Erving candidates fired up by controversy
Fire is driving this year’s election, with two candidates vying for a post as selectman in the wake of last year’s struggle in and between the fire stations and town hall.
Selectman Andrew Goodwin is not seeking re-election for a third three-year term, and William Bembury and William Pease are running for the post.
Both candidates are motivated by last year’s crisis in the fire department, which saw five firefighters from the small volunteer department resign following a struggle on the selectboard and between factions in the fire department over the board’s decision to advertise the job of fire chief rather than simply reappointing Almon “Bud” Meattey. Both candidates say the department remains short-staffed.
Bembury was on the selection committee that screened candidates and ultimately recommended the current chief, and a second candidate who later backed out, over Meattey.
Pease was one of the group to resign from the fire department after Meattey did not receive the job, and was a vocal supporter of his in the hearings before the Board of Selectman on the matter.
In other matters, both want to see something done with the former Usher Mill property.
The former mill was abandoned, burned by an arsonist, and bought by a salvage company that did not pay taxes or clear the wreckage as promised. The town took the property for back taxes in 2011, has spent hundreds of thousands demolishing and clearing contaminated structures, and what to do with the land and remaining building has been an ongoing issue.
The election is scheduled for Monday, with polls open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Town Hall. There are four other races on the ballot, for tree warden and seats on the Planning Board, Board of Health and library trustees.
William Bembury wants to continue rebuilding the fire department and find a proactive solution to the former factories crumbling around town.
“It’s an issue for me. I’d rather see it move forward rather than backwards,” Bembury said. “That was pretty much the reason for my putting my hat in the ring.”
Bembury, 66, of 8 Church St., said he worked 32 years in law enforcement, and doesn’t draw a distinction between emergency services.
“So having been there and done that, I have an affinity for it and the last thing I want to see is the department fall apart,” he said. Bembury said he supports the current chief, Phillip Wonkka.
Beyond the fire issue, Bembury said he wants to see movement on the Usher property.
Bembury said the town should have taken the property at the outset when the paper company offered it for $1, before the fire.
“Now we’re in a situation where half of the town wants the building to come down, they don’t want their taxes to go up any further, and the other half wants to still pursue finding economic development for the property,” he said.
He has the same concern for the empty International Paper Mill and the Renovator’s Supply building, which he said is occupied but decaying, and said these should be dealt with quickly.
“We need to be a little more proactive and put it on the fast track instead of the slow track,” he said.
The old building issue has the potential to delay other projects are interested in, such as a new library, he said.
Bembury said he doesn’t know what the answer is, but wants to move ahead.
“We’ve got to find a happy medium for everybody, move ahead, keep our taxes as low as possible and give our residents a chance to resolve their own financial issues,” Bembury said.
Bembury served on the Erving Recreation Commission, helped move the summer park program from the park into the elementary school, served six months as interim police chief, and served a single term as selectman from 1998 to 2001.
He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and was wounded in combat.
Bembury has lived in Erving for nearly 30 years. He and wife, Linda Downs-Bembury, also a former selectman, have two grown daughters.
As a member of the Erving Fire Department, William Pease participated in last year’s public hearings, supporting the now former Fire Chief Almon “Bud” Meattey and ultimately resigning following Meattey’s replacement by a divided Board of Selectmen.
This year, Pease, 48, of 12 North St., is running for selectman on a platform of transparency and resident involvement.
“I want to make a change. Everything that’s been going on in that town, I want to make a change. I’m not a politician, I’m a hard-working person and it’s time people stood up and knew exactly what’s happening in the town, and I want to be part of it,” Pease said.
Pease said things like executive session rules can’t be changed but the board should adequately explain its reasons for going into closed-door meetings.
“I want to bring honesty and integrity back to the Selectboard,” he said.
Pease also wants to move the weekly selectboard meetings from Monday evenings to Sundays or another time, saying people don’t show up to the Monday meetings because many are just getting out of work, and he wants to schedule the agenda items in order of importance to residents.
“I know there’s been a lot of different things going on over the last year and a lot of people don’t know what’s going on at the meetings because they weren’t there,” Pease said.
Pease wants to get more people involved in the fire department.
“Very short-handed on our side of town, I think it needs to be addressed. We have to work together because you’re not going to get anywhere butting heads with anybody, it doesn’t work,” he said.
Like his opponent, Pease wants to see action on the Usher property.
“I don’t know what’s going on there. It’s going to take a lot of figuring out; there are a lot of people that want to do a lot of different things and we just need to get the townspeople involved, everybody involved together, and figure out what’s going to benefit the town most,” he said.
Pease has not previously served in town government but said he served in the volunteer fire department for 15 years, seven to eight of those as lieutenant, and saw a lot of the town.
Pease has raised three children and has lived in Erving for more than 15 years with his wife, Rhonda Pease. He is a mechanic and shop manager at Meineke Car Care Center in Greenfield.
You can reach Chris Curtis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 257