his fellow volunteer elected officials for their dedication to the town.
Weeks, a 2003 WHRHS grad and father of two small children also stressed his commitment to the community as well as his status as a member of the Planning Board, Capital Improvement Committee and Housing Authority as well as being a small business owner.
“Hanson has always been the town I wanted to live in,” Weeks said. “Giving back is something I jumped into right away.”
Town Administrator Contract
While Kealy aimed to keep specific personalities out of a question asked about the town administrator’s contract, Town Administrator Ron San Angelo’s name crept into some responses. Kealy allowed responses to the general idea and called out candidates who slipped into personalities.
Howard said the town administrator is being paid to do his job as personnel and budget manager. McGahan urged people to compare the current town administrator’s contract with his predecessor’s.
“There are key differences,” he said without going into specifics, in keeping with Kealy’s instructions. “You have to ask yourself, what’s in it [and] is it good for the town of Hanson? I believe the current contract is not.”
Bouzan said, “The contract is the contract,” and said the town has the right to renegotiate it at the end of the contract’s three-year term as long as the general feeling is that the job is being done.
Weeks, who slipped into references to San Angelo from time to time, agreed with Howard and Bouzan.
“My biggest question is that the contract itself was moved up to May 19,” he said, noting there is the potential of having two new members on the board when the issue comes up. “I find that unsettling.”
McGahan countered that May 19 was selected to prevent the issue from becoming a political football.
Candidates also divided along the issue of Selectmen liaisons to town departments, with Bouzan stating the recent policy has had an intimidating effect and all but McGahan opposing the policy to some degree. Howard and Weeks agreed with Bouzan.
“The people voted for us to have a town administrator to run the town,” Howard said. “I don’t believe in the liaison. If an administrator has a problem he can always go to the selectmen and ask about [it].”
“People come here, they’ve got a job to do, they get it done,” Bouzan said. “If there’s an issue, they know who to go see — the town administrator’s [door] is always open. … We’re getting to the point where we’re micro managing and it’s just not a good feeling. You can feel the tension in that building.”
She did say the idea has some merit with public safety departments, but that all departments should report to the town administrator. Weeks agreed the policy should at least be reconsidered.
McGahan said there is value in the liaison policy as it allows selectmen to learn for themselves the needs of various departments.
Weeks said he just wants to see something done — whether repairing or building new — in the most economical way possible and credited the Priority Repair Committee’s work so far. Bouzan agreed that common ground must be found. She had voted against the new school because it became so divisive, but Weeks and Howard had supported it, while Weeks allowed it would have been difficult for him financially as well as many others had argued at the time.
McGahan said, while he would love to see “a new solution to the Maquan School,” he felt the wrong path had been followed before, but since then there has been a cooperative effort to address the schools’ needs.
“We have to repair the schools for our children,” Howard said.
Weeks and Bouzan also agreed with School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes, who had also been questioned on the issue, that the two-thirds vote on school borrowing issue is one for voters to make and that they would abide by that decision. McGahan personally favors it, but Howard personally favors a majority vote.
Hayes had said residents who hold the view that, under a two-thirds requirement, one-third of Town Meeting voters could control any decision have approached him. [See related story]
While he said he’d love to attract a lot of business to town, Howard said Hanson’s status as a bedroom community with no sewerage system and poor drainage in many areas, makes the prospect difficult. McGahan would like to see — perhaps on a monthly basis — continued meetings between the town and businesses to permit an avenue for them to express concerns.
Bouzan and Weeks, himself a small business owner, also voiced an eagerness to work with business owners, with Bouzan suggesting a Chamber of Commerce could be established. All four agreed that businesses would be required to comply with town planning, conservation and health regulations.
Candidates also fielded questions on the town’s emergency preparedness, which all said functions well while welcoming a fledgling Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. They also agreed that a public forum during Selectmen’s meeting is an idea worth exploring, but Bouzan and Howard noted it had been tried before only to be abandoned due to lack of participation.