Low Turnout For Westford League of Women Voters Candidates’ Night
Despite only one contested race and many voters watching from home, the event was lauded by its organizers for providing valuable information in the run up to next week's election.
With only one contested race in Westford’s town election on May 1, the turnout for the League of Women Voters’ candidates night at the J.V. Fletcher Library on Monday was unsurprisingly low.
When asked before the event began, the League’s Laura Dickey predicted a lower turnout due to the Westford CAT’s taping of the show which was broadcast live and will also be available online.
Both candidates for the Planning Board, the only contested race in the election, were in attendance to discuss their vision for the five-year term.
Matthew Lewin has been attending most Planning Board meetings for the past five years and feels that better communication with residents will help achieve the balance of town character and land development. He feels an effort to implement the town’s Master Plan should be a priority.
Prasad Vasiraju, the incumbent, agreed that the Master Plan helps balance open space with new development but it needs to be implemented. He also believes that the processes that need to be followed by developers are too ambiguous which not only makes it more frustrating but also opens the town up for potential litigation.
Lewin spoke about creative ways to handle financial issues in town and that the Planning Board has the ability to influence them. He said we could be “creative with our cell tower bylaw." He proposes that the town could put a cell tower on the Highway Garage, get all the revenue from it, and reduce expenses.
In closing, Vasiraju explained that objectivity is his priority. He said, “I’m not for giving developers a free hand but I don’t reject everything they bring either.” Lewin expressed frustration with the public’s perception that things “magically happen” in town. He wants to get the public more involved in the process and suggests that social media might be a way of engaging residents.
All of the candidates for School Committee were there as well, all of whom are running unopposed.
Angela Harkness and Margaret Murray are seeking reelection, while Terence Ryan is seeking his first term.
The budget seemed to draw the most questions for the candidates who agreed that there are state-mandated requirements for special needs programming that controls a large part of the school budget and, therefore, cannot be cut.
Ryan stated that ways need to be found to do things smarter to cut costs. Harkness and Murray agreed that technology must be used to improve communication, reduce paper, and create savings. Harkness added that technology should be used “to do the best we can with what we have.”
Harkness and Ryan focused on communication as key to resolving teacher contract issues during their three-year terms. Murray emphasized the importance of discussing the reality of financial constraints due to state and federal funding cuts as part of that communication.
John Scott Hazelton is the incumbent running unopposed for the five-year Housing Authority office. When asked if there is additional housing in the works for Westford he stated that five housing units are being built at the corner of Route 27 and 225 for use by veterans’ families who have a family member receiving treatment at the VA hospital.
Library Trustee Marianne Fleckner was in attendance and is running unopposed along with fellow incumbent Susan Flint who was not at the event. Fleckner shared the results of the resident survey that asked what library patrons wanted. An unprecedented 500 responses came in that, she said, “shows that people care.” Patrons asked for more space and feel that due to the higher-than-regulation stacks library patrons feel that the space is “dark” and “closing in.”
A feasibility study was approved by March Annual Town Meeting to create a library building program. The Trustees are pursuing a grant from the state that will match the money allocated at 2-for-1. The study will also include expanding electronic media and growing the children’s program.
Incumbents Joanne Martel (three-year Board of Health candidate) and James Sullivan (three-year Board of Selectman candidate) did not attend.
“Considering there are so many uncontested races, the turnout was terrific," said Westford League of Women Voters president Chris Kandianis. "All candidates had great things to say to communicate to the voters.”