Challenger unseats Select Board chairman in Stockbridge election upset
STOCKBRIDGE — In a stunning upset victory, Roxanne McCaffrey, a newcomer to town politics, has overturned the reelection bid of Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon.
McCaffrey won by an overwhelming margin of 302-214 at Tuesday's annual town election. Chabon, endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee, was first elected unopposed in May 2016.
Turnout was 548 of 1,661 registered voters, or 33 percent.
McCaffrey, in a campaign forum, a mailing to residents and in meetings with individual residents, cited "erosion" of community respect and worried about "growing conflict that's causing me more and more concern."
"Given a healthier dynamic, our town might have avoided several recent missteps," McCaffrey contended. She had served as an advanced EMT for 11 years on the Lee Ambulance Squad, which covers parts of Stockbridge, and is a retired informational technology manager.
"Do we want to be a retirement community or do we want to be a vibrant community with younger generations to carry on into the future?" she asked voters. "We will not agree on everything all the time, but we do need to find common ground and any decisions we make have to be working for the common good."
Campaigning on his record, Chabon distributed a two-page list of accomplishments, including questioning of developer Patrick Sheehan's proposal for a major resort complex at the former DeSisto School; appointment of Danielle Fillio as town administrator; enforcement of open meeting laws with greater transparency at public meetings; and projects completed, in progress or contemplated for bridges, roadways and the new $2.4 million Highway Department garage.
He also listed tightening of procurement policies, progress on the Select Board despite personality clashes and disagreement on some issues; a downtown traffic study completed for potential solutions; stabilizing the Fire Department after Chief Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo was terminated over excessive disposable equipment purchases; and hiring a new chief, Vincent Garofoli, of Becket.
Chabon acknowledged that the upheaval was "highly traumatic" for the town. Cardillo remains on the Select Board and is suing the town to reclaim his job, with back pay and legal expenses covered.
The election campaign was notable for hard-fought races among candidates for three Planning Board seats, including multiple, contentious letters to the editor.
For a two-year term, current elected member Christine Rasmussen won in a landslide over appointed member Stuart Hirshfield, 359-168.
Rasmussen had emphasized pragmatic land conservation and harmonious development to sustain the town's historic character. She also pushed for updated bylaws to help seniors remain in the community and to increase workforce housing to attract younger residents.
Hirshfield, the Democratic caucus nominee, called for "sensible and orderly growth to encourage new residents and businesses, while not disrupting the town's open spaces, residential neighborhoods, natural resources, property values or the environment."
For a three-year Planning Board slot, town government newcomer William Vogt defeated Barney Edmonds, who had been appointed last July to fill a vacancy, 293-215.
Vogt advocated scrutiny of projects based on "community impact and desirability" and called for "sensitive growth" since "planning is about the future, not the past."
He also contended that the Select Board gave the cold shoulder to Sheehan, the developer of the proposed $150 million resort at 37 Interlaken Road, the former DeSisto property, with a 40- to 50-room hotel, 134 condo units, conference facilities, a restaurant and 34 single-family homes.
"There should have been a willingness to sit down eagerly, actively with that developer to see if there might be ways to make the project attractive to the town," Vogt said. "Instead, it was dismissed."
Edmonds, a 10-year Housing Authority member and chairman for the past four years, called for a cautious approach to development, suggesting that "a wrong choice can put the town on a slippery slope with an unknown outcome. I want to plan and encourage a future in which Stockbridge remains relevant and strong."A neighbor of the Elm Court estate on Old Stockbridge Road, he opposed the resort eventually approved by town boards in Stockbridge and Lenox, and joined a lawsuit against the Lenox Zoning Board of Appeals for granting a special permit. The Massachusetts Land Court ruled in favor of the town and the resort developer, Front Yard LLC."Stockbridge is a unique cultural center, a thriving second-home community and a charming, civic-minded New England small town," Edmonds told voters. "We need to make decisions we can be proud of 50 years from now."
For a one-year slot on the Planning Board, longtime county resident and former town Tax Collector Nancy Socha, the Democratic caucus nominee, defeated Dr. Charles Kenny, who chairs the Board of Health, 320-207.
She had suggested a "neutral resolution" to applicants' projects before the Planning Board while complying with current bylaws as they are written."You have to be thoughtful, listen to both sides and make an educated decision," she said.
Kenny, a 40-year resident and chairman of the town's Board of Health, said he ran for the Planning Board because of the need to confront cyanobacteria algae blooms that first afflicted Stockbridge Bowl late last summer.
"The following year is going to be crucial for the Bowl," he warned during the campaign. Applicants for new projects around the state-owned lake should be warned that "the watershed cannot be endangered," he added.
Incumbent Marie Raftery won a five-year Planning Board term with 431 votes, unopposed. She has pledged to be "forward-thinking about economics and all aspects of development in ways that will benefit and enhance the lives of all," retaining open space while opening up opportunities to make the town "more livable and vibrant for all citizens now and for coming generations."
Reelected without opposition were Town Clerk Terri Iemolini, with 502 votes, Board of Assessors member Douglas Goudey (467 votes), Catherine Plakun for Board of Health (454) and Peter Socha for Sewer and Water Commissioner (453). Anne Rabinowitz won election to the Housing Authority (410) and Nicolaos Fredsall (421) was voted in as Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Both were unopposed. The positions are three-year seats, except Housing Authority, which is five years.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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