Saturday morning at the Plympton Town House, two candidates for the single three-year term of selectman, incumbent Mark Russo and newcomer Gary Somero, were guests of the Council on Aging Candidates’ Debate. Moderated by Plympton Director of Elder Affairs Colleen Thompson, each candidate was given three questions and had three minutes to answer. About 30 people attended and here are some of the highlights.
Both candidates credited preserving Plympton’s unique charm and character as a top priority. Russo gave his long list of things left to do, describing Plympton as the “hidden gem of the South Shore.” He continued that in the past decade there has been a lot accomplished by the board of selectmen, and there is a lot left to do. “Small changes in the leadership can make huge changes in how functional or dysfunctional the government can be.”
Somero introduced himself as a newcomer, both to Plympton and to politics. He noted that his top priority in serving as a selectman would be to help keep Plympton the way it is. He loves the town and its special qualities. As a single father, he is raising his daughter here and she is a student at the Dennett Elementary School. Schools as well as the elderly need to be taken care of. “I’m new to politics and that’s both good and bad, but I’m willing to learn… “
Russo said his top prioriies are 1.) to maintain Plympton’s unique and distinctive character. 2.) promoting a balanced frugal and sane fiscal policy that provides needed services but controls growth. 3.) continuing to foster effective collaborative, civil and welcoming town government. 4.) to focus on the particular need for high quality education for our children, among others, and building the town government one brick at a time.
Both candidates were asked their thoughts on a new fire station. Russo answered that he had served on various committees to solve the fire station problem. He said that serving on the Police Station committee, it took 10 years until it was built. Back then, he said, he advocated for building both police station and fire station together. “Had we done that now, we would have been done with it, at a lot less expense.” Russo went on to say that there are still a lot of unanswered questions to the projeect of a new fire station, particularly septic and water systems infrastructure. We need to get those figured out, before we can do anything else, he said. There is a lot left to do.
Somero, a firefighter in Plympton, told the audience that the current fire station needs to be replaced. There are federal mandates that the town needs to follow. The station is too small. There are no segregated bedrooms. There is only one bathroom. There is no protection for the employees from the exhaust. “Cancer is killing our first responders,” he said. “We are 99 % more likely to get cancer than a normal person because of all the stuff that we have to deal with.” Build the station now and it will last 40 years, he said.
Colleen Morin was concerned that if we build the fire station using the Capital Stabilization Fund, there won’t be enough money left to maintain the roads. Russo responded that the money is low now, but it will be replenished each year and it is his hope that the fire station funding payments can be drawn from Capital Stabilization without impacting the tax rate.
Nancy Butler asked the candidates their preference In person-to-person meetings vs Zoom meetings. Somero said he was in favor of in-person meetings. Russo asked “How can we best offer access to the most people?” He said he would continue to investigate that, noting that he helped bring Area 58, who was recording the debate for public streaming. Butler continued, stating that as a senior citizen, she has a hard time navigating a Zoom meeting as do a lot of her friends. Russo responded that some training is necessary, and also noted that if Zoom wasn’t possible, the simple thing is to dial in by phone.
Somero said that sometimes he has problems with the Zoom meetings. We need to work on that. It’s a work -in-progress. Technology is always changing and you can get up to speed and two weeks later it gets updated.
Susan Vetterlein asked how each candidate would support protecting our water here in Plympton as almost all of our residents depend on private wells. What would each candidate do to support water protection.
Russo responded that for many of us our home is our most valuable asset and if the water in our wells fails, it affects our homes’ values. Towns in our area have been less careful of their water resources, citing Carver and Middleboro as examples. One of the many things town government may do is advocate for water resource protection and as much open space as possible, and to the degree possible, control growth. He told the assembly that over the last decade Plympton has put almost 500 acres of land into conservation, protected in perpetuity. There are a couple of court cases going that we need to be aware of that could affect our future groundwater, he added.
Somero said he came from a city where they didn’t have to worry about water. Now he has to pay attention to it. “I’m a firm believer that we should be testing our water.” … “ It is the most important resource that we have in town.”
Dominique Sampson asked Somero his opinion on the new proposed water protection by-law for groundwater protection the town would be voting on at town meeting. Somero said that he hadn’t read the bylaw, a lengthy item on the warrant, but that he agreed that water is our number one resource in town.
Russo responded that he is very much in favor of the groundwater protection by-law and fully appreciates the work done by the by-law review committee to construct its wording.
A Montello Rd. resident asked what Plympton can do about the new proposed development on the toxic waste site in North Carver? Russo answered that he hopes to make people aware, to the degree that we can – about things that can affect properties in neighboring towns. He also told the gathering that the selectmen have worked very hard to maintain a warm relationship with our state representative and senator to keep our lines of communication open.
Somero said he wasn’t aware that the project has resurfaced and thought it had been stopped. As a board of selectmen, we need to reach out to these other towns and try to make them aware of what effects their actions have on other towns.
