Five candidates are vying for two new seats on Sudbury’s Board of Selectmen in an election that some say will come down to insiders versus outsiders.
The campaign leading up to the June 25 vote has been contentious at times, as highlighted by the cancellation of a candidates debate scheduled for Monday night.
The winners of the special election will join Lawrence O’Brien, John Drobinski, and Robert Haarde on the Board of Selectmen. Its expansion from three to five members was promoted last year by supporters, led by town resident Michael Troiano, as a way to increase representation and help spread the workload.
The change was given final approval by voters in March, setting up next week’s ballot.
“It’s such a hostile environment,’’ said Troiano, whose Facebook group One Sudbury tried to organize Monday’s debate. “It’s awful, and it’s because you have one side that’s closed and trying to maintain a closed circle. My hope is with the addition of a larger board and new faces, everyone will feel like they have a say.’’
‘The more I and my friends looked at it, the more we concluded it would not be a nonpartisan debate. It would’ve been crazy for me to participate.’
But one candidate said it’s One Sudbury that has gone negative, and is trying to put its own slate on the board.
In the races for the two new seats, Thaddeus Gozdeck, Eric Poch and Charles Woodard are vying for a two-year term, and Daniel DePompei and Leonard Simon are competing for a three-year position.
All of the candidates participated in a debate sponsored by the local League of Women Voters chapter last month, and were invited to One Sudbury’s forum, which was scheduled for Monday at the Curtis Middle School. Troiano said the event was on track until Woodard and Simon declined to participate. The local cable television station then dropped its plan to air the debate, since not all five of the candidates would be there, and that’s when Troiano decided to cancel.
Woodard and Simon said they were concerned that it would be a partisan event, with Troiano, who supports DePompei and Gozdeck, serving as a moderator. They also said they were not consulted about the debate’s format, which would have included questions from One Sudbury members and onlookers via Twitter.
“The more I and my friends looked at it, the more we concluded it would not be a nonpartisan debate,’’ Woodard said. “It would’ve been crazy for me to participate.’’
Simon said that in addition to taking part in the league’s debate, which has been aired several times on local-access TV, the candidates have answered questions in local newspapers, written letters, set up websites, and met with voters around town.
Given all that, he didn’t think it was necessary to take part in an event organized by supporters of his opponents.
“I didn’t feel it measured up to the standards of a nonpartisan debate,’’ Simon said. “I called it a charade.’’
Troiano said while he personally backs two candidates, One Sudbury, which has about 350 supporters on Facebook, does not endorse candidates. He said a range of political viewpoints are represented in the group, but its members share a common set of principles, including more citizen participation, openness and transparency, fiscal sustainability, and proactive leadership.
He said the debate would have been an opportunity for more residents to get involved and hear from candidates with the election drawing closer, and the decision by the two candidates not to participate is an example of the closed government in Sudbury.
“There’s a group of insiders calling the shots, and they want to keep it closed down with the vast majority of people not in control,’’ Troiano said.
However, Simon noted that this is his first run for office. He said he recently retired and now has the time to give back to his community. He said one of his top priorities is completing the local portion of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, and the selectmen have not acted on it despite support from residents. He also said he would be a positive voice on the board, despite being the target of what he calls “nasty and vicious’’ comments on online chat boards.
“There are some people in town who are always putting the town down, and find it easier to criticize than picking up a shovel and helping out,’’ Simon said.
Woodard has served on the town’s Finance Committee, and thinks he can bring some fiscal expertise to the board. He said he likes the idea of five members to allow greater diversity of opinion. He said it will also allow two members to bounce ideas off each other outside of official settings without creating an Open Meeting Law violation. With a three-member board, two members create a quorum.
“It opens it up to more to different kinds of people with different backgrounds,’’ he said.
DePompei and Gozdeck cited the creation of affordable housing as a top priority, giving the town more control over large development projects.
“We need to do a better job of planning,’’ Gozdeck said.
Gozdeck also said he is “passionate’’ about maintaining the school system’s high standards.
Gozdeck, the chairman of the town’s Park and Recreation Commission, said he was disappointed the debate was canceled because he saw it as a way to reach more voters.
Still, he said, it shows there “are a lot of people with some strong feelings in town and that’s good.’’
DePompei is also not entirely new to town politics, after an unsuccessful campaign for selectman two years ago. DePompei said he’s excited about the prospect of a five-member board because he thinks it will be able to accomplish more for residents, and give them better access to government.
DePompei said he thinks people have stopped participating in town affairs because they knew they’d be excluded.
“People are busy educating their children and earning a living, and we haven’t been as inclusive as we could be, but switching from three to five will allow more people to participate,’’ he said. Also, he said, “It’s simply too much work for three people.’’
In addition to addressing affordable housing, DePompei said, his top priorities are budget transparency and addressing the town’s capital needs. He’d also like to see the rail trail move forward.
“All I want is for things to improve in Sudbury,’’ he said.
Pock, who was not available for comment, serves as the cochairman of the Route 20 Sewer Steering Committee and is a member of the Rail Trail Conversion Advisory Committee. He previously served on the Planning Board. According to his website, he will strive to improve communication, and push for additional long-term capital planning.