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Vote Christopher Donovan for Selectman on June 2

May 30, 2012

There are two seats available on the Board of Selectmen this year, and six candidates on the ballot: incumbents Chris Timson and Nancy Mackenzie, and challengers Christopher Donovan, Bill Hamilton, Russell Jones, and Rob Luce.

Incumbent Chris Timson has contributed tremendously to the Board of Selectmen during the six years he has served. He is always very methodical, and he consistently comes to meetings prepared to ask probing questions and look deeply into issues to get the facts. He carefully examines documents before and during all meetings, even going so far as to ask for delays in voting until he has the chance to read through legalese in various town documents (he is a lawyer, after all.)

His performance during the controversial Deputy Police Chief search two years ago was spectacular, when during one particular meeting he heroically pressed Police Chief Richard Stillman to publicly name specific police officers who might have been prevented from applying for the position with rewritten job requirements from one selectman. During that same Deputy Chief hiring process, Timson also had the courage to stand up to the then Chairwoman of the Board, Nancy Mackenzie, over what he perceived to be her conflict of interest. He challenged her despite the fact that Mackenzie had supported him in his own race for Selectman – demonstrating his unwavering courage to stand up for what he feels is right even if it is against a supporter.

He has been a leader on economic development – pushing for revitalization of downtown Walpole and asking the Board to split up into different groups to focus on different economic development target areas around town. He has also been the originator of some community-based initiatives, like a drug task force focused on cutting the amount of drug use among kids in Walpole.

Timson was also one of the first town officials to publicly propose eliminating annual mandated pay raises for town employees. Unfortunately, that proposal hasn’t gone anywhere, at least until the next round of union collective bargaining. He also came up with the idea for a cash-back credit card for the town, which if implemented might generate a lot of revenue.

Timson has also been an interesting and thoughtful source for new ideas and out-of-the-box thinking during the Board’s discussion of “New Business” at their meetings (other Selectmen joke “New Business” is his favorite part of the meeting because he always has something to say for that part of the meeting agenda.)

Unfortunately, with all of his ideas for creative budgetary solutions, Timson has also been a consistent vote in favor of unsustainable budgets and tax hikes. He supported the proposed 2007 override, the meals tax hike in 2010, the school department free cash raid last year, and now supports this year’s mammoth $3 million property tax override.

Timson has demonstrated a willingness to seek out money-saving ideas, but ultimately he has not stood up for the taxpayers to the extent that concerned taxpayers should expect him to. The town is in a fiscal crisis this year and Timson has a light record on seeking specific proposals for spending cuts. Earlier this year, despite having been on the Board for over five years, Timson didn’t even know how much non-union employee pay raises were costing the town, when quizzed by 180. This is the type of information Timson should know if he had been consistently asking the tough questions about each line item in the budget.

Another important point is that Timson has now been on the Board for six years and is seeking to be on for a total of nine years. There is a reason that even U.S. presidents aren’t allowed to serve for over eight years – turnover is needed in any governmental body. Timson has had a chance to make a difference and has made some significant strides in a number of areas. It is time for him to move on, in order for the community to bring in new voices. “Change,” in this case, is not a bad word, especially when this town is so sorely in need of it.

Because of his fiscal record, but with the recognition that Timson has done a reasonable job during the past six years of service on the Board, 180 will not endorse him this year. The town needs a fiscal watchdog on the Board, and Timson is simply not it. The town needs to pull itself out of the grips of its self-created fiscal crisis and Timson doesn’t appear to have the answers to do that other than to hike taxes.

Incumbent Nancy Mackenzie earned 180’s endorsement three years ago because of her commitment to bringing in new economic development, her deep qualifications from working on the Planning Board, and her general commitment to fiscally conservative policies.

Her time on the Board has been marked by some controversy, as it relates to her marriage to a Walpole police officer, and her decision to issue endorsements in 2010 for two candidates for the Board. On the former, Mackenzie has consistently listened to the advice of the State Ethics Commission when it comes to handling any potential conflicts of interest with her husband being a police officer. The Ethics Commission has never accused her of any wrongdoing. She ultimately gave in to public pressure and abstained on the vote to hire a new Deputy Police Chief, and abstained on the vote to promote her husband to police sergeant. On the latter issue, Mackenzie has gotten a lot more criticism for the endorsement incident than is probably warranted and it was blown out of proportion.

