Stockbridge Select Board contest now a two-way race

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STOCKBRIDGE — It started as a five-way race for the Select Board seat held by Don Chabon, the chairman, who's running for his second three-year term.

Now it's a head-to-head contest between Chabon and Roxanne McCaffrey.

Michael Nathan, a member of the Stockbridge Bowl Association's executive committee, had returned valid election papers but decided to withdraw last month. Zack Sosne, a Stockbridge native and owner of a New York interior design and real estate company, took out papers but did not return them with the required voter signatures.

And over the weekend, Matthew Szwyd decided to drop out, citing a potential conflict of interest. He threw his support to McCaffrey, now Chabon's only challenger.

In his letter endorsing McCaffrey. Szwyd wrote that "the circumstances surrounding my Select Board run have changed so dramatically over the past several weeks since my initial bid, and many issues have since emerged, compounded and have become incredibly difficult to avoid. I've advanced my message as far as I needed to; I can rest assured that this year's election will be a contested one."

Szwyd, 27, an area native who works in hospitality at the Red Lion Inn, as a member of the town's dwindling younger population, had advocated economic development with a goal of attracting more young families.

McCaffrey, who owns PineCroft Properties, a local real estate and property management agency, would be a newcomer to town government.

Szwyd is the son-in-law of Selectman and ousted Fire Chief Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo, who has sued the town and his two Select Board colleagues in federal court for reinstatement, back pay and legal expenses. Szwyd was among the leaders of up to 15 volunteer firefighters who resigned after Cardillo was terminated by Chabon and Selectman Terry Flynn on Feb. 5 for agreeing to accept excessive and overpriced shipments of supplies.

At a candidates forum on Saturday hosted by the Stockbridge Democratic Committee and billed as nonpartisan, Flynn asserted that if Szwyd were elected to the three-person board, "both he and his father-in-law would have a conflict of interest regarding any decision before the board which involves the lawsuit."

Flynn suggested a scenario "that could easily arise" if the town's Massachusetts Municipal Insurance Association lawyers are presented with a proposal for a monetary settlement of Cardillo's lawsuit and they ask the selectmen for guidance on how to respond.

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"However, the board could not make any decision without a quorum of at least two members voting," Flynn pointed out. "In this situation, both Matt and his father-in-law would have the right to simply acknowledge their conflict of interest" and go ahead with a vote to direct town attorneys to accept the settlement offer with "any dollar figure they chose."

Flynn cited a State Ethics Commission advisory known as "the rule of necessity" that permits the participation of disqualified members in order to allow the board to act. If Szwyd were elected to the Select Board, Flynn contended, that would give him and his father-in-law control over the board's decisions involving the lawsuit.

In response to Flynn's suggestion that he delay his run for selectman "to avoid this untenable situation," Szwyd told the 75-plus residents at the forum that "it's a tricky situation" but didn't feel he needed to withdraw. "Because of the way the stars lined up on this forced me run" whether Cardillo is "a selectman currently, an ex-selectman, future selectman, makes no difference to my run," he said.

McCaffrey, in a followup comment directed at Szwyd, indicated "a slippery slope here because there is the open meeting law" and "that's a concern for me, and you did have a choice whether to run or not."

Chabon asserted that "the potential for conflict is quite great here, exactly how or where it forms itself remains to be seen, but I think that's apparent to everybody."

Asked by The Eagle whether his decision to withdraw was triggered by Flynn's challenge, Szwyd responded, "No, not really, but it did highlight how complicated this issue has become in light of events. This wasn't an issue when I originally put out my bid, but now a conflict seems unavoidable."

In his withdrawal statement, submitted as a letter to the editor of The Eagle, Szwyd acknowledged "the criticisms and concerns that some have voiced regarding my campaign, and if my word and integrity did little to quell those concerns, that's okay — I simply wanted to be considered alongside other equally ambitious and passionate candidates."

Szwyd wrote that he "participated in the political process in Stockbridge so I could present the voters with another option after years of having been presented with no option. I've learned a lot along the way, but must contend that now is, all things considered, not the right time for me; I wish my reason for entering this race had occurred at a more opportune and appropriate time."

Urging support for McCaffrey, he expressed hope that his run "has, if anything, opened the door for anyone who didn't think they could run, who were told they couldn't run, or who didn't believe small-town elections could ever change. Express your concerns, stand up for what you believe in, and bring your voice to the forefront of town discourse."

The annual town election is on May 21 from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Senior Center at the Town Offices on Main Street. Since the ballots have been printed, Szwyd's name will still appear. The Elections Division of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has stated that it is "solely Matthew's responsibility to let the voters know that he has dropped out," said Town Clerk Terri Iemolini.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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