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Hawley to see three-way selectman’s race

HAWLEY — This little town — where even the incumbents are lax about filing nomination papers for re-election — has three selectmen’s candidates for the March 12 special election ballot.

Charles Stetson and Hussain Hamdan, both of West Hawley Road, and John Sears of Pudding Hollow, are seeking to fill the 15-month remaining term of the late Richard G. Desmarais. Desmarais had served as selectman and as an assessor from the mid-1990s until his death in December.

All the candidates say they want to help re-unite this town of 330 people, which has been divided by controversy over the restoration of the Chickley River after the damages of Tropical Storm Irene.

Stetson is a familiar face in Town Office and at Hawlemont Regional School Committee meetings. In 1992, he was elected to the Hawlemont Regional School Committee and served on that board until 2011, holding chairman and vice-chair positions. From 1992 to 1997, he also served as Hawley’s representative to the Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee and served on various subcommittees, including a building committee for renovations and the budget subcommittee. He was born in Heath and has lived in Hawley since 1980. He became the town’s treasurer in 1997 and the tax collector since 1999.

He said several people encouraged him to run for the selectmen’s seat, and that he decided to do so after learning from the State Ethics Commission that he could continue in his town positions if he becomes selectman.

“That was the final reason why I could do this,” Stetson said. “I would like to try to get the town back together again, so that we’re not at odds with each other. Before this river issue came up, the town used to run pretty smoothly. This river issue has split the town.”

Although Hussain Hamdan has just turned 21, he has been involved in school government for several years. Hamdan has lived in Hawley most of his life and participated in student council since he was in middle school. As a Mohawk student, he served as the school’s student representative to the Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee from 10th to 12th grade. He often came to School Committee meetings in a business suit and rarely missed a meeting.

Since 2011, Hamdan has been serving on the Hawlemont Regional School District Committee.

He is currently a third-year student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, studying prelaw. Hamdan has also taken mediation training and is a state certified mediator, he said.

“I’m really not that new to issues such as local governance and financial policy,” he said.

He said one positive thing to have emerged from the Chickley River controversy is that it prompted people “to take a very active role in town government.”

“I think that we need to have three members on the (selectmen’s) board, because, if you have a disagreement (between) two members, you’re not going to get anywhere. I would like to see this town move forward from a lot of disagreement over the river. I’m hoping I can bring some constructive skills to the table.”

Sears said he has been in Hawley most of his life, in a home that has been owned by his family for 200 years. He and his wife have lived here full-time for the last three years. Sears, a retired historian, has long been active with the Sons and Daughters of Hawley, and has served on the town’s Historical Commission for 10 years.

Sears said he’s running “because of the bitter division of the town that the dispute about the Chickley River has created.”

“I hope I can heal the bitterness of that dispute and help the town move forward,” he said. “We can’t change what happened to the river, and we can’t change the expense to be covered by the taxpayers, but there are things that we can do. We have roads that still need repair. There are roads in the Hawley State Forest we should get (the state) to fix. And if there’s a way we can ease the burden of the river repair on the taxpayers, we should work on that.”

Sears said he’s a “very good grant writer,” and has secured grants for the Sons and Daughters over the years. He said he would be interested in finding grant sources that might help with the river restoration.

Before he retired, Sears was executive director for the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in Hyde Park, N.Y. He said the institute is a nonprofit organization, and his work involved drawing up budgets, grant-writing, organizing events and conferences and directing a staff.

The Chickley River flooded during the 2011 Tropical Storm Irene, and the town received an emergency work order from the Department of Environmental Protection to perform emergency work in the river. But a few months later, DEP issued a work-stop order, saying that the town’s contractor ET&L Corp., had performed work exceeding the scope allowed by the permit, and had damaged it as a fish and wildlife habitat by straightening curves, putting berms in the floodplain and dredging.

A year later, a settlement was reached between the town, the DEP and ET&L over restoration work for the Chickley. ET&L had to follow a restoration plan and was fined; the town is facing costs of at least $184,000 for the river restoration and an escrow account for monitoring the river and for river bank plantings. The division in town is between those who feel the river repair work was justified by emergency situation in which roadways were washed out, and those who felt the five-mile river work was destructive.

No one has taken out nomination papers for the vacant assessor’s seat, Town Clerk Lisa Turner said.

In 2010, there were no candidates’ names on the annual town election ballot, because no one filed nomination papers.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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