On some other issues, Mackenzie has had some stumbles. She has alienated a lot of seniors in town, who accuse her of talking down to them during Selectmen’s meetings. She has also had a testy relationship with the only local newspaper, The Walpole Times, over what she perceives to be unfair press coverage of her in the past. There’s really no explanation for either of these issues, but Mackenzie doesn’t seem to be letting them hold her back in her quest for a second term.

Mackenzie has courage and tenacity, traits that few other town officials have. She has fought for major changes at Longview Farm and Allied Recycling to protect residents and has not been afraid to be loud and angry in front of officials from those two organizations. She took the lead on calling for a senior center at the old library site even while the rest of the Board was prepared to go another direction and when the town’s senior group publicly opposed her. She publicly sought the unpopular removal of the annual carnival at Stone Field, going against the youth sports group – and some of her supporters – that benefited from it.

Like Timson, Mackenzie has shown a willingness to root out waste in taxpayer dollars and has shown a pro-taxpayer streak, as when she opposed the meals tax hike in 2010. Unfortunately, her support for this year’s override and continued unwillingness to go after big spending measures like the Capital Budget and personnel spending make it difficult for 180 to support her this year. Her vehement support for pay raises for town employees even during a fiscal crisis – when the town can least afford them – is particularly alarming.

Mackenzie will not receive an endorsement from 180 this year.

Bill Hamilton, a former Selectman from the 1980s and 1990s, is a perennial candidate who has been trying repeatedly these past few years to get back in town government with several unsuccessful runs for Selectmen and an unsuccessful bid last year for the Planning Board. He deserves credit for his unwavering willingness to serve this community. This town needs more people like Bill Hamilton who want to serve. Though Hamilton’s repeated presence in town political races might annoy some people at this point, he has every right to run and his ideas deserve a platform.

Hamilton is very active in opposing the proposed Kraft family developments in Foxboro on the South Walpole line, in particular the MBTA expansion. His position seems to be that the current Board of Selectmen is not doing enough to halt the developments and he will do more than they will.

Though Hamilton might bring more passion on the issue of Kraft and the MBTA expansion to the Board if elected, it’s difficult to see him being any more effective at repelling Kraft than the current Board or than any other candidate in the race would be. The current Board and most candidates have been constantly monitoring the Kraft developments in South Walpole, and the Board has been attending meetings in Foxborough and working with other area towns to create a unified push against Kraft. The current Board and candidates are well aware of the impact these developments would have on Walpole. No matter who is elected, the Walpole Board of Selectmen will stop at nothing to look out for the interests of South Walpole and the rest of the community.

As an elder statesman in Walpole who has more years of involvement and experience in town government than all of the other candidates combined, Hamilton has been a thoughtful voice on urging Walpole to avoid past mistakes like selling off town buildings and turning away potential economic development opportunities. As George Santayana once said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and Hamilton’s caution about making rash decisions without thinking about the long-term ramifications is precisely the type of rational logic that the town needs more of these days.

Unfortunately, with the town facing a fiscal crisis and with town finances continuing to be the number-one issue of this campaign, Hamilton has been light in his emphasis on budget concerns. His platform also seems to be based on decisions that happened two decades ago, not now.

Although 180 respects Hamilton’s previous opposition to revenue increases and his general support for fiscally conservative budget policies, he has had a chance on the Board before and it is time for new ideas and bold ideas, which Hamilton can’t provide. 180 will not endorse him this year.

180 respects Rob Luce’s views on spending, and his willingness to root out corruption and abuse in town government. He has expressed an interest in ending the “rubber stamp” culture on the Board of Selectmen that has allowed the Town Administrator and Finance Committee to pursue irresponsible spending policies and to expand the size and scope of town government. His views are ones that many of us can support in principle.

There is no question that Luce has guts and determination to stand up to the power structure at Town Hall. He represents the frustration of many of us in Walpole right now. He is also a bit of a puzzle, as some of us aren’t sure whether he’s a nutty conspiracy theorist or whether he’s really on to something when it comes to corruption. It’s difficult for 180 to endorse him this year without a better idea of which of those two he really is.

