Voters go to the polls on Thursday, May 11, to decide a two-person race for a single three-year term on the board of selectmen.
Incumbent Seth Taylor and resident Shareen Davis have engaged in a lively campaign for the seat. In the lead-up to the election, we present profiles of the two candidates below, containing their responses to questions posed by The Chronicle.
Running uncontested on the annual election ballot are Monomoy Regional School Committee incumbents Nancy Scott and Jacqueline Zibrat-Long. There will also be three ballot questions: a nonbinding public advisory question related to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station and two debt exclusions, one for $11.3 million to fund waterfront infrastructure projects, and another for $31 million to continue the town's wastewater project.
The polls at the community center will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Name: Shareen Davis
Occupation: Small business owner
How long lived in Chatham: I have lived here since I was born.
Business or civic affiliations: Chatham Chamber of Commerce, Creative Arts Center, Chatham Conservation Foundation, Chatham Historical Society, Nickerson Family Association, Women of Fishing Families (advisor)
Municipal service: Aunt Lydia’s Cove (ad hoc) Dredging Committee, Red Tide Relief Committee, Chatham Tercentennial Committee, Chatham Charter Review Committee
Favorite scenic spot in town: Besides the Sound and Monomoy Island, which is a source of work, play and artistic inspiration, I would say Chatham Light at the overlook. You can literally put everything behind you, face east and watch the awesome dynamic shoreline and the Atlantic. I love the ever-changing light and weather. Every time I pull up to the overlook. I’m fascinated by the marine life, bird life, the break. The fishing boats coming and going bring back family memories. It’s a great place any time of day to run into a neighbor and chat.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the town? Balancing smart growth with protecting our natural resources and historic identity. We often see well-intended, conservation-minded people and developers in town butt heads over projects and that sometimes leads to a push back for more restricted policy and a drive to develop.
I see this in fisheries management policy making, and the ones to suffer are the small boat fishermen who has lost out to restriction that are not flexible enough to support them to continue access to fishing, and big money who can financially outbid them to obtain a majority of the fishing rights.
Equate my analogy to that of a small business owner, working family or even a relative who wants to move back to town. We need a core value and understanding that we can come to the table to provide opportunity for innovative industry and alternative housing scenarios that supports a quality of life day-to-day and a future Chatham that is vibrant.
What is the town's greatest asset, and how would you protect it? Our environment is our economy and that is our greatest asset. People live and visit Chatham because of our vast interweaving coastline and pristine natural beauty. The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce lists “blue economy” as a growing industry for the Cape. An industry that includes fishing, commercial and recreational, sailing, boating, eco-tourism, science and marine research, and think of all the businesses and livelihoods that support that economy directly or indirectly. It's huge and it adds to the enhancement of Chatham through jobs.
Supporting the comprehensive wastewater management plan would invest in our future and bring better protection to our natural resources. The inter-municipal agreement with Harwich allows us to work together on a regional solution to wastewater. Our plan cites working with Harwich as an opportunity. We have appropriate capacity and the timing is right with Harwich creating their plan of action for wastewater in place. Getting our drinking water systems modernized and on line, and monitoring and protection of our regional water source known as the Monomoy Lens, assures clean potable water for the future. We are leading the Cape in our efforts and should continue to set an example of smart planning for our environment.
What will be your priorities as a selectman? I will list a few things here as examples because as you read further you will see what else is a priority to me: Chatham as a whole.
Most importantly, I will bring a better dialogue to the process of town government. We do not have to be “like minds.” We can disagree with a respect and understanding and create a positive atmosphere for people to communicate and participate. My priority would be to work together in the spirit of cooperation and consensus building so that the board of selectmen, committees, town staff and manager can accomplish good things for our town.
I would support a new COA building. The council on aging serves a valuable role that enhances the quality of life of our seniors. Their services include health and wellness programs, transportation services, socialization, legal assistance, support groups and workshops. Over 50 percent of our population is 65 years and older; we are the second oldest aged resident community on Cape Cod. The COA community needs assessment asked how we as a town can promote the wellness of seniors. Supporting a new facility for the COA would support the findings of the assessment where the current structure cannot. The COA board is exploring opportunities; I would hope we could support their efforts to build a center in a more accessible area of town, perhaps retrofitting and adding onto the Ellis property on Old Harbor Road or finding a home near the community center or downtown is the answer. Options need to be explored. It is the next step in enhancing our town’s infrastructure and our residents’ quality of life.
