One reaction to Marion's Candidates' Night

May 05, 2017

To The Editor:

The League of Women Voters’ performs a valuable service for the community by organizing these Candidate Nights. Last night provided an opportunity for us to hear from the five candidates, Norm Hills, Dale Jones, Michelle Ouellette Smith, Matthew Vander Pol, and Christine Winters, running for the one selectman seat.

I very much appreciate the willingness of these people to put themselves out there and to run for public office. I especially appreciate the service of Norm Hills to the town over the years and believe he gained valuable knowledge and experience which would serve him well in the selectman seat. With that said, while the evening was extremely informative, several of the responses were very disappointing.

Someone from the audience asked the candidates each to comment on the most important responsibilities of a Selectman. None answered correctly, but Christine Winters came closest. The answer is to listen to and be responsive to the voters of Marion in setting priorities for the Town. The selectman position is different from service on the Conservation Commission or Zoning Board of Appeals. It is the job of those committees to understand the rules and regulations and to try to apply them fairly when making decisions. It is the job of the selectmen to set priorities for the Town and to listen to the will of the voters in doing so. Policies, rules, and regulations are secondary.

Rick Barnes asked the candidates if they support Article 28, which is on the upcoming Town Meeting agenda. This article is to establish a subcommittee of the current Town House Building Committee and to allocate $35,000 to evaluate the option of building a new Town building on the VFW site. The primary responsibility of this new subcommittee will be to come up with more solid cost numbers for the VFW building option. In doing so, it will work with an architect to come up with conceptual designs. This committee will assess the potential for selling the current Town building with a deed restriction to maintain the historic character of the building for alternative uses such as condos, apartments, or office space. The committee will consider factors such as the savings to the Town on the cost of remediating mold and asbestos at the Town house and the incremental tax revenues which, for example, condos in the Town building will generate.

Ms. Ouellette Smith and Mr. Hills both said they were for the Town House option and, paraphrasing, that enough money and time has been spent. They said it was time to get on with renovating the Town House. I have no problem if they tell us that their personal preference is to keep the Town building at its current location. But, beyond that, the right answer is that the voters of Marion, and not the selectmen, should decide between renovating the current Town building or building a new building at the VFW site.

Ouellette Smith and Hills should have added that they were for Article 28 because, as a Selectmen, they owe it to the voters of Marion to provide them better information on the VFW option before asking them to decide between two. And, even better, they should have said that despite their personal preference for renovating the Town house, if it turned out building at the VFW site would save the Town a significant amount of money, then building there might be in the best interest of the Town. Bottom line, if Mr. Hills and Ms. Ouellette Smith fail to support Article 28, they are doing a grave disservice to the voters of Marion. They are preventing the voters of Marion from being able to make a well-informed decision.

To clarify, there are two related articles on the warrant at the upcoming Town meeting, Article 28 at the Town Meeting by citizen’s petition, and Article S5 at the Special Town meeting (scheduled at 8 p.m.) by the Town House Building Committee. Both articles provide for funding a committee to further evaluate building at the VFW site. It is expected that the Article 28 submitted by citizen’s petition will be withdrawn and a recommendation made to support Article S5 as submitted by the THBC. It is in everyone’s interest to vote in favor of Article S5.

However, what I took away from the meeting last night is that the biggest issues facing the Town are: reducing water infiltration in the sewer system and responding to the new EPA requirements for the sewer treatment facility. Both could cost millions. Here we are a Town that must ration sewer hook ups for new homes. Rather than solve that problem, we are prepared to spend $8 million on renovating the Town House. Remember I said the primary responsibility of a selectman is to listen to the voters in setting priorities for the Town. If I was a selectman or running for that position, I would suspend all work on the Town House project and find a way to put band aids on that building so it is usable for at least another ten years.  Then I would focus on solving the major challenges we have with water infiltration in the sewer system and EPA permitting for the waste treatment facility. Once we have clearly identified solutions for these problems, hard numbers for the cost, and identified sources of funding, and are committed to an implementation schedule, we should go back and revisit the options for bringing our Town house up-to-date.

Of all the candidates last night, Christine Winters was the most articulate and offered the best positions on these issues.


John Waterman


Comments (2)
Posted by: Robert Raymond | May 08, 2017 10:19

Thanks John for the comments. While the Town House Building committee has already demonstrated that a comparable new building will not be significantly cheaper  many in town are unconvinced. For that reason the THBC supports Article S5 which will fund a feasibility study for a new building on the Benjamin Cushing VFW land. This will settle the issue once and for all.

I would advise against any more delays though, as rapid construction escalation we are now experiencing (7 to 9%/yr. per the construction economists at Vermeulens Inc.)  will consume any savings either plan can garner.  


Bob Raymond


Posted by: Heather Burke | May 11, 2017 16:45

Dear Sir,

I think you have to be careful paraphrasing candidates positions, especially if you only have one point of reference.  Michelle Ouellette Smith stopped by my house when she was making the rounds, introducing herself to voters by going door-to-door.  In our conversation about the Town House, she indicated to me that while she had heard many people on that day express a preference for keeping the Town House in its current location, we first needed to figure out the costs and be responsible to the taxpayers.  It seemed to me she was listening to townspeople and evolving her understanding of the situation while being forward thinking.  However, I feel that it is time to stop studying things and get going.  There are more issues coming down the pipeline and can't let this one project bog us down endlessly.  Every day we delay it costs more.

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