Tim Dempsey asked if the town has done any studies on the water farm in town that sells millions of gallons of water each year, to see what effect this has had on the aquifer and is there any chance of losing or harming the aquifer.
Russo replied that the town hired a hydrogeologist who said that it was unlikely that the amount of water withdrawn was going to have any major effect on the aquifer. He did say that Plympton has spent $110,000 in legal fees and “The court has not been sympathetic to our position.” Russo said that a pretty simple mistake by a selectman 15 years ago left us with this continuing mess 15 years later. “I think it’s one of the reasons that a savvy, experienced selectman is a really important aspect of town government.’
Dot Cushman asked about transportation for the elderly. “While the COA does a good job, they aren’t always available.” Russo responded there have been some conversations with GATRA and this is another thing that needs to be addressed.
Somero said he agrees with Russo that the issue of transportation for the elderly population is very important. “Again, if I’m elected, it will be one of my top priorities,” he said.
Colleen Thompson, Director of Elder Affairs, responded that she has been working with GATRA to provide services but unfortunately, they can’t get drivers and until they do, they can’t add more services.
What about changing the town meeting from Wednesday night to Saturday, Nancy Butler asked, to increase participation.
Somero said he thought it was a very good idea. “The more people you can get to these meetings, the more people who can put their input in, and that’s important.” .
Suzanne Jafferian questioned affordable housing. Somero responded that regarding the MBTA (mandate) “I think we ought to fight it and do it on our own terms and make it what we want.” He noted he is not in favor of big apartment buildings and wouldn’t want to see them in town. He also said he is a single parent and can’t afford to buy a house in town. If I’m elected selectman, I want to get input from everybody. “It affects everyone in this town.”
Russo responded that he is very much against the MBTA legislation. “It’s a real challenge, and unfortunately the attorney general two weeks ago implied that towns that don’t adopt the new zoning required by the legislation might be in legal matters beyond losing grants along the way. Russo continued that the legislation doesn’t take into consideration the uniqueness of smaller towns. He further went on to say that the selectmen have been in touch with Habitat for Humanity and want to come up with a design for cluster housing, with open space around it, and are looking for a suitable piece of land to buy where the town could place homes architecturally designed to complement the small-town feel of Plympton.
He continued that we already have the answer to affordable housing needs and it has nothing to do with the federal government or the state government, or even the town government. It is the Accessory Dwelling Unit by-law that was passed two or three years ago. “It gives each of us the opportunity to devote part of our house to an accessory dwelling, an apartment, or a barn or garage that can be converted to income-producing living space.”
Susan Vetterlein asked the two candidates for selectmen what they think are the most important traits to be an effective selectman.
Somero responded that the ability to listen to what other people are saying is vital, the ability to figure out a plan to defuse a situation, and to work as a team with other committees within the town, all work to bring out a conclusion to something that will work out for all of us.
Russo replied that he has served on a great number of committees throughout the town and quoted former selectman Joe Freitas who said that to be a good selectman “you’ve got to put in the time.” Russo told the audience that he attended selectmen’s meetings for two years before running for election, in addition to serving on the town’s finance committee. “You need to have a clear sense of what’s to be done and prioritize those items that are most important.”
Joe Beck of upper Main St. asked the two candidates what they would do about the speeding problem in town.
Somero agreed, saying that he lives on the corner of Lake St. and County Rd. where cars race through the stop sign. I believe we need to increase traffic enforcement around the town.
Russo agreed with more enforcement, but another thing that citizens can do, rather than government, is that when you’re out driving, use cruise control to set your speed to the speed limit and watch the number of cars piling up behind you. “What if all the people in town did this.”
Jackie Rafferty asked if the town of Plympton keeps the revenue from the tickets? While Russo didn’t know he said he will find out. He said that manpower is likely an issue. Rafferty responded that back in the day, Hubie Angus was chief and he ran the department with one or two part- time officers and they wrote tickets.
Somero responded that he agreed with the manpower needs of the police department, adding that law enforcement has changed since COVID-19. He supported the adding of a resource officer at the Dennett Elementary hoping it will help police gain respect from youngsters.
Candidates were asked why they were the best choice for the job. Russo concluded he is the best candidate, with a clear sense of priorities, protecting Plympton’s unique nature, balancing Plympton’s frugal fiscal policies, effective collaborative civil welcoming town government, concern particularly for children, education, affordability for senior citizens, clear sense of priorities, the experience to constructively make those things happen. A proven track record over time, a long list of accomplishments. “I greatly appreciate the opportunity to support this town. I greatly appreciate the sense of purposefulness that comes out of stewardship for this beautiful town.”
Somero concluded, “I am new to politics. It’s time for a change, time to get some new blood. I have the utmost respect for the board of selectmen that we have now and I was under the impression that my opponent wasn’t going to run again.. I said I would do it. I’ve been in public safety for 40 years. I hope to be your next selectman.”
Election day is Saturday, May 20. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Make your voices heard!