An Exclusive Interview with North Andover Selectman Tracy Watson

By: Tom Duggan, February, 2011
North Andover Selectman Tracy Watson
North Andover Selectman Tracy Watson

North Andover Selectman Tracy Watson was interviewed by Valley Patriot owner Tom Duggan on the Paying Attention! Radio Program on WHAV radio (WHAV.NET) which airs on Thursday nights from 6-9pm.

Duggan: How long have you been a selectman?
Watson: I am finishing up my first term.
Duggan: Which is how many years?
Watson: Three years
Duggan: They are staggered terms, correct?
Watson: Correct, yes they are.
Duggan: Tell me the two or three key major accomplishments you’ve had in your term.

Watson: I have to say working towards re-doing downtown and getting that accomplished. It’s been talked about for years and years, but within my first 18 months we actually saw that project come to fruition. I’m also very proud of being a founding member of the newly established North Andover Merchants Association that has grown by leaps and bounds over the last year and a half to two years. I’m also very proud of the negotiations that we have been able to complete with our police department, I was the sitting selectman who did the negotiations.

Duggan: You guys also built a new police station, correct?

Watson:   Yes, we did and I am very proud of that building as well.

Duggan: You have taken a position that was against the prevailing wage law, because locally, it was going to cost the town a lot of money to put a roof on one of the buildings?

Watson:  Absolutely, that’s where it became a forefront issue with us [the board] and I forget the exact numbers for repairs on the fire station, but that should have cost us in and around $15,000 …under prevailing wage it would have doubled.

Duggan: Explain to people in layman’s terms what prevailing wage means, why would it have cost you more money?

Watson:  Because of this law, it means that you basically pay double because you have to use union workers. I have nothing against using union workers, however, it limits the projects that we can get done. You know, instead of one project eating up all of the money, we could maybe get two or three done. Prevailing wage forces municipalities to spend more than they really need to. In my opinion, I think that it also takes money out of local contractors and business’s pockets.

Duggan: So, when at the end of the day, did you guys end up having to go through this prevailing wage? Did you have to spend the extra money?

Watson:  Yes we did and we do on every project that we do.

Duggan: I think the North Andover Board of Selectmen is one of the most effective government bodies in The Valley. Would you agree with that?

Watson:  I agree with that as well. We are the only community in the Merrimack Valley that has not suffered any layoffs or cuts to services over the last three years, either.

Duggan: Now, do you see this continuing, because Governor Deval Patrick is now talking about cutting more funding for local aid

Watson:  Well, we definitely will be the first to get hit, but what people sometimes don’t understand is that North Andover gets a very small amount of our money under local aid, [from the State] and every dollar counts. Don’t get me wrong, we need every dollar and cuts to local aid will hurt us, but there are a lot of other things that we have our differences on. Our union contracts, health insurance that we also look to our State house to help us with. Plan design, that’s what every leader in the valley and really across the State and MMA, we are all begging for is Plan Design. Deval has made some movement, but not enough.

Duggan: So, you and [Rick Nardella] have an easy win this year right?

Watson:  An easy win? There is never an easy win my friend, are you kidding me? If you haven’t noticed, this is politics! You never go into an election thinking it’s an easy win.

I am confident in my record over the last 3 years I think I was an effective chairman. I think I’ve been a very effective selectman. I grew up in this community, raised my son in this community. I love this community, I work in this community and I want to continue to give back to this community and again, like I said, I think I’ve been very effective, but that is up to the voters. Hopefully they view my record as I do.

Duggan: If you get re-elected what do you see being the issues that are going to be most important. What are the things that North Andover residents are going to be most concerned about over the next three years?

Watson:  I think 2012 is going to be a really difficult budget. I think we are probably going to be faced with some tough, tough decisions. There was a teacher’s contract that was recently signed that I am not 100% behind, not by any stretch of the imagination, because I think it is going to end up hurting programs there and I think you will see layoffs there with the additional cuts from the State Unfortunately revenues are very flat. The question is, are there going to be cuts to services, are there going to be layoffs and how are we going to do that while still keeping our community strong as it has been?

