Orleans Candidates Offer Three Paths To Progress

By: Ed Maroney

David Currier (left), Andrea Shaw Reed and Mefford Runyon.  COURTESY PHOTOS

Andrea Shaw Reed and incumbents David Currier and Mefford Runyon are running for two seats on what will, after the June 23 balloting, likely be known as the Orleans Select Board. The following profiles are drawn from recent interviews and archived stories. At press time, it was not known whether the Orleans Citizens Forum would hold its traditional candidates evening this year.

David Currier: Housing, Businesses Need More Attention

Looking back at his first three-year term, the youngest member of the board of selectmen wishes he’d been able to get more of his generation involved in governing the town.

“I’d love to see a more diverse board,” David Currier said in a phone interview. “My two running mates, nothing personal against them, their views are already represented.”

Currier recalled that at his very first meeting, a decision had to be made about the number of years a project would be bonded. All the other members “were pushing to push it out to 40 years, to make the tax rate lower now,” he recalled. ‘I said no, we need to do it over 20 years. That saved the town $6 million (in interest). I’m proud of that, (but) I’m really frustrated. I feel my job is to encourage the younger generation to start stepping up a little more.”

His own interest in helping to govern the town took some time to develop. Raised in East Orleans, the Nauset High graduate later spent winters in Costa Rica and summers here. He moved away to Colorado and enjoyed life in Lake Tahoe and Florida. Building houses was his occupation.

Eventually, Currier’s beloved great-aunt Marion Currier, who owned the Orleans Bowling Center, Lake Farm Kennels, and Lake Farm Camp, told him “she didn’t like all that gallivanting,” he recalled. “She said, ‘Buckle down.’” So he did, finishing his own house in 2005 a month after she died.

The bowling center was left to Currier’s father, and his son bought it and drew up plans to improve it. That’s when he got interested in politics. “It took so long to get through the town and all the boards,” Currier said. “It took me 2½ years and entirely too much money. I felt the town should be more (helpful) to young people and new business, so I ran for the board of health. I feel everybody’s attitude should be, how do we help our neighbors?”

Expressing that attitude on the health board and later as a selectman, Currier said he witnessed a change. “From what I personally went through seven or eight years ago, I think it’s gotten better than that for sure,” he said. “It was really bad back then, (but) the process needs to get better. I think an ombudsman would be great, a third party that says, ‘Hey, look. I don’t have a dog in the fight.’”

When he ran three years ago, Currier said that the town needed to encourage businesses that appeal to all ages. “Young people don’t want to sit and read all the time,” he said. “There are lots of things we can do to attract young people to take a chance on us, and maybe find that Orleans is a better town for them to start in.”

Helping businesses grow was among Currier’s priorities when he ran three years ago, as was affordable housing. “I don’t think there’s been much visible progress,” he said of housing efforts. “I think they started doing a good job getting the foundation done, but I do think we should have been doing this sooner. It’s been a side note. We should be putting as much effort into that stuff as we’re putting into the downtown sewer project.” He supports hiring a part-time housing coordinator to help things move faster. Recalling that someone had told him, “This town doesn’t work until it’s under a deadline,” he suggested that approach might help.

Asked whether the era of open space acquisition is over, Currier said, “Clearly not. In my opinion, I think it needs to be. People don’t understand the ways in which a town can acquire property. The problem with open space is all the caveats that go with it. We should be buying these properties, and the board of selectmen should be in charge of them. When (they’re in) the conservation commission’s hands, you can’t develop the property. We should be utilizing what we have rather than acquiring (more land as open space). I feel like a lot of that could go toward housing. I’m not saying open space is bad. There’s a great value in that, but we have other needs… We have a boatload (of open space) to maintain, and we have a housing crisis on our hands.”