Securing the intertidal (state) waters of Monomoy. When the MWR comprehensive management draft plan came out, the state and Chatham took quick action in naming a working group to assess the document and provide feedback; a public hearing and comment period was held. When the plan was published the town took action to continue our fight in Washington, contracting legal services and Congressman Keating to develop language to address the issue, all the while building support on a regional and state level. It has taken a number of resources, private citizens' time, numerous townspeople efforts, town staff resources and all of our board of selectmen to move this along. This is a community effort of many. I am in support of continuing the effort and will work hard if elected.
Branding Chatham: We are a destination for many reasons and by many walks of life. Our history, culture, and natural resources define what makes Chatham a brand in itself. We have a vast number of quality nonprofits adding a refined value to our town. Unique artisanal businesses, retail shops and restaurants, a walking downtown, a municipal fish pier (that is the number one tourist destination in town) a thriving commercial and recreational fishing industry, beautiful waterways, beaches and coastline, historic inns and motels. We have a wonderful hometown celebration, our Fourth of July parade, and are a destination for weddings and family celebrations most of which occurs in 10 to 12 weeks of the year.
As a former downtown business owner, I understand the make-or-break timetable of a tourist-based industry. In my family fish weir business we fished as many days as we were able before our season ended. I also understood, as many small business owners do, the responsibility I had to market my own business and promote my product. In the case of when I was working with my husband in our fish weir business, we marketed and sold as much as we could locally and in innovated ways through our Cape Cod community supported fisheries program and retail boat sales. And we are members of fisheries associations that support our fishery as food providers, because it is good to be one of many voices.
In the case of my downtown gallery, we promoted art made by local artists and grouped with other town galleries to create a gallery stroll night. We wanted to place signs to promote the event at the rotary and were not granted permission by the BOS at the time, disappointing to say the least.
Supporting business promotions and community events during the shoulder seasons will enhance our town’s sustainability for more than the peak 10 to 12 weeks. First Night, Paint the Town Chocolate, Easter Egg Roll, Sharks in the Park, Ships in the Shops, Oktoberfest and Christmas by the Sea are all shoulder season events that draw people to town. We also have a number of volunteer nonprofits that bring a refined value to our town. People come to experience Chatham during History Week, Arts Festival, Blessing of the Fleet, Restaurant Week, Harbor Run to name some of the wonderful events in town. The economic development committee made a presentation to the BOS giving an overview of how we can do just that by streamlining regulatory requests for community events and supporting the chamber of commerce.
I was an organizer of the Chatham Seafood Festival and the Chatham Maritime Festivals, which were for a number of years popular events and a great way for the business community, the fishing community and the lodging community to work together. I would work support any opportunity to see that emerge again.
Taxing private rental properties: Does the town as an entity want to establish safety and health regulations in respect to rentals and/or tax? How far do we want to go with this program? Town staff has developed a draft concept, it is a stepping stone for further discussion. I agree we should have a standard of health and safety guidelines that protect renters. We can build on feedback from our community, committees, regulatory boards and rental property owners to achieve guidelines. The process may take time but it allows us to build a consensus that works.
The next question would be what is the cost to the town to regulated and enforce the program. Until we know the cost benefit for the town, I will wait to make a decision on taxation. I would wait and see what the Commonwealth is doing as they have a proposal to extend the hotel tax to include home sharing apps like AirBNB. We may no have to reinvent the wheel.
Town sponsored affordable housing. After meeting with many people over the course of the last few weeks I have heard a concern for affordable and accessible housing. It is on the mind of many people as Chatham is losing its 19 to 44 year old residents. Often times they are relocated to nearby towns where year-round housing can be more affordable. We are in demand as a desirable place to live and that drives real estate values up, pricing out many.
Do we have an obligation to support affordable housing for Chatham residents? Yes we do. Especially if we want to have a thriving community, but there is no magic bullet answer to how. I’d look to opportunities that create jobs and support working folks. Economic viability is key to what is deemed affordable.
The BOS has not made affordable housing a priority in recent years. I would. And I would look at other towns and what they are doing. The Marconi housing program is an excellent example of providing opportunity and advancement using town owned buildings for housing.
The 40B program is a complicated process but an avenue for a person in a lower income bracket to buy a home in Chatham. A recent project developer made headlines when he said he could not find a qualified buyer for his two 40B affordable condo units that allowed him to build his units that sell for exceedingly more money. He has a moral obligation and a legal agreement to uphold.
