As Stockbridge Select Board is reshaped, what's next for local issues?
STOCKBRIDGE — Townspeople sent a clear message at the polls on Tuesday.
While it might not have been a "revolution," as a resident half-seriously commented, it signaled a clear mandate for a change at the top level of town government.
In her first venture into local politics, Roxanne McCaffrey, a retired information-technology specialist who has lived full-time in Stockbridge for nearly 50 years, won what some consider an upset victory over Donald Chabon, the Select Board's chairman. Chabon was seeking his second three-year term.
Her landslide margin of 302 to 214 may well have come as a surprise to many locals. The turnout at Tuesday's annual town election was remarkably robust by present-day standards — 33 percent of the town's 1,661 registered voters cast ballots.
"I didn't assume anything," McCaffrey told The Eagle in a morning-after interview. "I thought there was some momentum going, and it looked pretty good."
Her campaign was based on retail politics — a thorough grassroots campaign that included sending a detailed letter to virtually everyone who gets mail in town, spending time at the post office and going door to door.
Running for office was challenging, especially for a first-time politician.
"It was the most stressful thing I've done in my life," McCaffrey said. "It was time-consuming, but I talked face-to-face to as many people as I could reach."
On election night, McCaffrey acknowledged, "I came home exhausted, went to bed and didn't even know I had won until Wednesday morning."
An early riser, she learned of her victory at 4:40 a.m. by going to her computer where, open on her screen, was a congratulatory email from Select Board member Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo.
Although her victory was not driven by a single issue, McCaffrey said, "it had more to do with the fact that people felt a lack of leadership, and certainly dysfunction on the Select Board. That was the crux of the matter."
In her view, "people were upset, sensing that our traditional community values were slipping away. Of course, that's happening across the nation, but we're too small a town to let that infect us here, since we see each other every day getting our mail at the post office."
Ideally, she added, "we may be passionate about issues, but then we walk away as friends and treat each other kindly and respectfully, and we can even laugh among ourselves at a town meeting."
Chabon, when asked if the outcome took him by surprise, responded that "when you have a series of contentious issues, incumbents often take the hit. I thought it would be a race, we tried our best and that's what happened."
While he was disappointed by the result, Chabon offered a silver lining based on Monday night's annual town meeting. Voters resoundingly approved spending $132,000 to have traffic consultant Juliet Locke work on a preliminary engineering design project with the state Department of Transportation to consider five options to resolve downtown traffic safety issues.
"That was something I worked on for a long time, and I was really pleased it passed as well as it did," Chabon said. The vote was 150-34. well over the required two-thirds margin of 123 in support of the first-step effort.
Selectman Terry Flynn offered a brief reaction to McCaffrey's victory: "I would just thank Don and congratulate Roxanne for coming on board," he said. "I welcome her and I'm confident the Select Board will do everything it can to work well together going forward."
Since the board will need a new chairman, Flynn expressed strong interest in taking on the leadership role. "We'll see what happens," he said, "but I'm definitely willing and interested in doing it."
Cardillo said he wasn't surprised by the election result. "That's what the townspeople wanted," he said. "I congratulated her and I hope we'll work well together, do what's right for the town and move it where it wants to go. We'll get off on the right foot and welcome her to the Select Board."
Acknowledging that the board has a full plate, Cardillo suggested he "could be interested" in serving as chairman, a post he held for a year starting in May 2016.
"We need better communications between department heads and the Select Board," he said. "We need to keep updated on projects, otherwise things can get out of control."
Cardillo — who's suing the town, Flynn and Chabon in federal court for reinstatement as fire chief — conceded that it has been "kind of strange and awkward sitting next to them," but asserted that "it doesn't affect the decisions I make."
The former fire chief was terminated from the Fire Department by his two Select Board colleagues for purchases of excess disposable supplies he approved for the fire department.
As McCaffrey prepares to join the board, she reported "hearing from people about things that need to be addressed. People have faith that some positive things will happen, and action will be taken. They expect that they're going to be heard."
Cardillo's priorities include "reorganizing zoning to make it fit the town," and focusing a newly formed economic development committee on "improving the downtown business district, besides tourists" and seeking to attract high-tech ventures that employ young people in a town whose year-round population skews older.
He also suggested that "we have a really good Planning Board now; there will be a whole different outlook there."
Cardillo expects 37 Interlaken property owner Patrick Sheehan to emerge with a new development plan for the former DeSisto School property off Route 183, 2 miles south of Tanglewood.
Referring to Sheehan's proposal for a massive resort on the 320-acre site that did not get a formal hearing before the Select Board last year, Cardillo said, "We missed a good opportunity to come up with a game plan, since we can't just say 'no' without both sides sitting down and really talking with an open dialogue and more public input."
"It could be a scaled-down resort," Cardillo said, "if done right and it fits into the neighborhood."
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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