By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Northborough – The meeting room at the Vincent F. Picard American Legion Post 234, was packed on May 6 when candidates for Northborough’s Town Election gathered at a forum organized by Laura Ziton and Edward Bombard.
Moderator Mitch Cohen, Northborough Free Library trustee, reminded the audience that the election is Tuesday. May 14. All precincts will vote at the Robert E. Melican Middle School, 145 Lincoln St., and polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
There will be two contested races in this year’s election.
Incumbent Selectman Leslie Rutan will be challenged by political newcomers Jason McDonald and Millie Milton.
Chris Covino, a candidate for the one year position on the Northborough/Southborough Regional School Committee was unavailable but his challenger Sean O’Shea was in attendance at the forum.
Also present were incumbents running unopposed: Michelle Gillespie-Planning Board, Frederick George, Jr. – Moderator, Keith Lebel – Northborough K-8 School Committee and Joan Frank- Northborough/Southborough Regional School Committee.
The theme expressed by all candidates in their opening remarks was transparency.
Rutan was asked a question pertaining to the town’s Master Plan and what actions the Board of Selectmen should take in its implementation.
“…I don’t think that the Board should act until we’ve heard recommendations by the appropriate committees and get as much public input as possible,” she replied.
McDonald and Milton were asked about what areas of community involvement they have had to prepare them for this role, noting it being their first foray into town government.
“I’ve done a lot of hands-on volunteering; Cub master, various coaching and have attended many of the Town Meetings to be a part of the process…I truly believe that municipal government is the purest form of democracy …,” McDonald stated.
“…I have for the past five or six months been going to many of the Board meetings… and one of the things that I’ve been able to do is to see how things are communicated, what people are talking about…,” responded Milton.
O’Shea was asked about working with a new superintendent and building a strong relationship.
“Greg Martineau will be the new superintendent and the benefit is that he has already established a working relationship and trust with a lot of entities in town and the school board…,” O’Shea said.
Frank was asked about vaping and its impact to the high school and measures to prevent it.
“I think we have to be more diligent … we have to make sure that our students have a safe environment to go to school every day…,” she said.
Lebel answered a question regarding a program that will offer free tuition for full day kindergarten.
“Yes, we are already in the process of undertaking the free full-day kindergarten…We decided on a five year plan but we hope we can transition sooner than that,” he said.
George, who has been the town’s longtime moderator, spoke about the importance of participation at Town Meeting.
“Education is important and I think some people are a bit intimidated…I plan to work with the Town Clerk to do seminars on what is Town Meeting..,” he said.
Gillespie answered a question about her vision for downtown revitalization.
“…I actually think that one of the best ways to move forward and to frame downtown is the use of some of the buildings that appear unoccupied…I think having the new Fire Department downtown will start framing downtown…” she noted, while referencing the Town Common. “As you pull all these together you’re starting to see your town come together.”
After questions from the audience including the use of White Cliffs, the Master Plan and the affordability of Northborough, candidates provided their closing remarks before the forum’s conclusion. A recording of the forum may be found online at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWOnY_sfze_J5tIE6lkVy7w?view_as=subscriber.