I look to opportunities that create jobs and support working folks. Economic viability is key to what is deemed affordable.
West Chatham Route 28 project. In keeping with our comprehensive plan, in 2011 the town submitted a project initiative form to MassDOT for improvement of Route 28 between Barn Hill and George Ryder roads. There have been many planning meetings and workshops on this project. These open processes directly contributed to the consensus building process used to help the affected neighborhoods, residents and community at large to develop the proposed amendments and to understand how the amendments would impact them. We are now in a 21-day public comment period before the Metropolitan Planning Organization takes a final vote on the project.
I’m for the project. It will provide access for bikers and pedestrians, eliminate the third lane and slow traffic, clarify access to area businesses, improve better intersection to George Ryder and Barn Hill Roads and enhance the streetscape and landscape which will benefit the existing West Chatham businesses and neighborhood.
Impact on the travel way will not be like the sewer project where under the former town manager, area businesses were not notified properly about construction schedules and access was limited. This is a surface project and proper notification will go out to businesses and residents and the state’s plan is to keep a lane open to travel and access to businesses.
Regarding the 2013 town meeting vote of a petition article to defund design that would have stopped the project. A vote was taken and the moderator stated that the vote was non-binding. Hindsight is always sharper than foresight. The “binding-ness” is often dependent on the language used in an article. Words like "advise," "urge" "encourage" etc. are not mandating words. Our moderator is available to petitioners to help them get the appropriate words so that they get the result they desire. This petitioner did not change the language in the article and therefore the language of the article was deemed non-binding. In 2015 another article presented at town meeting could have virtually killed the project and it did not pass. This is an improvement project, let’s get it done for the community of West Chatham.
Skydiving. I personally have no problem with skydiving. If you want to jump out of a plane at several thousand feet, more power to you. I will wave from below. Over the course of the last few weeks at meetings in neighborhood homes I’ve heard the concerns citizens have made over safety and nuisance, and I have heard citizens who do not have concerns. We are in the middle of a lawsuit by area residents and it is unsettling as a taxpayer. Do I want to see a thriving airport? Yes. Does skydiving have a place in town? We cannot say at this time because the courts will tell us in December. Is there a way to have businesses operate out of the airport safely, efficiently and not be a considered a nuisance? Yes, with proper standards of practices developed and adopted by our commission.
Name: Seth Taylor
Occupation: (Career) Senior Special Agent, U.S. Department of Treasury and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, retired; I have also been a commercial off-shore fisherman and commercial shellfisherman (Chatham), a Peace Corps Volunteer (Guatemala), and a Youth Advocate (Massachusetts and California).
How long lived in Chatham: 31 years as a resident, and 27 years as a non-resident taxpayer.
Business or civic affiliations: Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Chatham Historical Society, Chatham Conservation Foundation, Chatham Music Club, Chatham Retired Men’s Association, Friends of Eldredge Public Library, Chatham A’s, Chatham Orpheum Theater, Pleasant Bay Community Boating, Women of Fishing Families (Scholarship Sponsor), Ducks Unlimited, Nature Conservancy.
Municipal service: Chatham Selectman; Liaison to: community preservation committee, conservation commission, South Coastal Harbor committee, historic business district commission, shellfish advisory committee, and The Board of Trustees of Eldredge Public Library; Cape Cod Selectmen’s and Counselors’Association, Massachusetts Municipal Association.
Public Service: Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, Stephen L. French Youth Forestry Camp; C.H.A.R.L.E.E. (Children Have All Rights – Legal, Educational and Emotional) Family Care (a component of the Menninger Foundation); Peace Corps Volunteer – Guatemala; Senior Special Agent, United States Customs Service (United States Department of the Treasury) and Homeland Security Investigations (United States Department of Homeland Security). This was “sworn” federal law enforcement service, which required me to maintain a top-secret security clearance.
Favorite scenic spot in town: North Beach
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the town? Finding a way to achieve the demographic balance that is necessary to maintaining a vibrant year-around community, and doing it in a way that is both fair and cost effective for all those who contribute to the town’s well being.
What is the town's greatest asset, and how would you protect it? Our natural resources are our single most important asset. Without a healthy environment and without responsible oversight of our fragile natural resources, our community will wither. If we overdevelop, if we continue to place unreasonable demands on groundwater, and if we are not alert to the health of our marine ecosystems, we will not sustain the quality of life that has drawn so many to our shores.
