By: D.J. Deeb – April, 2011
The Dracut Town elections are just a few short weeks away on Monday, May 2nd. A debt exclusion issue, the Selectmen, School Committee, and Town Moderator seats are proving to be most contentious races this year.
As I wrote in last month’s column, the Massachusetts School Building Authority voted on February 9th to approve $36.5 million in state funding towards a $59.5 million total renovation project for Dracut High School. In order to be eligible for state funding, Dracut voters must approve a Proposition 2 ½ debt exclusion, which encompasses floating a 25-year bond, to fund the remaining $23 Million for the project. If the debt exclusion is approved the average property tax bill will increase by $195.00 per year (for a $200,000 single family home). All of the candidates for Selectmen and School Committee support the proposed debt exclusion.
A special Town Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 27th to consider the debt exclusion proposal for a Dracut High School renovation project. If the debt exclusion passes there, it must be voted on a few days later in the May 2nd Town election.
If approved, the project will begin later this year and be completed by 2015.
There is no question that Dracut High School is in dire shape and if something is not done it will likely lose its accreditation next year. The roof is leaking, the HVAC system is not working properly, the catwalk is not safe, and the outside canopy is in rough shape. There is also inadequate classroom, cafeteria, and gymnasium space for students. The proposed renovations call for a new auditorium, gym and locker rooms, additional classrooms, library expansion, and new classroom technology integration with wireless Internet access.
It is also true that Dracut has been one of the towns hit hardest by the current recession and unemployment hovers over the state average of 10%. Although the project is necessary, Dracut residents realize that property owners are currently still paying for the debt exclusions on the new Town Library and Police Station. It is also worth noting that an estimated 235 jobs will be created as a result of this project and these workers are likely to patronize Dracut restaurants and businesses.
The Town Moderator position is being vacated by Gary McCarthy. Dracut Fire Chief Leo Gaudette is challenging Christopher Jenkins, a Democratic Town activist. Leo Gaudette has stated that he intends to retire from the Fire Department next year. Personally, I believe that it is a conflict of interest for a Town employee to be running for this position since the Moderator presides over the debate/discussions regarding the funding of the Town Budget. Leo Gaudette should wait until he retires to run for office. Electing a town employee to Town office is counterproductive and constitutes a conflict-of interest. Christopher Jenkins has the energy, motivation, and experience to serve as Dracut’s Town Moderator. He will a offer a fresh perspective on things and will work in the best interests of the taxpayers.
Dracut voters should elect Christopher Jenkins for Dracut Town Moderator on Monday, May 2nd.
In the Selectmen race, Incumbents John Zimini and Bob Cox are facing challenges from businessman Ted Kosivelon and former Dracut Union official Tony Archinski. Pete Wilde, Chris Murphy, and Jim O’Loughlin pulled papers, but all later withdrew from the race. John Zimini has done an excellent job in the position and should top the ticket. It was John Zimini who took the lead last year in proposing that elected officials forego their stipends in order to set the tone for contract negotiations and ensuring fiscal discipline. Incumbent Bob Cox definitely has his work cut out for him. I wrote last month that Tony Archinski will be a strong challenger since he is a well-liked retired Dracut Police Officer. The same is also true regarding businessman Ted Kosivelon. Unfortunately, Cox and Archinski though both share a close relationship with Warren Shaw, who is making no secret about his desire to influence the selection of the next Town Manager, who will be chosen to replace Dennis Piendak before his retirement next April. Dracut voters should be sure to re-elect John Zimini for Selectman on Monday, May 2nd.
In the race for School Committee race, one-term Committeeman Matt Sheehan is attempting re-election after coming off a devastating loss after running for State Representative this last Fall, capturing less than 10% of the vote. In that race, Sheehan discredited himself by spreading vicious lies about Representative Colleen Garry (D-Dracut) and her voting record. He has been part of the problematic “Gang of Three” that I have written about in previous Valley Patriot columns.
In addition, Sheehan failed to fill out his campaign finance reports correctly. He did not record the in-kind contribution he accepted from Shawn Ashe, Co-host of Warren Shaw’s WCAP Radio show Saturday Morning Live, to advertise on his website. Challenger May Paquette, on the other hand, has 9 years of prior experience on the Dracut School Committee. She is an accountant who possesses the knowledge and experience necessary to steer Dracut’s schools down the right direction as we all weather this fiscal storm, deal with present budget shortfalls, and plan for the renovation of Dracut High School. Dracut voters should elect May Paquette for School Committee on Monday, May 2nd.
Remember, your influence counts. Use it! Dracut residents, be sure to exercise your right to vote on Monday, May 2nd.
D.J. Deeb is a member of the Town of Dracut Committee on Government Rules and Regulations. He served as a member of the Dracut School Committee from 2005-2008 and the Greater Lowell Regional Voc-Tech School Committee from 1997-2009. Deeb is an Adjunct Professor of History/Government at Bunker Hill Community College and an Adjunct Political Science Instructor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He teaches Social Studies full-time at Reading Memorial High School.