WEBSTER – Members of the Bartlett High School Student Council questioned the four candidates running for the one open selectman’s position at a Candidates’ Night held at the Puliafico Auditorium on Thursday, April 12.
Patricia Murphy ably moderated the event, keeping good order through all the questioning.
Each candidate gave an opening statement and then shared their vision for Webster.
Candidate Brian Chenevert said he is a 1992 graduate of Barltett High School, went to Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, NH, and is now back in Webster and working as a claims manager at Unum insurance company, out of Worcester. He has three children in the schools here, and said "because of this I have a vested interest in Webster." He has also spent eight years coaching various youth sports teams here.
Mr. Chenevert’s vision for Webster includes cleaning up the downtown district, "There are eyesores all over town," he said. He would like to see a cleaner, greener town, with more businesses and no empty buildings. He would also focus on education, and on getting town offices to work together. "The town would work more efficiently if the left hand knew what the right hand will be doing."
"I want this to be a town my children will want to raise their families in."
Candidate Robert J. Miller described himself as a fourth generation Websterite who has raised four children here. He previously served three terms as a selectman, from 2001 to 2010. Before that, he was a member of the Finance Committee, and also served on the Police-Fire Station Building Committee.
He serves as a board member for the VNA and Life-Skills, Inc.
During his time as selectman, Mr. Miller was instrumental in structuring the Webster-Dudley Inter-Municipal Agreement, and believes that "we have to get more people on to lower our rates." He’d like to be back on the Board of Selectmen because "the work is never done," he said.
He would like to package Webster as a business friendly town, as Putnam has done. He asked, "Where are the plans to fill the empty buildings with new businesses?" He’d also promote Webster Lake. "We should promote, promote, promote, because we have location, location, location, rather than raise fees, fees, fees."
Candidate Paul O’Donnell said "I’m here because I’ve spent my life helping people." He cited his achievements, including 37 years as founder and former publisher of The Patriot newspaper, 45-years as a member of the Webster-Dudley Veterans Council, former president of the Webster-Dudley Rotary Club, former member of the Webster Lions Club, six years on the town’s finance board, former member of the conservation board, former corporator of Hubbard Hospital, United Way, and W-D Boys and Girls Club, and many more.
Mr. O’Donnell’s vision included more building around the lake. "You could put a lot more buildings, put in 20-story high buildings for people to live there." He also said "we need more businesses. We have a lot of cars that go through here."
Candidate Walter D. Ricci, incumbent and current chairman of the Board of Selectmen, talked about his history with the Webster School system and how it has been of tremendous support to his children particularly his special needs son. Mr. Ricci is also chairman of the Park Avenue School Building Committee, which he hopes will be approved at town meeting in June.
Mr. Ricci said the selectmen have had to make difficult decisions the past few years, but they put us on a path that "will bring a brighter future." He cited two $1 million grants the town has received.
His vision includes ongoing downtown revitalization where business can grow, support for the lake, the "greatest natural resource we have," and making "the school district the best it can be."
Matthew Bernier asked each candidate why he is running for selectman.
Mr. Chenevert said, "I based my decision on needs I see in Webster in talking to people in the town, listening to their complains about what’s not getting done and would like to see done."
Mr. Miller said he’s running "because I still have some energy. I enjoyed meeting the people. There is more to be done," he said; "you’ll never accomplish everything you want to."
Mr. O’Donnell, who had some difficulty hearing the question, answered, "After finishing 37 years with the paper, I’m doing nothing, so I want to do something, and this seemed like just the thing for me."
Mr. Ricci said he wants to give back to the school system. "The town has made tremendous strides in the past few years, and I want to continue that."
Lindsey Mason asked the candidates how their past experience can help them in this position.
Mr. Miller said, "It’s something you acquire. You learn from your mistakes."
Mr. Ricci said his background in construction had been helpful to the Board of Selectmen in the last three years.
Mr. O’Donnell said, "I’ve been all over the place. I’ve done so many things. I shouldn’t have any problems. For the first couple of months I wouldn’t do anything. Look at all this stuff I’ve done. That would be no problem."
Mr. Chenevert said "I don’t have the experience they have, but I’ve been a leader my entire life. I deal with Type A people. I can bring a youthful outlook and leadership to the post."
Kayla Smith asked the candidates "what qualities make you the top candidate; what sets you apart?
Mr. O’Donnell said, I’m not the top candidate. It’s up to you people to decide. I’ve been a good person and a hard worker to get things done."
Mr. Ricci: "Commitment. I made a commitment three years ago and kept my promises." He also noted that his construction background makes him best suited to oversee building projects like the police station and new elementary school.
Mr. Chenevert cited his being younger, with a different vision and outlook on what needs to be done. There has not been forethought in what the effects of decisions will be on generations down the road, he said.
Mr. Miller noted his past experience as selectman and on the job training. "I’m accessible day and night."
Lindsey Canty asked the candidates about their biggest priority for the town.
Mr. Ricci reiterated his three campaign promises: downtown revitalization, the school system, and the lake.
Mr. Chenevert called revitalizing a huge priority, along with bringing viable business to town to bring up the tax base, and the educational system.
Mr. Miller answered by saying "We all have the same vision." That includes revitalization of downtown, something that’s been ongoing for 40 years, the schools, and bringing business to town.
Mr. O’Donnell replied: "Business, more business, a lot of business. We have lots of cars going through. We need them to stop."
Amber Daigneault asked the candidates how they can improve Webster.
Mr. Chenevert: "By listening. Some people don’t have a voice. Just showing up for a Monday meeting isn’t enough."
Mr. Miller: "I’m going around all over the place. I’ve spent hours and hours. You have to listen, whether you agree or not, or they’re afraid to come forward. You go and talk to people."
Mr. O’Donnell: "I can’t do it standing here. I’ll look for businesses coming in, go to California and other states and let them know what we have here. If we don’t get businesses, taxes will go up."
Mr. Ricci: "I agree with the other candidates. We need more business. Nuisance properties have been brought down, we need to keep it going. Webster will continue to thrive and be back where it used to be."
The four candidates for selectmen were joined by Michael Makara, incumbent candidate for the School Committee. Mr. Makara is unopposed for re-election to his post. The students asked him the same questions.
Bartlett teacher and Student Council Advisor Kelly O’Brien helped organize the event, which can be viewed on cable access, Channel 13.