HARWICH — Former selectman Peter Hughes will serve as the town's next representative to the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, filling the unexpired term of Selectman Ed McManus, who stepped down when he was elected selectman in May.
The town had 30 days from the time it was notified of the vacancy by the clerk of the assembly to make an appointment or the decision would rest with the assembly. Selectmen announced the availability of the position a few weeks ago and Hughes, a former selectman, stepped forward. Before Monday night's session resident Elizabeth Harder also stated an interest in serving.
Selectmen on Monday night interviewed the two candidates. Hughes has been a longtime participant in municipal government, serving five terms on the board of selectmen, two terms on the finance committee, one term on the Harwich School Committee and presently on the wastewater support committee. He has also been active in the chamber of commerce for 28 years.
Harder said she moved to Harwich in 2006 to take care of her parents and is now taking care of an uncle. Harder said she “has fallen in love with community.” She said she was interested on the county level in wastewater, elder care, health care and housing problems.
Harder said she serves on the advisory board of the Cape Women's Coalition, which strives to get more women to step up to run for office. “It would be hypocritical if I didn't step up,” Harder said.
“Barnstable County government matters, it's important, “ Hughes told selectmen. “The assembly of delegates is an important cog and the town needs to be represented. I didn't want Ed's position to go unfilled. For a long, long time I've been about serving this community and I want it appropriately and adequately represented.”
Selectman Larry Ballantine wanted to know how each candidate could see the county helping each town more given the limited voice the towns have.
Harder said one of the biggest problems facing Cape towns is housing, not only affordable housing but housing for nurses and teachers.
Hughes said he was active in shaping the intermunicipal wastewater agreement with Chatham allowing use of its treatment plant. It will save both towns a lot of money and the regional approach with Dennis, Yarmouth and Harwich is also worth exploring. “Harwich may never have a treatment plant in town,” he said.
Hughes agreed housing is a concern, but he questioned the cost of developing Habitat For Humanity housing, suggesting the need to spend more efficiently. He said a housing cost of $381,000 could develop two or three houses. The county can help with that. “We need to think outside the box,” Hughes said.
Selectman Michael MacAskill asked the candidates to assess county services as they impact all towns versus programs that impact individuals. Children's Cove was a focal point. A county task force on children 20 years ago identified the need for specialized services for children and victims of child abuse. Both candidates were strong supporters of the program,saying it would have a much greater impact on towns if the service was not available. They agreed it was a service the county does a great job providing.
Selectman Donald Howell wanted to know, win or lose, would each of the two candidates seek election when the term expires. Both said they would. Howell also wanted to know what the candidates see as strengths and weaknesses of county government.
Hughes praised the judicial system and the assembly's assistance in developing the wastewater plan. On the negative size, he emphasized the need for fiscal responsibility, saying it can be too easy to spend people's money.
Harder said the county has played a big role in bringing the town's together on wastewater issues, adding an individual town would not have been able to address the issues. She said it is important to have a body where every area is represented. As a weakness she pointed to the county being a little too fiscally responsible, explaining they have $2 million in a rainy day fund and yet talk about cutting Children's Cove and transportation.
The candidates were asked if they would explore county reorganization. Harder supported expanding the number of commissioners to five, pointing out two commissioners cannot sit down and talk because they are a majority of the board and would violate the state Open Meeting Law. She suggested having candidates run from five regions across the Cape.
Hughes said he did not know if going to five commissioners is the solution and said the assembly might have to be modified as well, pointing out 30 people are not needed to run the county. He agreed reorganizing county government should be on a list of things to do. He emphasized making the government more fiscally efficient is an important step. “I'll keep an open mind for it,” Hughes said.
“I find it hard to turn down his experience,” Ballantine said when nominating Hughes. McManus sought to nominate Harder, but it was agreed Ballantine's motion should be voted on first. With four votes for Hughes, McManus agreed to make it a unanimous vote for the former selectman.