Currier wonders whether some way could be found to develop housing at the former Underground Mall site on Route 6A, which he passes every day on his way to work. One thing he doesn’t want to see there is “a 39,000-square-foot warehouse… that isn’t indicative of a seaside community.” He wants F. W. Webb in town, and would like to see if the town could arrange a land swap with the company. Development along the Route 6A corridor (“our lifeline”) with the guidance of the Cape Cod Commission’s recent study should get more attention, according to the candidate.

“I absolutely love the community center idea,” Currier said of discussions about a possible facility. “I don’t know where we are with that, but it’s a great idea.” As for building plans for Snow Library and the fire station, he said, “absolutely no comment until they give their studies. Nobody can make an educated decision without that information in front of them. That would be irresponsible.”

He said a lot has been accomplished over the last three years, including a new police station, a yes vote on a wastewater plan, and studies that will lead to dredging Nauset Estuary. He’s not thrilled about spending $21 million over the next decades as the town’s share of the Nauset Regional High School project, but adds, “We know we kind of need to.”

Currier said he thinks the town will have to pass a general override to cover operating expenses at some point. “The bottom line is, taxes are going up,” he said, “whether you take it out of the left pocket or the right.”

As he waits to reopen his business, Currier said, “I look at everything as a learning experience. It’s how you become better.” It helps that over his term as selectman, “I’ve learned patience. I’m not a very patient person to begin with.”

Andrea Shaw Reed: Opportunities For Improvement Abound

Planning Board Chairman Andrea Shaw Reed has been trying to practice the lessons she’s learned. During her childhood in Washington, D.C., and Wellfleet, her family taught her, “If you see something you can do and make better in the world, you’re obligated to do it.”

Another teacher was Judy Perez, owner of Orleans’ N.Y. Hair Company and Spa, who suggested Reed, a choreographer and educator, learn to cut hair and work with her. “She required continuing education,” Reed recalled. “Her mission was to find something beautiful about each person and bring that out.”

Asked to join the planning board a decade ago, “I watched Ken McKusick, Chet (Crabtree), and John Fallender, how they talked to each other,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I had the skill set, but I knew I could study leadership here.”

Now Reed hopes to learn and do more as a selectman. “You have to wrestle with ideas, to listen to the people you’re talking to so you can move forward,” she said. “If you don’t get the approval of town meeting, you’re not successful. The benchmark for success is not whether you put on a good show.”

She wants all the selectmen to keep learning, and thinks it’s time to bring back the work groups the board set up in 2010. “Out of them came some great efforts,” she said. “The (Main Street) streetscape wouldn’t have happened, the cultural district wouldn’t have happened… We’ve got so much expertise in our community.”

That streetscape project, once landscaping is finished, can serve as a model for improvements on the Route 6A corridor from Skaket Corner to the rotary, Reed believes. “That corridor needs some type of reinvestment,” she said, “sidewalks, landscaping, pedestrian improvements, lighting, a clean-up and brush-up of how properties look. There’s room to create an economic development or commercial reinvestment zone; if you want to improve your property, maybe there are some resources that don’t exist now. Lots of businesses have partnered with the Community Development Partnership.”

The town has changed zoning to encourage smart development in the village center. “The welcome mat is out, but the investment isn’t in,” Reed said. “We haven’t finished the mixed-use part in the village center.” Too many commercial properties are empty, or asphalt.” She’s encouraged that food trucks and artist’s shacks have allowed some small businesses to operate in the center of town, and wonders whether tax incentives could encourage property owners to allow vacant space to be used to incubate new enterprises.

“Orleans has an affordable housing challenge,” Reed said. “We have a market-rate housing challenge (too), and a ton of seniors living in homes that should have the option to live downtown if that’s what they want… If we have a standard of beautiful housing (for all), it doesn’t have to be expensive.” Housing that allows “different types of people to live together” is the goal, Reed said, pointing to 18 West Rd. Subsidized units there, she said, “are not built any differently than those of the wealthiest people living in the building.”

