CAMBRIDGE — It wasn’t the “Great Debate” but it was a darn good forum. On Oct. 14 the League of Women Voters held a two-hour forum for nine candidates seeking office in the Nov. 4 election. Those vying for Dorchester County Council seats included: District 1, Jay Newcomb (incumbent), Don Satterfield; district 4, Rick Price (incumbent), Lenny Pfeffer; district 5, Tom Bradshaw (incumbent), and Jerome Harris. Three candidates for sheriff were: James Phillips (incumbent), John Foster, and Greg Robbins.
Except for a few minor “snipes” the candidates were straightforward and stayed within the time limits designated by moderator Glenna Heckathorn. The audience, numbering over 80, submitted questions that were reviewed and combined to avoid duplicates. Opening and closing statements were two minutes each and answers were limited to one-minute. A timekeeper ensured that participants stuck to the rules.
In his opening statement, Lenny Pfeffer stated his goals as public safety, roads and infrastructure; and schools. Jerome Harris is running to “be of service to the taxpayers and residents.” Rick Price noted his long-time involvement in community organizations and his activities as a two-term councilman. Jay Newcomb wants to continue to “give back to the community” and took the opportunity to scotch rumors about his candidacy: He retired from Phillips Packing Co.; and, he filled the post of county manager for two years with no pay. Don Satterfield said “Most everyone in the county has something to offer. They should be heard. Together we can make a difference.” Seeking a second term, Tom Bradshaw serves primarily farmers and watermen. “It’s a job I take seriously and enjoy.”
Asked for ideas to expand broadband to underserved businesses and residents across the county, Councilmen Newcomb, Price, and Bradshaw noted that the “backbone” of Broadband exists down US Route 50, coming under the Bay, and going to Wallop’s Island. Currently connected to some schools and businesses the three noted that private vendors will be contracted for expansion to outlying areas. Mr. Satterfield said “competition is good” and Broadband will improve business.
Mr. Pfeffer noted the “backbone” is a “secure line dedicated to Wallop’s Island so it’s going to be hard to tap into that.” His suggestions included: Small repeaters in rural areas; transmitting via power lines; and considering forming a public utility to provide internet service through the county government and selling it to citizens.
Both sides of the Environmental issue were represented. Ms. Heckathorn asked what the council would do to help watermen and farmers since 43 percent of all county jobs are linked to them. With monitoring data showing high phosphorus and nitrogen pollutants in some rivers, she asked for opinions on the implementation of the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT). The proposed DNR crabbing moratorium elicited opposition from all candidates.
Councilman Newcomb said increased numbers of predator fish like rockfish and skate eat baby crabs, adding that proposed restrictions on rockfish would further deplete the crab population. Two years of oyster dredging in Tangier Sound increased the haul but the county has been unable to convince the DNR to allow more dredging, he said.
Mr. Harris suggested a compromise between the DNR and the watermen and farmers. Mr. Satterfield noted that “a clean bay should not fall on the shoulders of our farmers and watermen. You cannot impose on people who make their living feeding the rest of us and assume that will have a profound impact on the Bay.”
Implementing the PMT would send the poultry industry to states that are currently wooing them according to Mr. Bradshaw. Mr. Pfeffer said he is against both the moratorium and the PMT.
Ms. Heckathorn asked, “How are we going to use the Vocational Technology Center to generate business opportunities in Cambridge?”
According to Mr. Newcomb, the county’s student test scores “are not good. But at least the ones who want to learn are learning.” For Mr. Satterfield, the Center “is an expensive but worthwhile project,” and Mr. Pfeffer noted that some companies have VoTech student interns. Mr. Harris agreed that graduating students who cannot find jobs need training.
Councilman Bradshaw explained that his children are home schooled and the VoTech center will not admit them. “I don’t think it’s right,” he said. He suggested that the school also be used for teaching adults since unemployment benefits pay for re-training
Councilman Price initially opposed the VoTech Center. “I felt at the time and given the state of the economy there were some more basic educational needs in our county that should have come ahead of this one.” Although praising the goal of the Center, Mr. Price felt other educational projects, such as a new North Dorchester High School, should have come first. “That said, it is here” and being used.
Ms. Heckathorn asked “What is the purpose and potential of the vacant Tech Center on Bucktown Road” that has cost the county millions. How is the council filling those empty lots while surrounding counties are getting new businesses?
The council approved an Incubator building to draw businesses to the Park. However, Mr. Satterfield noted that while it has potential it will be very costly. “That expense is going to cost the taxpayers directly,” he said. He feels the location in the middle of the park could interfere with a new business seeking to attach a spur from the existing rail line.
Mr. Bradshaw does not agree that “if you build it they will come” and has “strongly opposed” the project. “I say we cut our losses and work to improve things with our students to improve the work force and our infrastructure. Concentrate on the things we have – a rail line and a port.”
“The Tech Park is not a matter of if, but when,” said Mr. Pfeffer. There’s been $7 million put into the project so far. Now we just have to make sure that we fill the park with businesses.”
“I did vote in 1999 for the Tech Park,” said Mr. Newcomb who emphasized the county does not have the market that “big box” stores require. “They just don’t want to come because we don’t have the capital.”
A two-part question included how to improve cooperation between county and Cambridge government; and, where does each candidate stand on plans for Sailwinds future.
It was a given that all candidates promoted cooperation between the county and its municipalities.
Mr. Bradshaw is opposed to the current Sailwinds project. He worries that more housing and stores will sound a “death knell” to Main Street.
Mr. Pfeffer suggested asking Cambridge what it wants from the county and then communicating with each other. For Mr. Harris the answer is what it will cost the taxpayer if Governor’s Hall is demolished. “If we don’t have the money then all ideas are on the table.”
Keeping Governor’s Hall or relocating it on the same property makes sense to Mr. Price who, along with Mr. Newcomb, emphasized Cambridge’s location as a deep water port.
Mr. Satterfield said there were five public forums with much input. He suggested that Governor’s Hall be replaced on the Sailwinds property.
A final question for council hopefuls was: How can we return county properties acquired through tax sales to the tax rolls.
All the candidates suggested reviewing each property to determining its life expectancy, safety, potential use, and whether to tear down or sell. Mr. Newcomb pointed out that “The county is not in the real estate business and we don’t want to be.” A county tax sale offers available properties on its website for prospective owners to see, make a reasonable offer, and present a sealed bid. Mr. Satterfield noted it “is feasible to take less because money will be made back via the tax rolls.
In closing statements, Mr. Bradshaw said he enjoyed his first term immensely and has worked hard “to be the best possible at conserving your resources.” Mr. Newcomb explained the difficulties caused by the almost $4 million taken by the state over the last four years. “This council has had to continue to maintain with this existing budget.”
Mr. Price summed up, “As council members we are supposed to represent the concerns and interests of the county residents. I love doing the people’s work.” Mr. Harris wants “to be a servant for the people of the 5th district.” For Mr. Pfeffer it means representing not only district 4 but being part of the entire county.
Perhaps a message shared by all candidates was Mr. Satterfield’s: “Each of us has something important to us and we have an obligation to share it. If we work together and work hard we will make a difference.”