Russell Jones has publicly taken himself out of the running even though he is still on the ballot. He would have been a great candidate to endorse (180 endorsed him last year), but he is urging his supporters to back Christopher Donovan instead.

180 agrees with Jones in this smart choice.

The town can not continue on the fiscal path it is on. We must rein in spending now and Christopher Donovan has the perspective on fiscal issues that this community needs right now.

Donovan is opposed to this year’s override and is committed to voting against unsustainable budgets and spending we can not afford. He is a Town Hall outsider who can apply out-of-the-box thinking from the private sector to the broken Walpole town government. At a time when the two incumbents boast about “experience” and “continuing” the work they have done on the Board, what we need is new ideas, not old ones.

180 supports Donovan because he has shown an amazing willingness to venture into taboo topics that no one else dares to talk about at Town Hall. He has publicly called for a thorough review of our personnel spending, take-home cars and Capital Budget spending. He has called for more transparency with expanded utilization of the town website and the creation of official email addresses for all town officials to ensure better citizen communication and better response to public records requests.

Donovan has a blend of experience from both the public and private sectors, which will provide the perspective the Board of Selectmen sorely needs right now. He has served as a union head in the public sector, and understands the way that government unions operate. He runs a business and knows how to balance a budget. He has served in the military and will bring a toughness and no-nonsense attitude to the Board. He is willing to listen to the people of Walpole, as shown by his willingness to be the only active candidate in the race to engage with the anonymous cowards at WalpoleWords and seek their input. He has said he will listen to the concerns of residents when it comes to the Siemens biotech proposal and the MBTA expansion in South Walpole, and on any other controversial projects. He has called for more transparency when it comes to the town’s budget documents to make it easier for the community to see where their money is going.

Donovan has had some stumbles along the way, and is by no means a perfect candidate. He still has quite a bit to learn about Walpole government, and his inexperience on town issues clearly shows in some of his public statements. It is easy for opponents to write him off, saying he is untested and will need on-the-job training due to his lack of involvement in town politics before. In the past few weeks, however, Donovan has shown that he can learn quickly and isn’t afraid to seek out information and ask questions on issues he doesn’t know. He does research and seeks out facts. He will have no more trouble jumping in to tough issues on his first day on the Board than any other Selectmen had on their first days in office.

His performance during the League of Women Voter’s Candidates Forum was impressive considering his perceived faults. During the forum, he managed to be the adult in the room, starkly differing with Timson and Mackenzie on fiscal issues while showing more levelheadedness than Luce. He presented cogent, informed answers to questions.

Over time, 180 is confident that he will become more practiced and more careful with his public comments. He has undoubtedly upset many town officials and employees with his public comments about their management of the budget, but at a time when taxpayers are being held at proverbial gunpoint for a $3 million override, Donovan’s readiness to be bold in the fight for smaller government is precisely the type of wake-up call Town Hall needs right now.

He supports imposing zero-based budgeting for the town, opposes forcing government mandates on local residents and businesses to become a “Green Community,” supports looking for savings within our personnel and payroll structure, supports holding on to the old library site rather than selling it in a short-sighted decision, and opposes the MBTA expansion at least until the community can be included in the planning process and the agency’s financial concerns are addressed.

Donovan will vote no to unsustainable spending, and be the needle in the rest of the Selectmen’s and Town Administrator’s sides, constantly holding them accountable and constantly seeking answers about where our tax dollars are going.

As a business owner, Donovan has held real jobs working with real people. He knows how to come to respectful agreements with others on issues. He knows how to compromise if necessary, but he knows when to stand strong on issues.

If he is elected, residents of this community will be able to trust Donovan with their tax dollars. Donovan’s willingness to propose radical reforms and to go after the elephant in the room when it comes to our town budget stands in stark contrast to the two incumbents who leave a lot to be desired on fiscal issues. Timson and Mackenzie seem to be content to let our spending and cost problems continue to swallow the taxpayers while simply tossing more money into the fire and putting off our problems. On the other hand, Donovan wants ambitious changes that we all know are needed.

180 proudly endorses Donovan. Walpole residents should give him a chance to shake up Town Hall by voting for him on June 2.

(Editor’s Note: As you will note, 180 is only endorsing one candidate publicly.)

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