The planning board wants to reduce the amount of commercial space required in a building where housing is added on the upper floor. Housing is an option for the limited business district, which Reed sees as a key transition “between the big box general commercial and the intimacy of a walking community. I’d like to see the strip mall identity of the zone be rethought and reused, and bring in some kind of housing or community development. Who knows, the library might end up there.”

Speaking of big boxes, Reed sees an opportunity to rethink zoning in the controversy over the planned F.W. Webb store off Route 6A. “They have a retail showroom, they have a warehouse, and so does Mid-Cape right in downtown. This is an opportunity to look at a form-based code. If the appearance or scale of what it feels like to walk around and how a project fits into the scale of a place (is acceptable), do we care about the activities going on in the building?” She thinks getting the Cape Cod Commission involved on the Webb project is “another opportunity to educate ourselves before we render a decision.”

While Reed doesn’t believe the era of open space acquisition is over, she thinks opportunities to combine such land and housing need to be explored. “There’s a project on the Vineyard, I believe, where open space and housing were developed together,” she said. “All the cards are on the table.”

Reed, who supports the proposed Nauset Regional High School building project, was concerned about the Cape’s schools when she moved here in 1998 with her husband, Dr. Tim Reed, and their children. “I was stupid,” she said. “I had no idea that kids here were treated like an endangered species.” She credits Superintendent Tom Conrad for “insisting on excellence,” and said the rebuilt high school is needed not only for “our communities to turn out brilliant citizens, but to attract and retain new families and, honestly, to maintain our real estate values.”

Regarding other buildings, she said the fire department’s current responsibilities “in no way match the facility that they’re in.” She says the library committee “has already defined what their programs are,” and suggests “looking at programs we don’t have access to,” such as year-round indoor recreation, in considering a community center. “There are enough models in our vicinity,” she said, such as Chatham and Harwich. “We have to decide we want it done.”

“Nobody wants to pay more taxes,” Reed said in discussing decreasing revenues that may require a general override in the near future to preserve town services. She’s a fan of “the discipline of enterprise funds,” and wants further discussion of the community’s shared values. “We have to decide if an activity is subsidized or pays for itself (through such a fund),” she said. “Let’s not assume our old behavior is the right response to current conditions.” As for the override, “I’ll want to know what’s in the package. I trust and have great faith in the capacity of our town professionals.”

The salon where Reed works closed during the pandemic but was able to receive a Payroll Protection Program loan recently. “Thank God for the Orleans chamber,” she said. “Their newsletter has been a tremendous resource. Of course, on the other side, I’m married to a doctor, who has also been through some of the challenges.”

As a cancer survivor, Reed said, she’s “very mindful of how much time I have left and how I want to spend it.”

Mefford Runyon: The Environment Is The Economy

When his grandparents bought their house here in 1952, 2-year-old Mefford Runyon started making the trip from Connecticut. “Before Route 95, it was an eight-hour drive,” he recalled. “The moment when our car would get on the Sagamore Bridge was memorable. My grandfather would comment, ‘Now the air smells different.’”

That sense of place informs Runyon’s desire to protect the Cape’s land and historic structures. “I do talk about preserving the look and feel of Orleans,” he said in an interview. “That may sound like tree-hugging. In reality, it’s a recognition that our natural environment is the foundation of every economic activity that we undertake. It’s why our tourists come here, why our retirees come here, and why we continue to live here… I think people don’t give full weight to how much our economy is based on the perception of Cape Cod and Orleans as an eco-tourism spot. We have not even scratched the surface of that possibility.”

After graduating from Colgate University with a liberal arts degree, “I came down here without a lot of worldly awareness of the way the business works,” Runyon said. “There was a major recession and no work to be had here for somebody not well embedded in the community.” He did sporadic handyman jobs for a year until he applied for a position at Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank. Hired as a teller by President George Marble, he became embedded in the institution, winding up a 36-year run in his last post as senior vice president and director of retail banking. He met his wife here, raised a family and “never really explored living elsewhere.”

