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Can West Stockbridge heal? Town officials, candidates, say yes (if there's a little give and take)

May 31 election will complete Select Board

West Stockbridge voters

Residents at a Select Board public hearing in August regarding a dispute among two businesses and the town over noise and access downtown. 

WEST STOCKBRIDGE — After a year of turmoil and a bitter election season in which voters rejected an incumbent two-term Select Board member, residents await yet another election to complete a three-member board.

At the May 31 special election, voters will choose between candidates Andrew Krouss, a member of the Finance Committee, and former fire chief and board member Peter Skorput for the seat vacated early by Roger Kavanagh last month. In his resignation, Kavanagh cited his frustration with what he said is inefficiently-run government that is permeated with bias.

Both Krouss and Skorput say they want no part in strife.

“Not everybody is going to like everybody else, but everyone should be in harmony and with respect,” Krouss said. “If you say it enough times certain people might believe it.”

“I want to try to get everybody to work together again,” Skorput said. “I’d rather work with somebody than fight them.”

The election comes nearly two weeks after Andrew Potter won the seat held by former Chairman Eric Shimelonis.

The town factionalized the last few years amid increasing strife over a number of issues in government. The divide soon widened with a battle that began over noise and access last summer among the town and two businesses — The Foundry performing arts venue and the Truc Orient Express restaurant. The owners of both say they continue to suffer over the situation.

When the town elections rolled around, tempers were already high. A few things turned up the heat. Someone ran over one of Shimelonis’ campaign signs that was staked in his yard. Police investigated, but the culprit is still at large.

Then came a flareup on the town’s Facebook Community Board over a resident’s campaign sign in support of Potter. Potter, who created and administered that board, removed a post and comments he said were too uncivil and full of “disinformation” to remain. Residents accused him of censoring remarks critical to him. He paused the board days before the election to cool things down, then resumed it after the election and found another resident to run it to avoid a perceived conflict of interest, he said.

Potter said he credits national news media for stirring up trouble locally. Here, that’s taken the form of an artificial “split between newcomers and locals.”

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“Local politics has a tendency to model itself on what people are seeing in national media,” he said. “We have to focus on our local connections and neighbors. Everybody wants to be seen and heard and treated with respect.”

Shimelonis declined to comment on the situation.

Skorput says he believes the town can heal. He thinks “more transparency” will help. He also thinks doing away with Zoom-only meetings is a good idea.

He says he wants to help resolve The Foundry/Truc dispute.

“I want to work with [The Foundry],” he said, noting that he does not want to push The Foundry out, contrary to rumor. “I’d hate to see any business in town fold up or leave. I want to make it work. I want to work it out reasonably.”

When asked if his serving on the board again would be plagued by his admission in 2020 to improprieties after a state ethics probe into his conduct, he said it would not, since he had made what he said were honest mistakes.

“I didn’t file the proper paperwork — I didn’t steal anything,” he said. “If anybody wants to talk to me about it I’ll talk to them. I have nothing to hide.”

Krouss said he hopes for compromise, and also believes the town can heal. With regard to the Foundry/Truc dispute, that will be resolved if each business is willing to “win and lose a little.”

“If two people are going to sit down with hatred and vitriol towards each other you won’t get anywhere,” he said. “There are resolves without gouging each other or both.”

On healing, Skorput thinks cutting taxes would help that mission; Krouss thinks that’s always something to shoot for, but that the ever-increasing school budget, as well as the cost of public services, are largely to blame — not wasteful spending.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

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