HARWICH – Jeffery Handler, Julie Kavanagh and Mark Kelleher – the three candidates running for a seat on the board of selectmen in the Sept. 21 special election – sought to win voter support in a candidates forum last Thursday evening.
The session was sponsored by the town’s voter information committee and moderated by Joan Craig of the League of Women Voters of the Cape Cod Area. Questions for the candidates were provided by the more than 40 people in the audience.
The candidates are seeking to fill the eight-month unexpired term of Selectman Stephen Ford, who passed away in April.
In her opening statement, Kavanagh, who has lived in Harwich for 20 years, emphasized her previous service as a selectman from 2016 to 2019 and her willingness to serve again. Kavanagh said she has a bachelor’s degree in government from Stonehill College and a master’s degree from Harvard University.
“I feel I’m the best candidate and can hit the ground running,” Kavanagh said of her experience. “Steve Ford filled my seat when I stepped down, and I feel the need to fulfill his term.”
Kelleher said he has a 65-year history with the town and has served as a police officer. He described his earlier years working in management on large construction projects in Boston where he learned budgeting and other managerial skills. Kelleher, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts who also has a master’s degree from Bridgewater State University, said he changed careers, becoming a teacher of special needs and working with students with reading issues.
Handler was born and raised in Harwich, and his family goes back 100 years in the town. He has a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Connecticut State University. Handler said much of the past 30 years he has focused on raising his four boys and his entrepreneurial commitment to his health club in Hyannis.
“I love this town, believe in the people of this town and want to increase my commitment to the town,” he said.
Kelleher said housing is his number one issue. He said he has heard it is “almost too late” to be able to address housing, but he disagreed, pointing to initiatives underway in Dennis and Brewster. He also said if the town can get owners unknown land under control before developers claim it, it would slow development and provide parcels for affordable housing.
Housing problems are impacting the economy, Handler said. He said Yarmouth and Dennis wastewater projects are designed to add business and residential growth, while Harwich’s comprehensive wastewater management plan is directed toward environmental protection.
“Our path for responsible growth is not big, big projects like Chloe’s Path, it needs to be targeted and responsible workforce and affordable housing,” Handler said.
Kanvanagh said she learned much about many of the complicated town issues when she served on the board, including housing. The town is losing its young families, and there is a need to build more housing and to work with residents to develop and rehabilitate their properties for additional housing, she said. She emphasized the need to use town land to address housing needs, adding that the town also has to address septic issues to accommodate moderate growth.
Wastewater issues focused mostly on the Dennis-Harwich-Yarmouth Clean Water Partnership and whether decisions made about it were transparent. Kelleher said it was not a transparent process and suggested Yarmouth was kept in the dark on where Harwich stood on the town’s participation. Kelleher said he was told by Water and Wastewaste Superintendent Dan Pelletier that it would have cost Harwich $14 million for its share of a tri-town treatment plant, but it will cost Harwich $45 million to build its own plant.
Kavanagh said she believes the DHY process was handled openly, but having a regional agreement would have worked. She said the inter-municipal agreement Harwich has with Chatham for wastewater treatment is working, and added a treatment plant for three towns, rather than two, would save money.
Handler said there was no transparency in DHY. There were a lot of things going on and the taxpayers had no idea what they were, he said. But Handler praised the new engineering firm hired by selectmen to change the town’s comprehensive wastewater management plan, citing a recent presentation by consultants GHD, Inc.
“I really believe they are on the right path,” Handler said.
When discussing candidate involvement in the democratic process in Harwich, Handler said he wished he was a more willing participant earlier in life, adding that he spent the past 30 years taking care of his family, work and travel.
“I wish I could go backward. I can’t. I can promise I’m going to be much more involved,” Handler said.
“I attend town meetings and elections,” Kavanagh said. “I’m a government geek. It’s important to be part of the process. I’m fairly vocal on issues of the town.”
Kelleher said he votes in every election, but because he works on Saturdays town meetings have been more difficult to attend.
When asked how the candidates would balance the rights of businesses and rights of neighbors, Handler said it boils down to communication and cooperation. Until the communication takes place, it will be difficult to find a solution; it will be “the Hatfields and the McCoys,” he said.
It boils down to respect, and a common denominator must be found, Kavanagh said. When she served as a selectman, she said, the 150-foot provision in the noise bylaw was put in place. She admitted it has been difficult for the police department to enforce, and said music has to be toned down and insulated.
There has been a general happiness with the way conflicts over noise have been policed this past year, Kelleher said. He added restaurants and the town are working together to solve the noise problem, and it takes enforcement and good neighborly participation.
Responding to a question about good character traits in town leaders, Kavanagh said leaders must be good listeners, trustworthy, have a good moral compass, and be civil.
Kelleher likened the traits to the way he conducts his life: honest and hardworking, a straight shooter who listens and respects people. He also emphasized civility.
“Honesty, integrity and communication are at the top of my list,” Handler said.
“I hope you look at my record and my willingness to serve in an eight-month term. It’s a short period to learn all the different things on the (town’s) agenda. I am prepared, look at my experience,” Kavanagh said in her closing statement.
“When you look at my life you see service and accomplishment. I want to bring a level of respect to my colleagues, and be sure the people who come before us are respected,” Kelleher said.
“I believe in the people of this town,” Handler said. “My focus will be on results. You can’t fool or hide that. I’m running a campaign that brings people together.”
Voters can now participate in early voting at the town clerk’s office. The polls at the community center will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m on election day, Tuesday, Sept. 21.