Runyon was a member of the Rotary and Lion clubs, served on a couple of town project committees, and helped put together the town’s comprehensive plan. He was a member of the economic development committee and eventually chairman of the open space committee, among other community involvements.

After three years as a selectman, Runyon said, he’s learned that “the diversity of Orleans is greater than it seems. There are more groups of varying types that have their own interests and own opinions.” His other lesson? “The process is excruciatingly slow… on the other hand, developing enough of a consensus to move forward takes time.”

In addition to cleaning its waters, the town has made a stronger commitment to affordable housing. “I think the creation of the new affordable housing trust is changing that game,” said Runyon, a member of the trust board.
“We have the ability to have a steady and reliable income source to fund projects and to make decisions about buying and developing projects without waiting a year for town meeting.” He said 107 Main St., which the trust is purchasing, “will potentially be a wonderful housing and aesthetic improvement for the town.”

Runyon said the town is encouraging more residential density in the downtown center. “What’s holding it back are septic limitations, not zoning limitations,” he said. “Once the sewer is in place, that kind of development is going to happen.”

With Orleans and its neighboring towns putting money into affordable housing that will attract new families, it seems “silly” to downsize Nauset Regional High School rather than build for the next 50 years, he said. “The debate about school choice, I think, is a bit of a distraction.”

Regarding other building needs, Runyon has a list of priorities. ‘I put the fire station first in a rehab/expansion kind of project,” he said, “not a new fire station. The facts are pretty clear that the working environment in that building is unsafe and unhealthy… The existing property can support an expansion and renovation that brings the entire property up to code.”

Next up would be Snow Library. “It suffers from the same initial hurdle that a community center has: where does it go?” Runyon asked. “The library planning process is much further along than the community center… It seems to me likely to have to happen on the property where it already sits. I support that. The library is a huge resource for the people of this town.”

As for a community center, “I think a lot of people want one,” said Runyon. “It has to go through some sort of planning, visioning, a survey. A community center is well off in the future.” That doesn’t mean that the town should take its eye off available properties until then. “The first part is to be ready to get a site you can control, then decide five to 15 years out to build,” Runyon said.

As for that other building project that’s drawn a lot of attention, Runyon said he’d “love to see F.W. Webb come to town and whatever economic benefit the town could receive from that, (but) they have to come in under the rules the town put in place. I think the people in town knew exactly what they wanted with zoning, and it appears to me zoning does not allow that. We’ll see.” He would be “totally willing” to refer the project to the Cape Cod Commission “when the time is right.” As of now, “I don’t think the images I’m seeing of the kind of physical plant that F.W. Webb has is the best thing for Orleans to have on its 6A entry to town.”

The decline in town revenues and increase in the cost of providing services is very much on the radar, but it’s a longstanding concern. “The Proposition 2½ grind into the budgetary process has been going on for a long time,” Runyon said. “Orleans has had a primary budgetary goal of preserving the level of services, never expanding them. If you go back and start counting how many people worked at the beaches and DPW 25 years ago compared to today, it’s hard to say the level of services has been maintained. It’s been a slow loss of government services. If you don’t do debt exclusions or a general override, you slowly whittle your town away.”

Runyon thinks the town “has been slow to adopt some green energy initiatives, though I think we’re starting to make some progress. I hope to see more solar panels on municipal buildings. The town ought to have the financial goal of paying zero for electricity every year. In fact, we pay $300,000.” He emphasized the need to plan for coastal resiliency, and to support access and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Like many, Runyon has had time to reflect during the pandemic. “It’s a much slower life to some extent,” he said. “I guess you question how you were living your life when it was normal. There’s a lot of maybe positive adjustments that are being made for me and my family.” Nevertheless, “I’m reaching the point where I’m ready to change back to something, whatever that something might be.”