Know Your Town introduces candidates to South Hadley

by Tim Kane

Know Your Town introduces candidates to South Hadley
By Jason Cook
Turley Publications Correspondent

SOUTH HADLEY – Members running for various South Hadley government positions spoke at the latest Know Your Town meeting Thursday evening. Prospective members for Selectboard, School Committee, the Board of Health and municipal light board answered questions from South Hadley residents, and gave an overview of their visions for the town.
Moderated by Ray Hershel of ABC 40, candidates were alloted three minutes to give opening statements.
Robert G. Judge is running for re-election as Selectman. He said 2010 was the busiest year in his three-year term, with many new board members. He emphasized the importance of strengthening communication between all town bodies. “Communication is as important as balancing a budget,” he said.
Francis J. DeToma was new to government a year ago. Since, he has found himself “deeply immersed” in the Selectboard – which he said has much to be proud of, but has room to improve. He echoed Judge’s sentiment that communication is the key, while also focusing on foresight. “A ‘squeaky wheel gets the oil’ system is not ideal.”
The new candidate for Selectboard – of which there are two spots available – is Chester T. Sinclair, who “cut to the chase” in his opening remarks. He wants greater economic opportunities and affordable taxes for the town. Sinclair also summarized his vision for eliminating the dual township system in the town. “South Hadley number one,” he said.
The School Committee ballot is full this year, with four candidates campaigning for two slots. Three attended the meeting, with Shannon L. Hann absent.
Robert M. Abrams didn’t think he’d even run this year. He told a story of how the ballot was looking empty so he signed on. As the ballot filled, he attempted to back out, to no avail. But Abrams is still committed to the board. “I’ve supported the committee through hard times,” he said, adding he’s been very impressed with the school system his three grandchildren attend.
Kevin M. McAllister plans to bring his education experience to the committee. A Springfield College professor for the past seven years, McAllister has two young children in the South Hadley school system. “Every day I see students unprepared,” he said – unprepared for higher education and for life after school.
Barry Waite is a new candidate to throw his hat into the ring. In lieu of a prepared speech, Waite spoke from the heart. As a member of the anti-bullying task force, Waite “had the opportunity to see what parents need.” He said many parents work hours that don’t allow them to be a part of school committees. “This is my opportunity to advocate for many children, to be the voice for those parents.”
Running for municipal light board is Dale H. Johnston and Rita M. Lawler – who was not available to attend the meeting. Johnston laid out four points of focus for the board. He aims to keep rates low, improve communication, promote energy progress and provide new services to businesses.
The question and answer portion of the program was where many concerned citizens’ voices were heard.
Candidates for the school committee were asked what they thought the most important change needed to happen in the school system. Waite said rebuilding trust was the most important, as he feels there is a rift between the school committee and many parents. McAllister answered with education, such as improving the graduation rate. Abrams is worried the start time of school is too early, resulting in fatigued children and a poor learning atmosphere.
The committee elects were also asked what was learned from the Phoebe Prince tragedy. “We’re still learning,” said Waite. “The community is still looking for answers.” McAllister continued the theme of communication between the committee and parents. He called the two groups “detached.”
The Plains Elementary School building was also a topic of debate among citizens and the candidates. The school committee seemed to be in agreement that it needs to be replaced, not repaired. Waite said the facility has “run its course.” McAllister said the building could cause “kids’ health to be affected.” Abrams said the school’s need to be “up to snuff” and replacing it was probably the correct choice.
The proposed plan for a new library was a topic of discussion for the select board candidates. While the members were mostly in favor of it, there were differences. Sinclair wants the library at a different site, one closer to the high school. Judge pointed out that the town needs other new buildings as well – including the site for the night’s meeting. DeToma wanted a more long-term plan for construction of new buildings, one that mapped out which buildings needed to be updated and then prioritizing.
The candidates were allowed a few minutes as the meeting came to a close – a final statement to voters before they head to the polls. Waite said the school committee is in a state of transition and he would “be honored to be given the opportunity to be a part of that transition.” McAllister said the committee needs to be transparent to be effective, and the “status quo is not acceptable.” Abrams said it is important to respect teachers, to support them in any way possible. He sees “a lot of potential” in the schools.
Sinclair said he has found a home in South Hadley and will offer his “energy and intellect” if he is elected to the select board.
DeToma said in closing, “A year ago I sat here untrusted. I hope I have earned that trust.”
Judge commended the audience for the meeting, but recognized the ones present were already interested in local government. The key is to get new people interested.

The 2011 Town Election ballot
Selectboard/Police and Sewer Commissioners (3-year term) – vote for two
Robert G. Judge (I)

Francis J. DeToma (I)

Chester T. Sinclair

School Committee (3-year term) – vote for two
Robert M. Abrams

Shannon L. Hann

Kevin M. Mcallister

Barry CD Waite

Municipal Light Board (3-year term) – vote for one
Rita M. Lawler (I)

Dale H. Johnston, II

Trustee for Free Public Library (3-year term) – vote for three
Helen Correia Gage (I)
Joyce M. O’Neil (I)
Susan Obremski-Crowther (I)
Barbara S. Salthouse

The 2011 Town Election ballot

Moderator (1-year term) – vote for one
Edward J. Ryan, Jr. (I)

Board of Health (3-year term) – vote for one
Michael A. Rosner (I)

Board of Assessors (3-year term) – vote for one
Kevin E. Taugher

Planning Board (5-year term) – vote for one
Helen J. Fantini (I)

Planning Board (3-year term) – vote for one
Jeffrey D. Squire

Housing Authority (5-year term) – vote for one
Constance A. Clancy (I)