Select Board seats, and size, on Cheshire election ballot
CHESHIRE — The town faces a pivotal moment next month as voters decided two Select Board races and whether to expand the board to five members.
The annual local election on May 6 has Mark Biagini and Donna DeFino vying to succeed Carol Francesconi, who has opted against seeking another three-year term after serving 30 years on the board.
The other selectman contest pits Jason Levesque against E. Richard Scholz for the seat Ed St. John IV vacated in September so he could apply for the job of town administrator, to which he was appointed in mid-December. The winner will serve out the final year of St. John's term.
By 2020, voters could have additional selectman's races to decide — if they approve the lone ballot question accepting special state legislation expanding the board from three to five members. By a 276-201 margin, the electorate in 2019 agreed to seek state lawmakers' support for the expansion. The fourth and fifth seats would be up for grabs next year should the measure pass.
The May 6 ballot also includes the Board of Health contest between incumbent Michael "Mickey" Biagini Jr. and challenger Christopher "C.J." Garner, along with Julie Ciskowski and Richard Francesconi seeking a spot on the Cemetery Commission. The victors will each serve for three years.
Finally, four people are vying for the three constable positions, with the remaining races uncontested.
A write-in candidate could win the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee seat to be left vacant by Peter Tatro, who isn't seeking reelection to another three-year term, as no one is on the ballot. In Adams, incumbent Jennifer Gageant is the only candidate for the two seats from Adams on this year's ballot. Incumbent Paul Butler isn't seeking reelection. The School Committee races are districtwide, voted on by both towns at the same time.
DeFino, chairwoman of the Cheshire Planning Board for the past three years, wants to get more involved in a community she has called home for 15 years. The Pittsfield native said that begins by being positive about improving the town.
"What can we do to make sure [Cheshire] is more viable, and we need to make people to see that," she said.
DeFino also is running for town moderator because no one else has thrown their hat in the ring to succeed St. John, who held the post while also serving on the Select Board. If elected to both, DeFino would finish out her last two years on the Planning Board but relinquish the chairmanship to another member.
She said a five member Select Board will work if people are willing to get involved in shaping their town's future.
DeFino does have ideas in mind for the future of the former Cheshire Elementary School, including municipal uses, but she's open to other suggestions.
If elected, she would expect all town boards to communicate closely with the Select Board.
"Anytime the Planning Board has had something major going on, we have given the [Select Board] an overview to start," DeFino noted.
Opponent Mark Biagini, who lost in last year's Select Board race to Robert Ciskowski, said he has a lot to give the town, including suggestions for reusing the school, which closed two years ago amid declining enrollment in the district.
"We could tear down the old section [of the school] and maybe build a police station and a fire station. It would be nice to have both departments in one area," he said.
Currently, the police are in cramped quarters next to the town hall and the fire department is housed in an aging structure. In October, special town meeting voters approved $85,000 in emergency spending to replace part of the station roof.
Biagini also wants the town to pick up the pace to permanently repair deteriorating town roads.
"We need to get the roads up to speed so the highway department is not always patching them up," he said.
Scholz and Levesque view landing St. John's unexpired term as a chance to get a handle on town government for at least a year.
"If it works out well, I'll run for a three-year term next year," Scholz said.
Levesque said he felt compelled to fill the vacancy.
"With two seats open on the [Select Board], I wanted to help out," he said.
His leading town issues are reusing the school, improving town roads and concern over two potential marijuana cultivation/manufacturing facilities in his Stafford Hill neighborhood. He says residents worry about odor control from processing the cannabis.
"The concern is when private property rights infringe on others," he said. "There needs to be a balance."
Scholz is making his fourth bid for the Select Board, having lost three races since 2014. The former Cheshire Finance Committee member says his professional strategic planning skills in the communication industry could be an asset for the town.
"I have a perspective from having traveled around the world, and worked as a consultant across the country," he said.
Scholz said strategic planning will be needed to improve the town's section of Route 116, find new uses for the former school, conduct a study of all town buildings, and preserve the community's farmland.
As for expanding the Select Board, "Five heads are better than three," he added.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com and 413-496-6233.
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