Dracut elections are stirring interest and controversy


By: D.J. Deeb – March, 2010

Several candidates have taken out papers to run in the upcoming Dracut Town Elections scheduled for Monday, May 3rd. The positions that are drawing the most interest as of this writing are Selectmen, School Committee, and Housing Authority. All three are likely to stimulate interest among Dracut voters as there are a number of pressing issues facing the Town.

The last day to obtain Nomination papers to run for one or more of these offices is Friday, March 12th. The Nomination papers may be picked up at the Dracut Town Clerk’s Office anytime Monday through Friday from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm. All nomination papers must be signed and returned to the Town Clerk’s Office by Monday, March 15th.

The positions appearing on the Dracut Town Ballot on May 3rd are as follows:

Moderator (1) One year term
Selectmen (2) Three year term
School Committee (2) Three year term
Library Trustee (1) Three year term
Housing Authority (1) Five Year Term
Dracut Water Supply District Commissioner (1) Three year term

As I predicted last month, the Dracut School Committee race is heating up. Former Dracut School Committee member May Paquette has taken out papers to challenge incumbents Mike Miles and Mike McNamara. Mike McNamara is a career educator who brings a great deal of experience to the Board as a former teacher and administrator in both Dracut Public Schools and Salem Public Schools. My previous columns have addressed the hypocrisy and political shenanigans of Mike Miles.

As I have written previously, Mike Miles is the leader of the ‘Gang of Three’ on the Dracut School Committee (Matt Sheehan, Bonnie Elie, and himself). He represents the “Good Ole Days” of Backroom Deals in Dracut. These were the days of failing MCAS scores, below average SAT scores, high student drop-out rates, constant turnover among staff, and political nepotism at its worst. This is truly unfortunate for the students and taxpayers of Dracut. Miles won by a very slim margin when he first ran three years ago. May Paquette, on the other hand, is a respected member of the community, who served on the Dracut School Committee from 1998-2007. I had the privilege of serving with May for two years on the Dracut School Committee from 2005-2007. May has always been a fiscal watchdog for the community and her accounting background will serve the Dracut Schools well during this time of economic crisis.

On the Selectmen side, five people have drawn Nomination papers for two seats. Incumbents Jim O’Loughlin and George Malliaros are facing challenges from businessman Brian Bond, business owner Pete Wilde, and Dracut Republican Town Committee Chair Cathy Richardson. All three challengers are formidable and have a great deal to offer. Brian Bond is probably in the best position to serve since he has had experience working in Town Government as a member of the Town’s Conservation Commission. George Malliaros brings a great deal of professionalism and legal experience to the Board as he is an attorney by profession. Political observers that I have talked to in Town agree that the most vulnerable incumbent Selectman is Jim O’Loughlin. Over the years O’Loughlin has been a close friend and supporter of Warren Shaw and has been known for engaging in political cronyism. Anyone who has watched Mr. O’Loughlin in action over the years at Selectmen meetings has witnessed the arrogance and bad behavior he has exhibited.

Three candidates have taken out papers for a five-year term on the Dracut Housing Authority for an open seat being vacated by Commissioner Tom Salem. Russ Taylor, a former Lowell Police Officer, Conservation Committee member P.J. Mercier, and Planning Board member Phil Thibault. It looks as though P.J. Mercier will not run this year and it could be a two-way race between Taylor and Thibault.

Taylor is being supported by the faction at the Dracut Housing Authority and on the Board of Selectmen that tried to sell the Dracut taxpayers a $7 Million monstrosity on Mammoth Road last year to expand “affordable housing.” Recall that last year Dracut taxpayers were offered an opportunity to purchase a 38 unit residential dwelling (known as the Louisburg Square project) from a local developer for $2.65 Million. The problem with that was that the 38 units were only appraised at $ 2.4 Million in 2005 and then appraised at $2.66 Million in 2009. With the real estate market decline that took place during those four years how is it that the value of the property went up? What many people in Town did not know was that the residential building in question contained only one 40 gallon water heater for 38 units. The building would have required $2.9 Million in funding from the State for renovations plus an additional $1.4 Million from the Town of Dracut. This was all in addition to the asking price of $2.65 Million. Luckily, the three member majority on the Housing Authority (Ken Martin, Ken Cunha, and Gerry Surprenaut) saw through all this and blocked the project. They had the courage to stand up for what was right even though they were criticized heavily by The Lowell Sun and WCAP’s Warren Shaw.

The reality is that some members of the Housing Authority (who are now supporting Taylor’s candidacy) wanted Dracut taxpayers to pay more for housing units than what they were worth. It certainly makes you wonder who was benefiting as it was certainly not the Dracut taxpayers or Dracut seniors. By the way, Selectman Jim O’Loughlin (discussed earlier) had a cozy relationship with this same developer in question some years ago when this developer purchased Selectman O’Loughlin’s home when it was in foreclosure, held the mortgage for a few years, and then sold it back to Mr. O’Loughlin at a reduced price. Maybe this helps explain why Mr. O’Loughlin supported the costly Louisburg Square Project and supports Russ Taylor’s candidacy. Those who favor good government practices obviously need to oppose the candidacy of Russ Taylor and support Phil Thibault for Dracut Housing Authority. Phil Thibault, who has been a member of the Town Planning board, is an independent thinker who will be very pro-active in improving and securing affordable housing units for Dracut residents.

The positions of Library Trustee and Water District Commissioner are going unopposed as of this writing. Incumbents Clee Ace and Bob Corey are the only candidates to have taken out Nomination papers for Library trustee and Water Commissioner respectfully.
As I mentioned in last month’s column: This is our Representative Democracy in action. The time is now if you think you can make a difference you should consider running for one of these offices. Getting involved in local politics offers individuals the best opportunity to effect change to make a positive difference for their community. The Dracut elections are certainly shaping up to be interesting. More to follow!