Montague Selectboard candidates share positions in virtual forum

  • FAIRBROTHER

  • JENSEN

  • BOODY

  • LORD

Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2021 5:23:35 PM

MONTAGUE — In advance of Tuesday’s special election, the four candidates vying for a seat on the Selectboard shared their opinions on significant town matters during a virtual forum last week.

The candidates — Joanna Mae Boody, Mark Fairbrother, David Jensen and Matthew Lord — each gave opening statements, closing statements and timed answers to a series of questions posed by Montague Reporter Managing Editor Mike Jackson.

Opening statements

Jensen, 70, recalled moving to the town more than four decades ago during a period of “hyperinflation and a recession.” As he watched town conditions improve, Jensen said, he “became very familiar with how town government works.” He highlighted the length of his 41-year residency, 29 years and 10 months as building inspector, and work within other town positions such as building committees and school committees.

Lord, 40, talked about moving to Montague with his family and setting down roots here, both figuratively with his family and literally on the property where he lives, maintaining a farm and orchard. He then spoke of his experience on the Planning Board since 2018, as well as other experience and education he’s received within the community.

Boody, 38, brought up how she quickly registered to be a Town Meeting representative when she moved to Millers Falls three years ago. She mentioned her experience on the Gill-Montague Regional School District School Committee, her position as an institutional review board analyst at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, her educational degrees and her background in collective bargaining.

Fairbrother, 63, chose to forgo a traditional introduction, opting to use his time to refute “an inaccuracy” in a quote from his Greenfield Recorder profile pertaining to the recent review of the Montague Police Department that garnered “concerns and confusion.” He praised the Police Department for doing an “outstanding job in a very complex, dangerous and probably often frustrating job.”

“Let me be clear, face-to-face: I do not believe there is racism in the Montague Police Department,” he said.

Questions

Opening statements were followed by a main round of questions, which were shared with candidates in advance, and a lightning round that was described by Jackson as “more of a pop quiz.”

Topics focused on everything from Montague’s response to the pandemic and the number of vacant buildings in town, to the town’s relationship with the FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.

All candidates shared largely positive responses to how Montague handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Areas of praise included the encouragement of mask-wearing, vaccination and air flow regulation in schools.

Lord said he thought “the town has responded very well” to the pandemic. Jensen said both the state and the town had an “entirely sane reaction to it,” adding that at points, it was “a hair conservative.”

Fairbrother praised the financial aspect of the town’s response to the pandemic, saying that “The town used its money fairly well from the federal government.”

Boody highlighted the impact of adopting virtual meetings, saying she has “personally seen an increase in participation in meetings.”

When asked about the recent review of the Police Department by two committees — one that focused on the department’s community engagement, and one on its policies and practices on use of force — that was conducted amid heightened national concern over police brutality and racial inequity, candidates generally held the Montague Police Department in high regard.

Jensen broadened the scope of the issue, saying, “This country’s got a problem that hasn’t been fixed.”

Fairbrother similarly acknowledged the problem on a national scale, but said “Montague, unlike other places in the country ... is in a very good position,” before adding that recommendations are “worthy of further consideration.”

Boody took a more critical approach, refuting the idea that “based on the findings of these committees, that Montague has no systemic racial issues.” “This is simply not the case in the Police Department or in the community, and we cannot determine that from one survey,” Boody said, adding that “we all uphold racism in an unjust system.”

Lord, who said he wanted to add a different perspective, highlighted the problem of mass incarceration, predominantly of people of color, as something to focus on.

Transitioning to the issue of vacant and dilapidated buildings in town, Jensen highlighted the Strathmore mill building as the primary issue.

“The Strathmore is coming to a crisis point,” he said.

Fairbrother agreed, reaching back decades into town decision-making.

“I think the vital lesson to be learned from the Strathmore is if the town had accepted the Strathmore when it was a living, breathing building with businesses and infrastructure in it and intact,” he said, “we wouldn’t be in this situation now. But they voted it down at Town Meeting.”

Candidates all spoke to the community feel and sense of togetherness when asked about Montague’s strengths and weaknesses.

“In every village, there are people who are very committed to making things happen in Montague,” Lord said.

Boody and Fairbrother each said they’d like to see even more participation from residents in some town arenas.

“We do need more involvement overall, even though it does already exist, in some of our neighborhood resource groups,” Boody noted.

Candidates also shared an appreciation of being able to shop locally.

“I’m just really happy that we have the variety of businesses we do in Montague,” Lord said.

When asked about Montague’s relationship with FirstLight, Boody abstained because she didn’t feel equipped to share an “educated statement.” The other candidates agreed that FirstLight’s 50-year relicensing process has not gone smoothly, but they had fewer complaints about the tax assessments.

Lastly, each candidate spoke on past experience with personnel boards and hiring roles, which would be part of a position on the Selectboard. Fairbrother said he’d worked in that capacity “a number of times” in Montague, garnering “very good results.”

“I hired Wendy Bogusz,” Jensen said, invoking the town’s executive assistant. “What more is there to say?”

Closing statements

To conclude, Lord said his experience thus far working in Montague would translate effectively to a Selectboard role.

“I have a background that will help me understand the issues as they are presented to the Selectboard in depth,” Lord said.

Jensen said his campaign for a Selectboard seat is a “proposed continuation” of his long history of town work, as well as a government that he sees as being headed in the right direction.

“I think I bring a judgment and an insight to this that would contribute to the continuation of a well-running town government,” Jensen said.

Fairbrother similarly reiterated his lengthy history of town work and accomplishments, citing feelings of optimism as he pursues a Selectboard seat.

“This is a positive time for our town,” Fairbrother said.

Boody contrasted her candidacy with those of her opponents by highlighting her differing vein of qualification.

“I feel I am qualified and bring a different perspective from all of the other gentlemen running,” Boody said.

Recorded footage of the forum can be found at montaguetv.org. The election to fill Montague’s vacant Selectboard seat will be held Tuesday, Sept. 21. Polls will be open from noon to 7 p.m. at the Franklin County Technical School, the Gill-Montague Senior Center and the Montague Center Fire Station.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.




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