Candidates vying for library trustee, Finance Committee seats in Heath





For the Recorder
Published: 5/4/2022 4:31:19 PM

HEATH — Voters will decide the outcome of two contests on Friday’s annual town election ballot.

Incumbent Finance Committee member Alice Wozniak is facing a challenge from former Selectboard member Gloria Cronin Fisher for a three-year term. Also vying for a three-year library trustee seat are Donald Freeman, a former Finance Committee member, and Robert Gruen, a former school board member.

The polls will be open at the 18 Jacobs Road municipal building from noon to 7 p.m.

Library trustees

Freeman, 84, and his wife, Margaret, have lived in town for 20 years. He served as the Finance Committee chair for nine years.

He is a retired English and linguistics professor who taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Temple University and at the University of Southern California, among other colleges. At UMass Amherst, he was an associate dean of humanities and fine arts. Earlier in life, he was a reporter for Rhode Island’s Providence Journal.

“I think the (town) library ought to be able to use any space available for library services,” he said. “That includes the former school library.”

He said the former school library is a good place for children’s books. He also believes that the Sawyer Hall library should be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant.

Freeman feels strongly that libraries should be “unimpeded by ideology.” Alluding to book-banning in some parts of the country, he said, “Libraries have to be exemplars of open and free inquiry.”

Gruen, a 47-year Heath resident, lives next-door to the library, “which has a deep spot in my heart,” he said. Gruen, 75, was a teacher for 40 years, including at Rowe Elementary School and the now-closed Butterfield School in Orange.

“A big part of my teaching was to read to the children,” he said. Gruen still reads to children as a Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School volunteer, and he reads to people with disabilities in a program called Learning Ally.

Gruen is a Friend of the Library, and served on the Mohawk Trail Regional School District School Committee for 20 years. He was on the Franklin County Technical School Committee for three years. He has also been on the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, the Building Committee for the Heath Elementary School and the Heath Regionalization Study Committee. He was also a Heath firefighter for 35 years.

When asked if he thinks the library should be in a larger space, like the former school building, Gruen replied: “I believe there is a history and a great love for the library here in town center.” Gruen said it may be possible for a “sharing of space and resources between the two libraries” — the town library in Sawyer Hall and the children’s library in the former school building.

Finance Committee

Cronin Fisher spent many years in Heath’s town government and would like to return to the Finance Committee, a board she had served on for six years previously.

“I really missed being part of the town’s government,” said Cronin Fisher, 71. “I think I’m good at it and I want to help everyone else here.”

Cronin Fisher has been a Heath resident for 48 years. She served as town coordinator for five years, and is a former co-president of the Heath Agricultural Society for five years. She was also a Selectboard member for three years, Board of Health clerk for two years and a Finance Committee member for six years.

While on a past Finance Committee, Cronin Fisher was the board’s liaison to the Mohawk Trail Regional School District. She also worked on the Heath School Task Force, which studied the closure of the Heath Elementary School, and said she would like to see the former school building put to better use than as a space for town offices.

“I think the town offices were fine in Sawyer Hall, partly because not everyone is using it at the same time,” Cronin Fisher said. “I can’t see how it benefits townspeople to move town offices over to the old school.”

Cronin Fisher said she would like to find a way to use the building so that it brings income to the town. She believes the cost of maintaining the school building is too expensive, given the size of government in a town of 700 people. She said the 27-year-old building may soon need expensive repairs, such as a roof replacement. “I’m concerned about how we’re going to get the money,” she said.

Wozniak is the incumbent Finance Committee member who is seeking a second term on the board.

Wozniak, 51, is assistant assessor in Heath and in Leyden. In Colrain, she is director of assessors as well as that town’s clerk to the conservation and zoning boards, Fire Department and the building inspector’s office.

During her first three-year term on the Finance Committee, she said, the town’s assessments rose while the tax rate went down by $1 from last year’s rate. It is now $21.52 per $1,000 valuation, she said.

If re-elected, Wozniak said she would like to see the town spend its money “more wisely.”

“We do spend on things that other towns don’t,” she said.

When asked if she thinks Heath should reuse its former elementary school for town offices, Wozniak said she has seen more residents come to see her in her 18 Jacobs Road office than she did when her office was in the historic Sawyer Hall building in the center of town.

“That’s because a lot of elderly people couldn’t make the stairs and didn’t want to get into the elevator,” she said. “All buildings have a use, but I think some uses expire or are out of date,” she added, pointing out flooding and plumbing problems in Sawyer Hall. She said an historic building can have a different use, such as becoming a museum or a shop, and still be useful to the community.

Other positions

The following candidates are running unopposed on the ballot:

■Selectboard, three-year term — incumbent Robyn Provost-Carlson.

■Assessor, three-year term — Alice Wozniak. (Heidi Griswold is not seeking re-election.)

■Planning Board, five-year term — William Emmet. (William Gran is not seeking re-election.)

■Municipal Light Board, three-year term — incumbent Bill Fontes.

No one has filed nomination papers for the School Committee seat currently occupied by Barbara Rode, who is not seeking re-election to another three-year term.


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