Selectmen candidates address voter concerns at COA forum

by Frank Schroth

Candidates for town wide offices being contested this election season appeared at a Candidate’s Forum sponsored by The Milton Council on Aging. The forum included candidates for Selectmen, Planning Board, Assessor, Town Clerk, and Library Trustee. Candidates had an opportunity to give an opening statement which was followed by questions from the audience. Here are some highlights from candidates for Selectmen.

The Selectmen were up first. Keohane referenced his experience in real estate as a reason he is qualified at this time when the town is facing a number of property development issues. He believes his experience in this area is “critical in moving the town forward.” He also stated that “break-ins are skyrocketing” and sought to address issue with Police Chief’s contract as well as morale at Town Hall.

The incumbent John Shields noted he had been a Selectman from 1991-1997 at which point he took some time off to be with his children who were young. He ran again in 2006 and won. He listed a number of other positions that round out his experience such as co-chair of MPACE (Milton Partnership for Arts & Cultural Education), which helps enable arts for children, and having served as co-chair of Sustainable Milton. He viewed the past six years as six years of accomplishment that included a union agreement on health insurance that enabled the town to realize a million in savings. He also is “proud of Stoughton” work. The town has signed a P&S with Pulte Homes to develop 30 acres of the Stoughton land.

The first question pertained to the issue of the Chief’s contract. The Chief has a contract through June of this year. Keohane feels that he should have a longer contract because of the critical role he plays in providing safety. He cited this as reason for why the chief deserved a longer contract than other department heads; “I am not an advocate on 1 year for everybody . . . public safety is the key here,” Keohane said.  Currently all town departments heads as well as school superintendent have 1 year contracts. Keohane also questioned why the town spent $12,000 to investigate the chief and learn he “took two free boats,” gave a used vehicle to the Quincy police, and negotiated compensatory time with officers. Shields said the issue with the boats was not the acquisition cost but the cost of personnel to staff them when they went out in support of calls in towns such as Hingham and Weymouth. The vehicle was given to Quincy as a gesture of thanks for support they had provided the department. Keohane acknowledged that a slap on the wrist was warranted but that he was only doing what he had seen others do. He was “led by example.”  Shields said he and the chief “were working well together” and said the “big problem is communication.”

Another question highlighted the difference in thought on the current P&S for the Stoughton Land. Keohane is critical of a P&S that he believes has holes “you could drive a Mack truck through.” Specifically, he mentions a provision that would allow Pulte to take back some of the 4 acres still in the trust if they are unable to build the 23 homes they desire on the 30 acres they purchased. He feels the Copeland bid would have been the better choice. He said the Attorney General might have accepted that but the town won’t know because is didn’t try. The Copeland bid was for $1.75 million vs $5 million from Pulte. Shields contends the AG would not have approved the Copeland bid. He also noted that the Selectmen were acting in their roles as trustees, “this is a separate trust” and needs to go before probate court.

Regarding a question related to what will become of remaining four acres, Shields said it would need to be put out for bid. The acre under consideration for animal shelter as well as other 3 acres once a decision is made to release that property. “Everything is RFP’d.”

The candidates appeared to agree on the need for affordable housing for local municapal workers and others who as they age should not be priced out of the town they have lived in. They also said affordable housing is not the same as low income housing, though it is sometimes perceived that way.

Notes on remarks made by candidates for other offices will be posted shortly.