What will be your priorities as a selectman? My overarching concern is the need to develop 21st century information-management systems. Decision makers must have reliable data in order to set goals and measure performance. Specifically, I want to continue to advance our interests in the ongoing fight to restore ownership and control over the open waters and submerged lands adjacent to Monomoy. The USFWS wanted something that wasn’t theirs to take, but they took it anyway – our historic rights to open water and shoals in Nantucket Sound. I have been the principal architect in designing and advancing the plan to regain our rights, and I have been the public face of that fight. There is simply too much at stake in this fight for us to consider inserting someone new at this critical juncture. I am also very concerned with the large volume of staff departures we have experienced, which is unrelated to retirement. This needs to be better understood by the board of selectmen and solutions considered. We certainly need to develop clear and attainable departmental succession plans as a matter of policy. We are also long overdue in revising our personnel policy. Despite a 2009 Home Rule Charter requirement for it to have been updated (see Section 5-3), our personnel policy dates from 1996. A new policy is eight years overdue.
What are your positions on the following issues:
Skydiving: We are being sued by opposite sides of an argument. One side argues that skydiving is a nuisance the town has created, and they are entitled to legal relief from that nuisance. The other side is a contractor who says we have a legal obligation to issue him a contract. He wants us to pay for lost income resulting from our failure to observe a legal obligation allowing skydiving. We are stuck in the middle. I think we should try to remove the nuisance claim to federal court. Once in federal court, I believe the FAA would have to step in either to defend skydiving as a requirement of the Grant Assurances agreed to by the town or they would be forced to find a mechanism to release us from those obligations.
West Chatham Route 28 Roadway Project: There are folks in town who like the project and folks who do not. I take no position on the merits or deficiencies of the project in engineering terms. I know that it is impossible to say for certain what will happen if the project goes forward. Will it be as great as some proponents believe, or will it be as bad as some opponents believe? I suspect the answer will be in the middle. That said, I am on the record opposing the project and I remain firm in my position. I believe Section 2-8 of Chatham’s Home Rule Charter is controlling when it comes to the roadway project. Town meeting voted to end it and every component of town government is obliged to abide by that decision. “Presumed” is the controlling word in Section 2-8, and it is a word my opposition, and others, have a problem defining. “Presumed” means to accept something as fact in advance of its occurrence, i.e. “I presume the sun will rise tomorrow.” It is a fact that town meeting voted down the project and an accomplished fact need no longer be presumed – it simply is.
Taxing Rental Property: Only the state legislature can enact a tax; the town cannot. There has been considerable discussion recently on the idea of adding a tax to all short-term rentals, a tax that is similar to the occupancy tax charged at hotels, motels, lodging houses, and bed and breakfast establishments. I think it’s a good idea. It provides parity and levels the playing field – it’s fair. It would also create a significant revenue stream. I would hope local communities could share heavily in those tax revenues, if a tax is imposed. The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce recently endorsed the idea, asking that revenue sharing be equitable. No one wants Beacon Hill to create a tax where the balance of the revenue is produced in one place, like the revenue from short-term rentals on Cape Cod, only to have all the money go somewhere else. I am in that group.
Branding Chatham: Chatham is so well known and revered that people flock here in droves for our summer season. Can business find a way to attract customers to visit in the off-season in sufficient numbers to equal our summer traffic? People come here for what the summer is. Sharks are a novelty; seals are a novelty. Business has always taken advantage ofnovelty, and successful businesses will always a find a way to market it. Can we encourage off season events like the Wellfleet Oyster Festival? Sure, we can and we should, but it ought to be private business and volunteer efforts leading the charge. First Night is an incredible event, one of the best volunteer-driven events that could have been conceived. Government supports it and encourages it, but it is not tax-dependent; it is self-supporting. That should be the trend.
Affordable Housing: We need jobs. People without jobs, or a dependable source of adequate income, can’t easily participate in, or contribute to, a viable and healthy community. Neither does a state-mandated affordable housing program, which requires us to put our own citizens’ interests below those of folks from away. How can we keep our young people here? How can we help all age groups live and work here? The answer is jobs and affordability. I have proposed ideas to look at things that might help create offsets to help in these areas – like tax differentials. With the right representation, we can revisit and explore more creative ideas as we move forward; I’d like to think so.