Stoneham Town Election: Tuesday, April 4 2017
EDIT April 1, 2017 (but actual edit – not a joke)
One of the amazing things about being in a small town is that posts like this can create a dialogue. This election has been a remarkably productive and positive one.
There’s been some confusion, so let me reassure the audience that everyone I’ve talked to and have taken notes on has been aware that the purpose of the meeting was for me to get information on their candidacy, and I told them I’d be publishing the results.
Here’s some additional information I’ve gotten:
Planning Board –
Devon Manchester reached out to me to by phone to offer me some information on his candidacy, which I appreciated. We talked by phone for half an hour. You can read the transcript here. I liked some of his insights, but felt like he undervalued the work that the committee had already done on things like the sign law. This is a very difficult race to decide on the best candidate. I thought carefully about our conversation, but although a great dialogue, I don’t think our chat has changed my vote.
Larry Means – In response to questions that I and others have raised, Larry Means has posted an explanation on why he had the DPW worker removed. His explanation includes video of the event, so you can watch for yourself. I think it outlines the technical stance he took in the meeting. But especially in a role like Moderator, I would like to see a person who has the respect and admiration of the town employees, which is not demonstrated in the interaction he references.
I’d like to commend Jeanne for being very civil about me not endorsing her, although not all the conversations on Facebook have been quite as polite. She’s really taken the higher road in responding to me, which is actually quite reassuring.
This race is ALSO very difficult to call. I feel like the candidates have different qualifications that rather evenly offset each other.
It was my intention to make the hard voice to tell you who I was endorsing for all these races. I know as a newcomer to town, trying to stare down a ballot with positions you didn’t know existed and names you’ve never heard, it’s really demoralizing to realize that you can’t cast a meaningful vote because there is no public information for you to base a vote on – even if you look. I want to at least let people know what I’m doing and why, so they can agree or disagree with my thinking. But in this race, I suspect my decision will be made with a Sharpie hovering over an oval and a gut-check of what my heart says. Sorry theoretical newcomer to town.
Stoneham goes to the polls for a town election on Tuesday, April 4! I started preparing my selections back in January. I didn’t get to interview all the candidates I would’ve liked to (not their fault!) but still need to cast a ballot, so used publicly available information for the other candidates.
I’m pretty thrilled by the vibrancy of our small town democracy. We have legitimate, contested elections with qualified candidates in many of the critical town roles, including Selectman, School Committee, Moderator and Planning Board. This is a great thing for our town and our community. The really hard part about this election is that in general I think all the candidates are pretty qualified. I don’t think there’s anyone on the ballot I’ll be horrified to see in office.
I’ll be updating with new information right up to election day, so if you have more information or would like to talk with me, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
With all that said, here are my picks. My reasoning is below.
SCHOOL COMMITTEE (pick two)
Nicole Fenocchi Nial
August S. Niewenhous (see update above)
Tossup (see update above) – was previously Lawrence Means.
I had the opportunity to speak with both selectman candidates. I am no journalist, but I tried to ask them the same set of questions and give them similar opportunities to explain their positions. All the candidates I talked to discussed “healing of divisions” within our community. I find the divisiveness of Stoneham politics to be very odd indeed. It’s not Democrat/Republican (as far as I can tell). The division doesn’t seem to have a philosophical underpinning. It’s hard to reckon who’s on either side. (I’m pretty sure that not knowing which side I’m on means I’m not on a side? Right?) But this coming together is something I’m optimistic that whoever we elect will work hard to do. I will certainly be holding them accountable for doing so.
Shelly was the first of the candidates to reach out to me to ask to talk. I’d never met her before, and had no idea who I was going to vote for in this election. I was impressed with her. She seemed committed to running for all the best reasons, which she articulated well and passionately. She had clearly thought deeply about her reasons for running, and what she hoped to accomplish.
Her work on the Substance Abuse Coalition was top of mind for her, and I believe that if she is elected, she would take a well-planned, methodical approach to this crisis for our community. I also have high hopes that her intention to coordinate planning better across the town will result in better communication and outcomes for our community.
Shelly has my vote because I think she has the skills to be deeply effective, the willingness to do hard, unglamorous work, and a cooperative and pleasant personality which will allow her to work with people across Stoneham.
I was pretty excited when I heard Christine was running. My only experiences with her have been on Facebook where she’s organized a Couch to 5K, but she has been a high energy presence in the town. It took a long time for us to both find to get together, since we work opposite schedules.
