By Tammy Daniels On: 03:11AM / Monday April 14, 2014
Planner Barbara Ziemba explains some of the aspects of building her board covers, using plans for the BArT school.
Candidates attending Sunday's forum were, from left, Edward Driscoll, Melissa McGovern-Wandrei, George Haddad, Michael Ouellette, Barbara Ziemba, Kelley Rice and Jeffrey Snoonian; not pictured, Edmund St. John IV.
ADAMS, Mass. — Candidates for the town election pitched their platforms at the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday afternoon.
The club annually offers up one its monthly meetings at the PNA as an open election forum for any candidate wishing to attend.
Candidates running for selectman, Planning Board, town moderator, School Committee and treasurer/collector spoke this year.
Two-term incumbent Michael Ouellette is being challenged by newcomer Jeffrey Snoonian for a three-year seat on the Board of Selectmen.
Ouellette is a lifelong resident and property owner; Snoonian considers himself an "adopted son" who recently chose to settle here permanently after many years of visiting.
Ouellette has been active in a number of civic capacities, including 18 years as a town meeting member and currently as a delegate to the Metropolitan Planning Organization and member of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority advisory committee.
A retired GE engineer, he's also worked in real estate development, including subdivisions in Adams and Lanesborough.
"I'm a working selectman, I'm not a rubber stamp," he told club members. "I look at everything before I vote."
Oullette stressed that he does his research before casting a vote to ensure actions are in the best interest of the town.
He also said he's been very active in seeking tenants and developers for the Memorial Middle School and Greylock Glen, and in advocating with state and federal officials, including the governor, on behalf of town projects.
"I do my homework and I put my heart into it, trying to make the best decision I can," he said.
He thinks the town should divest itself of properties when it can, including the middle school, work with school officials to make school budgets educationally as well as fiscally sound, and promote the development of the Greylock Glen, and possibly a disc golf course at the glen.
"I want to drive for regionalization where ever it is in the best interests of the town," he said. "We need to look at each aspect of it. It can provide better services at a cheaper cost."
Snoonian is a native of Lawrence who attended the University of Massachusetts with an Adams roommate who introduced him to the town more than 20 years ago.
"When I decided I where was going to spend the rest of my life I chose Adams," he said.
He has not served on civic committees or boards but said he was "not afraid to talk" and expects to be an active member of the board. "I probably open my mouth too much," he said. "I have a plan for being called out of order."
His background is in construction, having owned one contracting business and been a partner in another one. That has given him experience in fiscal responsibility, he said, as well as union negotiations.
"Adams biggest asset is it's a nice place to raise a family," he said. "There's a ton of cheap real estate here. Once you fill them, then people start looking to fill businesses."
Snoonian said he sold off his businesses because he felt government was intruding enough to make it difficult to operate.
"People have told me Adams is really a quagmire to open a business," he said, hoping to make it more business-friendly.
He, too, believes the town owns too much property and the middle school should be sold, but said he did not know enough about what the current situation.
Kelly F. Rice and Melissa McGovern-Wandrei are both running to complete the two years left on treasurer/collector post being vacated by Holly Denault. Both said they would expand some evening hours to accommodate residents.
Kelly F. Rice
Rice currently works in the community development office and has worked as an administrative assistant in various capacities for the town for 14 years.
She has been a resident for 31 years and property owner for seven, and a town meeting member and member of the Events Planning Committee.
"I think I have the qualifications for a smooth transition," she said. Rice did, however, say she would need more learning and time in the post to become a certified treasurer, which can take several years.
She said she is acquainted with the town's financial procedures and accounting software, does the payroll and records the bank statements for grants, among other duties.
In response to questions, she said she was familiar with the town's issues with the IRS (over misfiled pension documents) and a large backlog of unpaid taxes.
"I am a town resident and I'm very concerned about that also as a taxpayer," Rice said, but added she has to follow the state process to foreclose, which can take years.
"I look forward to strengthening the town any way I can," she said.
McGovern-Wandrei was raised in Clarksburg and is currently the appointed treasurer/tax collector in Clarksburg and the president of the Berkshire County Collectors & Treasurers Association.
She and her husband now live in Adams and their children attend the schools and they have been active with the football boosters.
McGovern-Wandrei was the elected tax collector for 15 years in Clarksburg; when several elected offices were in the process of changing to appointed, she worked as assistant treasurer in Lanesborough to begin certification in pursuit of the Clarksburg post.
She said the town could move quickly to collect delinquent taxes by placing liens at the beginning of the fiscal year to put pressure on homeowners and banks. It also prods homeowners into making repayment agreements.
"Put the lien in and explain that you won't act on the lien unless they don't make the payments you agree upon," McGovern-Wandrei. "Then you know if people really want to keep their house.
"We have a 3-5 percent collection rate in Clarksburg, which is very good."
She said there have been recording issues from the treasurer's office in Clarksburg predating her tenure that have been cleaned up.
"I love Adams and I would love to come in and help you straighten this out," she said.
Dennis A. Gajda and George J. Haddad are running for the three-year seat on the Board of Assessors. Only Haddad attended Sunday's forum.
Haddad said he was approached by several people asking him to run and decided to after speaking with the town assessor about the commitment.
"I think I can handle what could be done," said the former six-term selectman and interim town administrator.
Haddad said he was willing to take whatever classes or seminars required. "Whatever we're supposed to do we will do," he said.
Running unopposed are Edward Driscoll for moderator, Barbara Ziemba for a five-year term on hte Planning Board and Edmund R. St. John IV as the Cheshire delegate to the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee.
Each spoke a little about their duties and answered questions. Ziemba, who's served as a planner for 27 years, said two other members of her board have been on a similar length of time.
"I do not doubt there would be some vacancies sooner or later," she said, urging "new blood" to run for office.
Maple Grove officer Jeffrey Lefebvre thanked the candidates and asked voters to turn out for the election.
"I hear a lot of people griping, but when you get 15-20 percent voting it seems 80 percent are content and I know 80 percent are not content," said Jeffrey Lefebvre.
The town election is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, May 5. The deadline to register to vote is by 8 p.m. on April 15 at Town Hall.
The forum was also recorded by Northern Berkshire Community Television; check the schedule for show times.
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Clarksburg: Election, May 27, noon to 7; town meeting, June 18
Williamstown: Election, May 13, 7-8; town meeting, May 20, 7 p.m.
The cities of Pittsfield and North Adams will hold municipal elections for mayor, city council and school committee in 2015
You may vote absentee: if you will be absent from your town or city on election day, have a physical disability that prevents you from voting at the polls or cannot vote at the polls because to religious beliefs.