After a tough year for Kingston, described by some locals as “a perfect storm” of troubles, selectman chairman Joe Casna is pondering whether to seek reelection, leaving the possibility that two of the board’s five seats may be decided this year without an incumbent in the running.
A second seat opened up last month when Ron Gleason resigned following the local Board of Registrars’ determination that he no longer lived in Kingston. Voters will choose someone to serve the final year of Gleason’s three-year term in the town election on April 27.
Casna, meanwhile, said he was torn between a desire to stay in office to deal with unfinished business and the fear that his personal and business life are suffering from the excessive demands of public life over the last year.
“I’ve been in the storm’s center,” he said of the town’s recent troubles.
Last June selectmen parted ways with the town government’s top official after town administrator Jim Thomas was accused of harassing employees. The position has yet to be filled. Officials have also wrestled with residents’ health complaints over new wind turbines, initially hailed as one of Kingston’s signature achievements after they went on line last spring. And a controversy over Gleason’s residency led to a court case that saw sitting board members on opposite sides.
As of last week, four people have taken out nomination papers for Casna’s seat, and two for the remaining year of Gleason’s seat. Candidates have until Thursday to take out nomination papers. The last day to file them with the necessary signatures is March 11.
David Kennedy, who has returned papers for Casna’s seat and will be on the April 27 ballot, pointed to “a lot of 3-to-2 votes” by selectmen to back his candidacy.
“The community at the Board of Selectmen level should be working together,” Kennedy, a member of the town’s Finance Committee, said recently. “I’m just looking to bring a new change to Kingston.”
Former Kingston police chief Joseph Rebello, who left that job last month after eight years as chief and a 33-year career in law enforcement, has returned nomination papers and will be on the ballot as well.
Norman Harbinson, a former selectman’s candidate, took out nomination papers to run for both Casna’s seat and the remainder of Gleason’s term. The owner of a local security company and a part-time Kingston police officer, Harbinson has criticized the board for a lack of leadership in dealing with town problems.
The fourth candidate for Casna’s seat, Sam Cappola, a newcomer to local government, is a principal in the First Reliant Funding Corp., a real estate financing and development company based in Kingston. Cappola has a degree in architectural engineering and an MBA.
Along with Harbinson, former selectman Dennis Randall is a candidate to fill Gleason’s seat.
Randall said the possibility of two new selectmen “certainly could change the chemistry on the board. I think one of the problems we’re looking at is personality trumps policy.”
Randall said board members don’t have to like each other, but they do have to work together. “Sometimes your enemy has the best suggestion,” he said.
Casna, who is also chairman of the Board of Health, pointed to long hours seeking to address the needs of residents who contend that noise from the wind turbine on town land and three others on private land nearby are keeping them awake and causing physical and mental health problems.
“You start spending two to four hours in Town Hall [daily], on the phone, and researching issues. It takes a lot of time,” Casna said.
Last year’s crisis over removing the town administrator put selectmen on the spot as well. The board put Thomas on leave after he was accused of making a threat against Selectwoman Susan Munford and then negotiated his resignation settlement from a three-year contract that cost the town $47,000. Finding the money for the unanticipated expense was a demanding business as well, said Casna, a strong backer of Thomas before problems with his conduct toward town employees arose.
And the board is “still embroiled” in the search process, Casna said, eight months after Thomas’s departure. Selectmen are currently considering hiring a private search company to choose finalists for the job.
Adding to the year’s troubles, friction over a sitting selectman’s right to hold office divided both residents and officials. After registrars ruled that Gleason, who had sold his Kingston house, was no longer a town resident, he went to court to block the ruling. Munford entered the case on the registrars’ side, saying he should resign.
Casna, however, said friction on the board has been exaggerated. If everybody had the same opinions, he said, you wouldn’t need a five-member board.
Voters will choose who two of those five members will be on April 27. They will serve with Sandra MacFarlane, whose term is up next year, and with Munford and Richard Arruda, whose terms are up in two years.