HANSON — Candidates for the Plymouth County offices of sheriff and county commissioner fielded questions from voters during a candidates’ forum Sunday, Oct. 16 co-sponsored by the Hanson Democratic and Republican town committees.
Hanson Town Moderator Sean Kealy moderated the event at the Selectmen’s meeting room in Hanson Town Hall.
Incumbent Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald Jr., a Republican, and Democratic challenger Scott M. Vecchi squared off in an often-heated exchange in the room filled with McDonald supporters. County Commissioner candidates Lincoln D. Heineman and incumbent Greg Hanley, both Democrats, and Republican incumbent Daniel A. Pallotta answered a few questions in more subdued exchange. Voters select two on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The 6th District incumbent Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury and his Republican challenger Vince Cogliano were joined by state Sen. Mike Brady, B-Brockton, as well as a statement from U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., read by Hanson resident James Egan were also involved in the event. None of Keating’s opponents took part or provided statements.
Right out of the blocks, in his opening statement, Vecchi went on the attack, describing his campaign as a reform effort against “the corrosive impact of employee campaign contributions, nepotism, patronage, and exploitation of our pension system.”
He said he misses the Joe [McDonald] of a 2004 debate.
“That Joe railed against the same things I’m railing against right now,” he said. “That Joe lashed out against hiring friends and family members [and was for] fiscal responsibility.”
Vecchi charged those problems not only still exist, they have multiplied.
“My colleague likes to say a lot of very bad things about individuals at the sheriff’s office, the budgets,” McDonald countered. “I’m never going to overspend. The budget’s been very fiscally responsible. The people that I work with are the best. There is no patronage, there is no nepotism, there is no pension abuse.”
McDonald said there is only one of the candidates poised to double-dip on a pension.
“It’s not me,” he said.
McDonald, who has been sheriff for 12 years, said for his part, that while elections can be won, re-elections must be earned and he strongly asserted he has earned re-election.
“I’m going to share with you the good news about what’s going on at the sheriff’s office,” he said in his opening remarks. “I have the best staff in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and, I dare say, in the United States of America.”
He refuted Vecchi’s claims that budgets are over-spent.
“We’re right on budget,” he said. “In fact, we have the lowest per-inmate cost of any sheriff’s office in Massachusetts, and at the same time we are providing the highest level of community service.”
He pointed to his department’s work with Hanson, state and other local community departments in the response to an investigation of the Sept. 29 armed home invasion in Hanson.
“They came, they helped with the apprehension, they helped in gathering evidence,” he said of his department’s K-9 units. “This was tangible, this was real.”
He also lauded the work done by inmates on work crews for municipal projects.
A Plymouth resident, Vecchi is a member of the Alden and Mayflower Societies and is a sergeant on the Plymouth Police Department and a retired Marine gunnery sergeant — a combat veteran of Iraq. He is also an attorney with 23 years of police and corrections experience.
“When elected sheriff, I’ll be the only sheriff who’s actually been a corrections officer,” he said. As a police officer, he said he has been on the “front line” in the fight against the opioid epidemic, having administered Narcan and other first aid measures to overdose victims. He said the Police Association of Mass., MassCOP, the Professional Firefighters of Mass., and “numerous other unions” have endorsed him.
A Marshfield native, McDonald has a 25-year history in law enforcement, has a law degree from Suffolk University Law School and is a graduate of the National District Attorney’s Association National Advocacy Center in Columbia, S.C., the National Sheriff’s Institute of Longmont, Colo., the Municipal Police Training Committee Basic Reserve Academy in Plymouth and the FBI Academy’s FBI Leads Academy 59th session in Quantico, Va. He is the immediate past president of the Mass. Sheriff’s Association, and its current vice president, and was a member of the Governor’s Opioid Task Force and council on criminal justice reform.
Scituate native Heineman congratulated forum organizers for the mostly respectful exchange of views, terming it a “refreshing from what’s happening nationally.” He has worked on municipal budgets in Scituate as well as for the state inspector general’s office and holds an MBA, and he stressed the need for making county government more efficient. He said the commissioners must also do more to combat Lyme disease.
“We have a Lyme disease epidemic going on on the South Shore,” Heineman said. “Approaching it in a regional way is something we must do.”
Hanover resident Pallotta, who is the current chairman of the Plymouth County Commissioners, said that while he and Hanley are “on extreme opposites on the political spectrum,” they have worked together to return a sense of fiscal responsibility to the commission.
“Plymouth County should have been filing for bankruptcy when I took office four years ago,” Pallotta said. “It was selling land, they were selling buildings, they were selling everything they could to balance the budget. They had fraudulent revenue projections and it was just hack-o-rama down there with jobs and everything else.”
He said they worked together to “clean up the mess — and we did it the hard way — we cut people.” Unnecessary programs were eliminated or reduced and, for the first time in a decade, the county will have an audited set of books with a $400,000 surplus for the first time over the same period. He also said the county has already applied for a grant to address the Lyme disease issue and has also filed legislation to eliminate the sheriff’s liability for retirees and to allow the county commissioners to have a savings account.
“When we got into office, the cupboard was bare,” agreed Hanley, who is a Pembroke resident. “The previous commissioners wanted to end county government.”
He echoed President Kennedy’s comments on Russian advances during the nuclear era that, “It’s not the Republican answer that we should seek, nor the Democratic answer — it’s the right answer.” Hanley said, of the hundreds of votes he and Pallotta cast as commissioners, they have differed only once, in a philosophical vote on a labor issue.
They partnered with the legislative delegation on both sides of the aisle and, most important among those bills, saved the county communities from having to foot the bill for $32 million in legacy costs for retirement liabilities when the correctional facility was taken over by the state. The debt was forgiven by adding 10 cents to every transaction at the Registry of Deeds, Hanley said.
“We have a function to do and if we don’t do the function it’s going to go to the state,” Pallotta said.
“I give a lot of credit where credit is due to the existing commission for righting the ship,” Heineman said. “What we need to do now, is to take a new [direct] approach to, across the aisle in a bipartisan way, to make sure the commission is not just meeting its obligations, which it is now.”
He said it is largely agreed that more services can be provided in more ways than are currently being delivered.