ORLEANS — Two of the three men sitting on the stage of the Nauset Regional Middle School auditorium April 26 will be sitting as selectmen after the May 16 election. That may have explained the robust turnout for the Orleans Citizens Forum's candidates night.
“We all want the best for the town,” David Currier said in his opening statement. “We need to find things we can all agree on, get those done first, and move onward. We need people of all generations in our town. When you put all that together, it's a community.”
Erik Oliver highlighted “common sense,” collaboration and wider public participation as the way he'd address the town's challenges. “We cannot be afraid of other people's opinions,” he said.
“This is a wonderful place to live and raise a family,” Mefford Runyon said in his closing statement. “It's our responsibility to pass the blessings we've gotten in this town forward.”
The questions the candidates received ranged from all-encompassing (how to respond to climate change) to intensely personal. Mike Dufresne of Eastham, who plans to open a new eatery with his wife Viviane at Orleans Marketplace, struggled with his emotions as he described the hassles they'd encountered getting town approvals (see related story on this page).
All three candidates were cautious about the idea of recovering 100 percent of all direct and indirect costs of services through user fees rather than tapping the general tax base. Currier noted that the board of health, on which he serves, had voted to increase transfer station fees. Oliver warned about “going down a slippery slope. I don't believe only people who benefit (from the senior center) should have to pay for it,” he said. Runyon said some services “lend themselves to fee-based better than others, the transfer station rather than the beaches.”
Asked about how to protect the town's resources in an era of climate change, Oliver said, “I don't have an opinion on armoring the coastline...That's why we have a natural resources department. As a selectman, (I'd listen) to what they think we should do.”
Runyon described himself as “an advocate for protecting the beaches as long as we can. The most risky challenge is the storms. The town needs to spend some time (creating) disaster plans.”
Currier recalled staring the Outer Beach Coalition to work for greater access. “I spent my youth there.” he said. “I'll do whatever is necessary.”
Bob Jones, who said he served for a total of 17 years on school committees in the Nauset region, asked the candidates whether the aging high school in Eastham should be replaced with a new building, especially at a time when the Monomoy system next door has a brand-new home. (Nauset is seeking funds for a feasibility study and design plan for a renovated campus).
“I love it,” Currier said of the existing school's unique design. “I went to school there. I would need more information. I hadn't even thought of building another school.”
Oliver suggested following a plan that would be useful for all projects: “You have to take a look at the benefits, how much the town can bear, the support of the townspeople,” he said. “You have to take a look at the numbers.”
“The town has always stepped up and done the right thing by the schools,” Runyon said. “I'm confident that whatever choice the school committee makes, as long as it's reasonable, would find support.”
Asked to recall a time when each worked to resolve a situation through compromise. Oliver talked about coming to a company with sales reps who were engaging in “a lot of infighting. I thought if I united them as a team, everyone would want to work harder.” Runyon had a similar story from his business life in which he corrected a situation where “several different business units were all competing for income on a commission basis. No one could play nicely in the sandbox.” Currier described how use conflicts on the Outer Beach led to closures, and how those prompted him and some friends to form a Capewide coalition to work for better access.
When asked if he supports a downtown sewer system, Currier said, “I don't have an agenda.” He returned to a formulation he used several times during the forum: “If I get elected, I will read all the facts in the (selectmen's meeting) packet, ask reasonable questions, and make decisions.”
Runyon said he supports the system, but warned that it would not address nitrogen already in the ground. “(We'll be) stopping what's stored in our kidneys today from finding its way to Town Cove,” he said. Oliver also supported the sewer, and noted that it would not resolve other issues, such as the nitrogen plume from the landfill.
Town Moderator David Lyttle served as moderator for the forum.