2020 Was A Year of Change in Dracut

By: Brian Genest – Dec, 2020

What a difference a year makes. Unlike 2019, which was filled with controversy and a management shakeup at town hall, 2020 was a time of positive change for Dracut. This year, Dracut got strong new leaders in the town manager’s office, at the police department and on the board of selectmen.

Ann Vandal was hired as town manager, becoming the first woman to hold the top job at town hall.

But she’s no stranger. Vandal has served in various roles at Dracut Town Hall for more than 15 years, including town accountant, finance director and assistant town manager. She’s also served as interim town manager twice, before being hired permanently by selectmen.

The Dracut Police Department also got a new leader this year. Deputy Police Chief Stephen Chaput was appointed acting police chief in June by Vandal. (Police Chief Peter Bartlett, on a paid leave of absence for several months due to an injury, went out shortly after the Board of Selectmen voted to delay renewing his contract and in the wake of a no-confidence vote by the town’s police unions.)

In a year that saw some politicians trying to defund the police, selectmen stepped up, spoke out and backed the blue, unanimously voting in favor of a resolution supporting the Dracut Police Department.

“The Dracut Board of Selectmen has witnessed our police officers perform to the highest level of professionalism throughout the last several months, during which Massachusetts has suffered through a pandemic, civil unrest and economic shutdown,” the resolution said, also noting that town police officers have always been sensitive to issues of fairness and justice and have responded with care and compassion to all members of the community.

Chief Chaput thanked selectmen, the town manager and the community for the show of support.

“The proclamation issued by the board helps make a very difficult job a little bit easier and recognizes the efforts of the outstanding men and women of the Dracut Police Department during these trying times,” Chaput said.

In the annual town election, voters issued a strong mandate for new leadership. In the five-way race for two seats on the board of selectmen, political newcomer Alison Genest topped the ticket, leaving some well-known town politicians in the rear of the pack.

Full disclosure: As Alison’s husband and campaign manager, I’m completely biased about her and her incredible victory. As a columnist, former news reporter and observer of Dracut politics since the late 80s, I’m completely thrilled! Change may come slowly in Dracut, but it has finally arrived.

My wife is a town native, but she isn’t part of the political establishment. And that wasn’t the only thing that made her attractive as a candidate. She has relevant, real-world experience from a 30-year career in the private sector that can help move the town forward. Voters responded, overwhelmingly supporting an experienced outsider with a fresh face and a positive message.

Things are looking up in Dracut!

Someone tell the gossip column writers at the Lowell Sun. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

— Brian Genest is chairman of the Dracut Republican Town Committee. ◊