ORLEANS — “No one has ever come to consensus on one person's terms,” said Erik Oliver, one of three candidates for two seats on the board of selectmen.
“I like to talk to people who are affected (by decisions on major issues) to find out what their perspective is,” he said in an interview this week. “That often helps me evolve in mine. Talking to different stakeholders or business owners or taxpayers allows you to see things several different ways.”
That attitude has been expressed in his career in advertising and sales both locally and nationally and in a leadership role as a former chairman of the Orleans Chamber of Commerce.
Born at Otis Air Force Base on the Upper Cape, Oliver's earliest memories involve fishing with his grandfather out of West Falmouth harbor. “I loved the beach,” he said. “I love to be on the water.”
He grew up in Eastham in the 1970s and '80s. “We didn't have cable TV,” he said. “(Orleans) is where we went on weekends. We'd come into town and go to the movie theater or Villa Pizza. I liked the hustle and bustle.”
Oliver knew he wanted to go away to college and did so, first attending a junior college and then Georgia Southern University. He lived in Florida for a while doing resort marketing, but spending Christmastime in Key Largo, with the temperature at 72 degrees, made him miss the change of seasons and his family.
So back he came, moving in with friends, and did “everything,” he recalled. “I waited on tables, banged some nails – I wasn't very good at it – and, believe it or not, became a teaching tennis professional at Cape Cod Racquet and Health Club, Mid-Cape Racquet Club, and at Oyster Harbors Club for a summer.”
Oliver “always played sports,” he said, and one of his earliest memories is “shooting a hockey puck into a net when I was 3 or 4.” He played youth hockey in high school and varsity basketball for two years in junior college. He found he liked coaching and teaching all ages.
In his late 20s, Oliver saw a copy of On The Water, a Cape publication, and applied, “with no advertising sales experience,” to be a sales rep. He was hired and went on to be director of sales. After five years, he moved on to become national sales manager for a winter sporting goods company. “I've had various sales jobs since then,” he said, including with Nauset Disposal. Working at that Cape company led to his involvement with the Orleans chamber.
“We were very involved with all the chambers,” he said. He joined the Orleans board because “I just saw the work they were doing and wanted to be part of it. I saw tremendous opportunity for the chamber to have an even greater effect on bringing people into town and helping members grow their business.”
Inspired by a fleet of specialty magazines published by the Enterprise newspaper group in Falmouth, Oliver urged the Orleans chamber to produce its own magazine, “Truly Orleans.” “It was a big commitment,” he said. “It was a risk, (but) the board fully supported it after much talk. It's got great editorial content and portrays our members in a really good light.”
Although he wasn't chairman when she was hired, he was on the search committee that found Executive Director Noelle Pina. “She's been incredible,” he said, “from the stuff we're doing digitally to her involvement regionally to the continuing education she has sought. Her presence has stabilized the organization.”
Oliver, who says he's getting set up to be a distributor for a medical device manufacturer as well as representing a couple of products, is jumping into another three-way race for two selectmen's seats. In 2017, he finished third behind Mefford Runyon and David Currier, but his memories of that competition are good ones.
“As contentious as past elections had been, I'm proud of how things turned out, although I would have liked to win,” he said. “The civility among Meff and Dave and I was a positive thing. I do feel things were pretty contentious prior to that. Pointing fingers and calling people names isn't productive, and it just kind of shuts people down and puts up walls that don't need to be there.”
Civility and consensus are ways Oliver would like to see Orleans address its challenges.
“It should be acknowledged that a population that has 'older folks' living in it is a very positive thing,” he said. “They have a lot of life experience, a lot of wisdom, a lot of insight and knowledge.” But Oliver feels another demographic component is missing.
“In 1986, when I traveled from Eastham to Orleans to get a slice of pizza, I was a young man in the town of Orleans,” he said. “In 2019 when I walk in to get a piece of pizza, I'm still a young man in Orleans.”
When he was growing up, Oliver said, “it seemed that a lot more summer kids came here from off-Cape to second homes. We all worked together, got to know each other, and form lasting friendships. I don't think the young kids can afford to live here anymore.” He thinks people who own summer homes these days may be using them as rentals to offset the cost of their investment.
“I wouldn't be surprised if there were just 10 publicly advertised rentals in Orleans year round last year,” he said. He believes the solution is not necessarily new construction of units downtown but rather a rational use of accessory units.
“There was a robust amount of apartments that could have been built before sewering, and none of them were,” Oliver said. “In almost every scenario in most towns, downtown land, commercial land, is at a premium. Construction costs are high right now. I'm skeptical that 'lower case “a” affordable apartments' are going to be abundant. I've talked to people that are stakeholders who have looked at the numbers; it's been a challenge to make them work.”
Oliver said the town “needs to take a look at existing dwellings that private homeowners have” and allow accessory units “that could help them pay for the increased tax liability that's upcoming.” He said that “accessory housing, if done properly, would be a way for folks to afford to live in Orleans, to not necessarily buy right now but to have an apartment. I think the demand for that is sky-high. What we can't do is increase the amount of nitrogen going into the ground.”
Although there has been much debate about wastewater, “the sewer pipes are in the ground,” the candidate said. “The challenges ahead are firmly establishing the most equitable way to pay for it, and what is the best way we can spend our money. Sewering downtown Orleans will have a very positive effect.”
Oliver said the town “really needs to figure out the shark thing,” reviewing “every possible idea we can come up with and discuss. We're not singular and unique... The ability to freely use our beaches with a reasonable amount of safety is extremely important to everybody who lives here.”
He would leave the current rooms tax at 4 percent rather than raising it to 6 percent as short-term rental revenues come online, at least for the first year. And he says the town needs a dredge to help keep Nauset Estuary open to commercial and recreational boating.
“We just have to be real careful with how we're spending our money,” said Oliver. “We don't have an unlimited checkbook.”
He'd like to see more people running for office, “particularly the very youngest people of voting age. All the money we're spending today is going to be paid off by them. They should have a seat at the table.”
As for his own race, he's hoping it will be as positive as his last. “My dad was at the polls with me standing out,” he said. “Dave Currier had his grill there. Meff came over and had a sausage sandwich with my dad.”