The League of Women Voters’ Candidates Night continued for a second night inside of the High School’s library on May 24.
The two-night event featured panels of candidates running in six contested races where the public was given an opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions ahead of the town election on June 20. Candidates running in the Library Board of Trustees, Recreation and Parks Commission, and School Committee races were all featured on the second night.
The candidates for School Committee rounded out the evening’s events, with all three in attendance saying that their top priority is improving the school budget in light of the override that is set to be voted on in June. Candidates Jenn Schaeffner, Paul Baker, and Brian Ota made up the evening’s panel. Incumbent Sarah Gold, who is running for a third term, was not in attendance for the event but prepared a statement that was read by moderator Jeff Shribman.
Baker stressed the importance of receiving money so that the town’s schools, specifically the newly-built ones, can be properly maintained.
“We have new schools, but do we have the money to maintain them?” said Baker. “Right now we don’t. We need money and we need to find money.”
Ota called the school budget “the most controversial thing before the town today,” and said that the budget process should be more transparent to the public.
“We really have to improve the process that we develop the budget and then transmit that information to the public,” he said. “In other words, we have to have more meetings. We have to be able to meet with all of the residents, not just the parents, which tends to be where the budget meetings go to.”
In her response, Schaeffner said her top priority would be to work on developing a new budget as soon as she begins her term.
“The first is to focus on a zero-based budget,” she said. “To take this time over the summer with the administration and to work on stripping down, to the base level, each school building, what their needs are, what their student enrollment is, what their staff is, and to build the budget up through central administration.”
The candidates were also asked about their positions on whether public comments should be required at committee meetings, to which all three agreed that open dialogue between the committee and the public is necessary.
The largest panel of the evening belonged to the six candidates running for five seats on the Recreation and Parks Commission, four of whom are running for reelection.
The incumbents are Linda Rice-Collins, Matthew Martin, Karen Ernst, and Rossana Ferrante.
Larry Simpson and Shelly Bedrossian are running against the four incumbents. In his opening statement, Simpson, who works as a garden designer, said he is running for the commission because he wants to preserve Marblehead’s environment and land for future generations.
“I care about the land, I care about the environment. I have three kids. I want them to have the same future that I enjoyed as a child,” he said.
In Bedrossian’s closing statement, she listed four goals that she hopes to achieve if elected to the commission: long-term planning of funding initiatives, finding cost-effective ways to repurpose Reynolds Field, ensuring that the Lars Anderson $2 million gift given in 2018 is used appropriately for winter sports and skating facilities, and designing and building “a state-of-the-art sports facility with no burden to our tax payers.”
The candidates were also asked about how they would handle the growth of pickleball in town, which has caused disputes between residents and players regarding the amount of noise the sport causes. All candidates agreed that they would help residents and players come to a compromise and find solutions that benefit both parties.
“To me, it’s really about how we get to a decision,” said Ferrante. “In my opinion, I think we have to get all the facts and figure out what is the best solution. So I think that’s due diligence, I think that’s listening. I think that’s listening to the pickleball community, I think that’s also listening to anyone else that is impacted by the pickleball community.”
Listening to both sides was a common theme brought up throughout each of the panelists’ answers to the question.
At the beginning of the event, Library Board of Trustees candidates Gary Amberik, Katherine H. Barker, and Rose Ann Wheeler McCarthy were asked about their positions on the town override, all agreeing that it is necessary for the town to operate.
Marblehead’s town election will be held on Tuesday, June 20 and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.