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Williamstown Moderator Race Could Set Fiscal Policy
By: Tammy Daniels On: 01:36AM / Wednesday April 28, 2010

Candidates Richard Haley Jr., left, Ronald Turbin, moderator Anne Skinner, Frederick S. Leber and Mark S. Gold at Tuesday's candidate forum. Thomas Costley is seated at far right.

 WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The voters will have a clear choice between financial philosophies this election when they vote for moderator.

Frederick S. Leber wants an aggressive Finance Committee; Mark S. Gold wants a balanced, thoughtful one.

Thomas Costley

Mark S. Gold

Richard Haley Jr.

Frederick S. Leber

Ronald Turbin

Williamstown is one of a few towns in the state that put the composition of the Finance Committee in the hands of the town moderator. With the position now a three-year term, the winner of this year's election will have the ability to reconstitute the panel.

The two men aired their different views of the moderator's role on Wednesday night at a candidates' forum sponsored by the Williamstown League of Women Voters at Town Hall and moderated by league President Anne Skinner. Also speaking were the three candidates for the two selectmen's seats up this year: incumbents Thomas Costley and Ronald Turbin, and challenger Richard Haley Jr.

Leber and Gold are vying to fill the seat being vacated by longtime Moderator Stan Parese.

Gold, a corporate attorney with Grinnell Smitt LLP who's lived in Williamstown since 1979, sees the position as requiring a grasp of parliamentary procedure and patience to ensure that town meeting runs smoothly and efficiently. It's a tradition, he said, that previous moderators have hewed to.

"I think the moderator should be scrupulous in maintaining his or her neutrality," he said. Appointments to the Finance Committee should be "highly skilled and work diligently to be fair."

Leber, however, said he'd "appoint a Finance Committe that would be much more aggressive and confrontational than the Finance Committee has been."

"If what the town wants is a moderator who'll stand up at the next town meeting and say what a wonderful job everyone's been doing, they should not vote for me," said Leber, who also has a legal background, in finance, but came to Williamstown 10 years ago as founder of an Internet startup, Orbis Vox. He currently operates a small livery service.

He wants a Finance Committee that will not rubber-stamp budgets but will do due diligence in questioning spending, particularly spending on administrative and legal costs for the schools over instruction, set priorities and set standards of disclosure.

Gold, a former chairman of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee, said, he'd had to go before the Finance Committee for 10 years. "I still have scars. If that was a rubber stamp they hit it pretty hard." 

Both men agreed that the schools were important town functions that should be properly funded. 

Among the selectmen's candidates, Costley and Turbin, both elected in 2007, said they'd learned a great deal in their three years and wanted to continue with initiatives. Haley said he wanted to represent the taxpayers and vowed he wasn't going anywhere.

"I love being a selectman," said Costley, owner of Overland, which offers adventure trips for adolescent. "It's not easy and I'm not always great at it ... But I will work hard."

He said wished he done more early on to better understand how the actions of the selectmen affect the town. He also wants to have more time to work on changing zoning to allow greater density in the commercial downtown district while preserving open space.

Turbin, retired from the New York attorney general's office, said he enjoyed working on various committees because he gets a broader perspective on the many divergent issues that town faces. "We make sure we have a very polite debate and everyone's view get heard."

Haley, a local farmer and contractor whose roots go deep in Williamstown, said he had no issues with how the others had served. Rather, he was concerned about the town's finances and their affect on taxpayers.

"We've got a monster in this town and we're feeding the monster all this money. People can't afford to live here," he said, adding the town should put a freeze on hiring and salaries. If Costley wanted more open space, then taxpayers had to get a break on their taxes, he said, or it wouldn't remain open space.

Turbin said "there are no easy answers to the commercial problems we're having" but the town manager and treasurer had "done a fine job of cutting to the bone" without sacrificing services. "We have to keep at it."

Costley said no one at Town Hall had gotten raises the year before, and very small ones this year. "Overall,  the increase in the tax rate is less than 2.5 percent. ... I know there are people in town where every dollar hurts."

Haley said that wasn't enough. "I want to challenge the town to save money."



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