Voters going to the polls in Town Elections on Saturday, May 21 will have fewer reasons to complain about a lack of choices on the ballot than in past years.
In Hanson, there are eight candidates in the running for two seats on the Board of Selectmen, and Whitman has four candidates running for two seats on the Select Board.
The lone incumbent in contention is Whitman Selectman Justin Evans, running for his second term.
In Hanson, Water Commissioner and former Selectman Don Howard is running for re-election to the Board of Water Commissioners as well as making a bid to return to the Board of Selectmen, running for the three-year term opened when Kenny Mitchell decided not to run. Joining Howard in seeking that three-year term are Financial Advisor Kelly Woerdeman, ZBA member and Board of Health Vice Chairman Kevin Perkins and Edwin C. Heal of Pine Grove Ave.
Running for the two years remaining on Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer’s seat are Health Board member Arlene Dias, Marc M. Benjamino, Ann M. Rien of State Street and Health Board member Denis C. O’Connell.
Candidates have until Tuesday, April 19 to withdraw from the race, if they so choose.
“It feels weird to say it, but now I’m a candidate with experience,” said Evans, who is completing his first term as a Whitman Selectman. “I was a fresh face three years ago.”
He said his plan is to focus on continuing to maximize state aid.
“Getting more bang for our buck has been a huge focus and I’m happy to continue to do that and looking at some new, let’s say, creative revenue opportunities,” he said. “We’re looking at revisiting the marijuana prohibition this year; expanding services for the first time since I’ve been involved, either on the FinCom or the Board of Selectmen, we are, I think, adding positions and we’re paying for the full operating budget, including the schools’ full assessment — we can pay for the whole thing without one-time money.”
He said he still has his eye on implementation of 40R development near the MBTA station, which had been derailed by COVID, but is now the focus of the state’s MBTA Communities Law, signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last year.
“Navigating through COVID was an incredible experience and it put off a couple of priorities I’d like to get done,” Evans sad. “I’m not finished yet.”
Finance Committee member Rosemary Connolly, former Police Chief Scott D. Benton and Forest Street resident Shawn M. Kain are also seeking a three-year term. Incumbent Brian Bezanson did not return nomination papers.
Kain said his candidacy is an attempt to bring an independent voice to the Select Board as he continues his work bringing strategic planning to the town’s budget process.
“I’m really trying to do it right,” he said. “I’m from Whitman and I love our community and I love our traditions, so it’s not that I want to go into the role and change things in a big way — I really want to protect the traditions that we have and make slow improvements to the things that we can do better.”
He said the budget document remains something that requires work so the town can better communicate its financial needs.
“I think the town has made a lot of gains, financially, over the last couple of years,” he said pointing to the focus on the town’s finances as well as its relationship to the school district.
“The strategic plan and the financial policy that we recently adopted are both pieces of the puzzle that will really help us, moving forward,” Kain said.
Benton and Connolly did not return a request for comment.
In Hanson, while there are some familiar faces running, they are pointing to the need to change things as their reason for seeking a seat on the Board of Selectmen.
“I’ve always said things need to change, and I don’t see that happening,” Dias said. “I’ve decided that maybe I need to help that change.”
She said conflict of interest in town is a problem.
“I feel like there’s so much of people being interested in doing things at Town Hall for their own personal benefit and I’m tired of it,” Dias said. “I’m tired of things being done behind closed doors and people have their little networks — and sometimes you have to break them up in order for the town to move forward.”
Perkins returned a call for comment from the Express via an email explaining why he was not in a position to be able to say much.
“Unfortunately I cannot comment due to the ongoing independent investigation the selectmen voted to conduct on the entire zoning board, myself included,” Perkins said. “It is very unfortunate that my hands are tied during a critical time where candidates are campaigning. However this investigation is still ongoing which leads me to think there is motive behind the prolonged investigation in order to sway potential voters.”
Howard, who had retired to care for his ailing wife, said he is ready to return now that she has passed and that he sees a lot of problems on the Select Board that he doesn’t like and there is a problem with water retention and detention areas not working properly. Heal, Rein and Benjamino did not return requests for comment.
Howard is not alone in seeking to take on extra responsibility in Hanson, as Selectman Jim Hickey — whose seat is not up for a vote this year — is running for Board of Health and Health Board member O’Connell is running for re-election to that board as well as seeking a Select Board position.
“I just want to give back to the community,” Woerdeman said.
O’Connell expressed concern with the possible loss of autonomy for the Health Board if Hickey wins a Health Board seat and Dias is elected to the Select Board.
“I just like to have a voice,” O’Connell said, noting that the Select Board would have a majority on the Board of Health should he lose. “I don’t like where this leads to. I feel the Selectmen have been micromanaging all the departments.”
A former electrician and 30-year resident, O’Connell characterized the situation as a “tangled mess,”
Hickey, for his part, cited communication problems at Town Hall as his reason for seeking a Health Board seat, noting if both boards meet on the same day, he could get information to Selectmen might need in a more timely manner.
“Nobody talks … I think this will help both boards tremendously,” he said. “It’s every department. … As a member of the Board of Selectmen and now a liaison to the Senior Center, with the population shift in town, it just makes sense.”