Christine doesn’t think experience is necessary to run for selectman. She may be right. But I do want my selectman to think hard about the issues facing the town, and come with mature and well thought out positions. One of the first things Christine asked was for me to hold off posting this until after the candidates debate. When I asked why, she said it was because she didn’t want her opponent to know “where she was coming from”. I asked if she meant that she hadn’t been forthcoming about her platform to this point, she changed her mind and said I could publish whenever I liked. She changed her mind on the request twice more in our conversations.
I’m happy to listen and accommodate a reasonable request, but this tiny example showed me that Christine hadn’t really thought through her position on timing. I’m sure she’d be more thoughtful on things that really mattered, but it struck me that I prefer a selectman who thinks through their requests/positions BEFORE they make them.
Our conversation ended up being much less substantive than my conversation with Shelly. Christine had fewer specific plans and ideas and less insight into our current position and challenges.
Overall, I think Christine might do a great job as a selectman, but what I saw was not a compelling example. Given that Shelly was extremely well qualified, my decision for this race feels very clear.
I didn’t meet with any of the school committee candidates. (Honestly, when I started posting my ballots a few years ago, I didn’t realize it would end with me spending hours talking to candidates!) I have good information on two of them and no information on the third. This is obviously unfair to that third candidate (Elaine Trant Brown), so if you have good information you should a) share it with me b) choose to vote for her instead!
First choice – Dave Maurer
Dave and I have worked together on some technology initiatives, and had extensive conversations about the role of technology in education. He does this work because he’s passionate about the kids in this town and has tremendous technical experience to back it up. He has worked long and diligently, not really coveting the spotlight or attention. He’s got energy, background and a good track record with the Middle School and I’d like him to be continue on to the High School. I highly recommend his work.
Second choice – Nicole Fenocchi Nial
I’ve been lucky enough to have Nicole as one of the leads of the PTO in South School during both my sons’ tenure there. I’ve gotten to see her passion, diligence & organization in full swing. She does a great job of keeping things rolling and making things fun in what has to be one of the least glamorous jobs a town has to offer. I can attest that she will be a strong and capable presence on the School Board.
I have very little insight into this. Both candidates are known to me by reputation only. I think planning board is critical to our success as a town (can I suggest a moratorium on nail/hair salons?). I’m open to feedback on this one, but don’t have a strong or well formed opinion. In this case, I opted for the continuity of Mr. Niewenhous.
So I saved the hardest race for last. In full disclosure, Jeanne reached out to me and we had a very productive hour long conversation. I reached out to Larry late, and haven’t been able to set up time as much for my schedule as anything. So there’s an information imbalance here.
In my opinion, the moderator role is one that would be best served by someone who’s primary skill was building relationship bridges and earning respect from everyone for their impartiality and calmness. The actual role of the moderator is to run the town meeting once a year (which has been contentious at times!) and also to make appointments to boards – an under appreciated responsibility. Both of these rely on reputation and relationship.
Over the few years I’ve been watching Stoneham town politics from the sidelines, I’ve seen passion and a willingness to invest time and energy from both candidates. But neither has struck me as a consensus builder.
My conversation with Jeanne (here) helped me understand her much better as a person. Her passion really came through. But I’ve seen a darker side of that passion on some of her interactions on town Facebook pages where her feelings were understandably hurt and she responded by removing people from the group. I get the hurt feelings, but that response doesn’t lead to that more civil society she spoke to. (FYI – in my humble opinion the amount of political decisions in this town which are made on Facebook is rather astonishing.)
I’m honestly really on the fence about this. Larry’s comparative lack of participation with social media does not necessarily mean he’s been more of a bridge builder – especially not if that’s where the engagement in our town is. There have been some times where it’s been hard to understand some of his moderation choices, such as when he had a DPW worker escorted out of a town meeting I attended. He’s generally run the meetings well, but there have been a few times when I wondered if the decisions were fully equitable, such as when the balcony wasn’t counted.
Both have been dedicated public servants in various roles. Both have experience and aptitude. I think either would do well in the role, but in this case I’m opting for the candidate with more experience in this particular role.
I’m finding my part to play in town to be a challenging one. I want to be engaged and well informed, but it’s remarkably difficult to gauge the effectiveness of a candidate even when you talk 1:1 with them. I had a particularly busy few months (as you can tell by the dropoff in blogging!) which made it difficult for me to be completely thorough.
So… share your ballot in the comments, along with your reasons for picking the candidates you’re passionate about! I’d love to learn more from your perspectives!