The Candidates Forum 2017: Sidebar of Community Turn Out and Engagement
The Scituate Chamber of Commerce and Scituate Historical Society hosted a Candidates Forum on May 4, 2017 at the GAR Hall (on the corner of First Parish Road and Country Way). Eight candidates appeared to informally introduce themselves and answer questions posed by attendees. These candidates are hoping to be elected or re-elected to Board of Selectmen, School Committee, Planning Board, and Library Trustee.
The hall was set up with a panel table at the front, a moderator’s podium to the left, and a lovely slideshow of historical photos of Scituate (provided by the Scituate Historical Society). Upon entering, residents wrote questions on index cards, which were then handed to the moderator. Roughly 15 people showed up for the 2-hour event, which was also taped by Scituate Community TV (video will be posted soon).
The evening opened up with a question about the status of the senior center, then discussion about shoreline protection, followed by the recent dialog on the new start times for schools. Beyond that, there were questions about the fate of the Gates Middle School building and Pier 44, an update on the library renovation, keeping the tax base low, water and sewer resources, and the roads.
An audience member did pose a question to the Board of Selectmen about their thoughts on changing the Town Charter. This question was then addressed by nearly everyone on the forum, because it morphed into a conversation about community involvement. According to Shawn Harris and Anthony Vegani (incumbents for Board of Selectmen position 1 and position 2, respectively), roughly 350 people showed up for 2017’s Annual Town Meeting on day 1, and 150 on day 2. This was indicative enough for them that the makeup of the town is evolving, and changes may need to be discussed regarding the Town Charter.
Janice Lindblom, who is running for the first time for School Committee, position 1, indicated that for the past two years or so, she has attended almost all School Committee meetings (every other Monday). She said that often she is the only citizen in attendance, and wonders if anyone might take her spot once elected.
Clearly, citizen engagement was top of minds for the candidates. To enter a local election does require a certain level of commitment, which all candidates are eager and willing to provide. The challenge they see (nearly unanimously) is getting more citizenry involved in decision-making. Several candidates mentioned that when a board or committee makes a decision, such as a change in the school times, that citizens feel out of the loop and become frustrated. However, all of these candidates know firsthand the power of appearing at meetings.
So what are some solutions? What do the candidates believe will be ways to promote community engagement in town’s decisions?
Bob Brand, who is vying for Board of Selectmen position 1 shared his opinion that the Town Charter should be a “fluid document” that changes as the town changes. If certain constructs no longer serve its intended purpose to the town, perhaps they should be revisited.
Ben Bornstein, who is seeking position 2 on the Planning Board, discussed providing incentives for residents to show up (Anthony Vegnani also raised this as an option when he suggested pizza be served at Town Meeting). Bornstein also touched on the town’s need to update and improve its PR and communications with town residents — being more proactive and adaptive to pushing information out to the public.
Karen Canfield, who is hoping to be re-elected as Library Trustee, said that perhaps the town can take baby steps to transition into other forms of democratic interaction. These baby steps wouldn’t sweep the rug out for the residents who know a certain way of town being run, but would transition them into other kinds of involvement.
Ultimately, the candidates all recognize that the town’s current format of government is only as successful as people’s motivation to be engaged consistently. This is top of mind for many of these candidates, and should you see them around town, be sure to chat with them about it (among other questions you might have!)
Elections will be on Saturday May 20, 2017. If you know that you will not be able to vote on that day, collect an absentee ballot at Town Hall and cast your vote prior to May 19, 2017 at noon. It is up to us to stay engaged, and casting your vote is crucial to our town’s future.