Duggan: What about all the additional money that is coming in from all of that development in Route 114 area alone? Is that bringing more revenue in?

 Watson:  It’s kind of balancing out. Right now, revenue seems to be flat. For me, our #1 project needs to be sewer services up on Rte. 125 so that we can develop that. It is one of the last areas here in this community. In order to get the commercial development that we want up and down Rte. 125, we really need to get that sewerage up and done. You know, there have been a lot of negotiations. The biggest property down there is Ozzy Properties and we are working with Orit Goldstein. She has been a wonderful partner to this community and I am sure will continue to be, but we need to look at more revenue, more tax revenue, not necessarily just on the backs of our residents. Part of our job is to develop, but maintain the character of this community and Rte. 125 is a perfect place to do it. So, I think that’s going to be a main focus over the next few years as well.

Duggan: How well do you guys work together on the board?

Watson:  First and foremost, I think that even though you have a board of selectmen that are five very different people with very different ideas, we work together for the community. I give a lot of kudos to our Town Manager, Mark Rees, I give a lot of Kudos to our employees. We have been able to negotiate contracts over the last three years with the majority of them being 1% and 1 ½ %, our employees have been incredible in working with us. This has been by design, not by mistake. We attempt to forecast the future and we make cuts early and we tend to make them across the board and work with department leaders and if we say “OK, 10% across the board. To date, we have been pretty successful and I think that our main claim to fame is that we try to avoid being contentious with our employees and they work better for us.

Duggan: How come you guys get so much done and get along so well on the board?

Watson:  It is funny, because we do joke around about the fact that there’s really not much politics in our politics. As five individuals, (two Republicans, three Independents), our goal is always community based. It’s not personal, I always say “Ok, you think I’m wrong, enlighten me, change my mind!” We’ve all been able to, oddly enough, keep our minds open enough for them to be changed from time to time to benefit the community. I tend to not push my own agenda if I know that in the end, it’s not going to be right for the community. I don’t look at any of us as politicians, I am a community volunteer and I am very proud of that.

Duggan:  Was anyone really concerned about the illegal dumping into the Shawsheen that was exposed by the Valley Patriot last summer?

Watson:  All the selectmen were concerned and pushed the City of Lawrence to give us more information and we thank you, Tom, for bringing it to light because if you had not, we would have never known. We would have never been formally notified from the city nor from the EPA, so I thank you, Tom, to bringing it to light and for us to be able to find out what was going on. We have not been updated as far as I am concerned.

Duggan: What is your campaign message?

Watson: My message three years ago is the same today, it’s simple. I consider myself the right voice, the right choice. I love this community. I am very proud of my record, I’ve been very effective and I want to continue that. We have new contracts that will be coming up. There is a lot of work still to be done and a lot of work that’s been done. I think that I’ve been very approachable over the last three years. I like to consider myself as a sidewalk politician. You can come to my house, you can call me. We’ve had issues with billing, we attack those. It’s not just the big picture that concerns me, that is a huge thing that is the main focus. But at the end of the day, it’s all of the folks in town, too… and they have issues. A lot of times, what happens is, those in charge, forget about the little things that are going on, too. Like I said, the right voice, the right choice. I tell people to look at my record. I’ve been able to maintain and not increase taxes ridiculously. There have been no overrides, which I still do not support. I am very, very proud of the contracts that we’ve been able to do negotiate. I, also, think that I bring the folks’ messages to the Statehouse as well. I know what the folks in North Andover want changed there and I am not afraid to go to Boston and let them know what the folks in town want. I feel that I’ve been a good representative for the people here in town and I’d like to continue that.

There are two open seats up for grabs in the spring Town Elections. There are four candidates: Tracy Watson, Rick Nardella, Don Stewart, and Joe Edward Smith.