Candidates for a seat on the Board of Selectmen squared off last night as they discussed options for a new town manager, the Nichols Street bridge and Yentile Farm.
Incumbent Michael Champoux will face challenger Kevin MacDonald in the April 28 election.
Champoux said he and the rest of the Board of Selectmen will look to promote when Town Manager Michael Caira .
MacDonald said there are probably other qualified people out there who could do the job.
"The four of us who made it to the meeting unanimously felt it was prudent to promote from within," Champoux said. "We’re fortunate to have Jeff Hull ... he's been there longer than our current town manager. He's seen by colleagues and people throughout Commonweahtlth as an expert ... I believe we’re in good hands and it puts us in position to find a great number two man."
Hull has worked for the town for about 25 years, three years longer than Caira has held the position.
MacDonald said promoting Hull would be doing a disservice to the town.
"Mr. Hull had the opportunity to be town manager before Caira was hired as manager ... Mr. Hull, having three years more experience than Caira did, went up against someone with no experience and he couldn’t win the job back then," said MacDonald. "So now it appears the only way he can get hired for the job is if he goes against nobody. It’s a disservice to the community, it's very poor leadership."
The candidates also discussed the Nichols Street bridge, and what possible obligations the town has for fixing it even though it seems Tewksbury gets the most benefit of using it.
"If federal money comes through, I believe we should fix it. I'm sorry for my good friends on Nichols Street, they’ve been granted the benefit of cul-de-sac living, but never the less, it should be repaired. But what amount of that repair should Wilmington incur? My frank answer is as little as possible," said Champoux. "Wilmington has pledged to participate in the planning and engineering side of repairs but have not commited to any further expenditure. Going forward, if federal money does not come through, I'd be cautious in stepping into any agreement with neighboring towns."
MacDonald said the bridge should be open as a matter of public safety.
"I think it’s a disgrace its been closed as long as it has," he said. "I think skilled, competent and capable engineers should be hired (to work on the issue)…if that bridge were to take more than a month that'd be a disgace. I think Tewksbury bears the brunt of the responsibility if federal funds don't come in but there are enough people in Wilmington and Tewksbury paying taxes ... there should be no reason why the bridge shouldn’t be fixed."
Both candidates agreed that the town should look at purchasing the .
"I like the idea of purchasing it, people like more field space. There's a foundation there I think we need to take a look at but … I believe there may have been material hauled in there from the Big Dig and we need to investigate to see if that’s contaminated. The town doesn’t want to get a good deal and then end up cleaning up a disaster. Of course I want to be prudent and know all the facts so we’re not getting ourselves into a problem. If it's clean, I'm all for us," said MacDonald.
Champoux agreed, saying the town desperately needs more field space.
"I hope the residents will vote in favor of it at Town Meeting," he said. "The most logical use is to increase our field space. I'm a father of a few young kids who play sports so I witness it first hand. This is a case where now, we can take care of the young people in dire need of field space. The space we have currently our field stock is so undersized for the demand being put on it."
Conversation got somewhat heated when the candidates were asked what they thought of the "incivility" in politics in town and how it balances out with the need for free speech.
Champoux said the section of Board of Selectmen meetings .
"Yeah, this is a dilemma," he said. "My colleague, Mike McCoy, when he was chairman he instituted public comments at the end of each meeting with the intent of that time used for residents to ask questions to get something done. It wasn’t meant to be a soap box or opportunity to argue. It has over time evolved into that and the tradition and history have allowed that spot to be manipulated."
Champoux said he struggles with the idea of one resident ruining it for the rest.
"I still struggle with that because of the unfortunate trend, perhaps we cheat the rest of the residents the opportunity to speak," he said. "At Town Meeting that’s the opportunity to have your voice heard."
MacDonald said he sides with freedom of speech.
"I'm probably the target person (for that question)," he said. "I believe freedom of speech is a civil right and incivility is caused (when people try to) stimy a right to free speech."
MacDonald said as a selectman, he would want the community's input during those meetings.
"I happen to live close to a quarry and my neighbors are rocked by quarry blasting. We have 20,000 gallons of fuel (in the ground) being rocked by blasting. That’s a critical issue ... I brought this to attention of the Board of Selectmen and I felt as though I was disrespected and it fell on deaf ears," he said. "My opponent has taken no initiative to correct this problem. If someone has something to offer, let them speak at the Board of Selectmen meeting."