No Contest: Candidates For Election, Re-election To Go Unchallenged In Orleans

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Elections , Orleans news , Orleans Elementary School , Select Board

Mark Mathison, center,  will seek a third term on the Orleans Select Board in May. He and fellow board member Michael Herman are running unopposed for their seats. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – The deadline to return nomination papers to run in the May 17 annual town election came and went Tuesday, but there will be no contested races.

Candidates could take out papers for election or re-election to the select board, board of health, Orleans School Committee, Nauset Regional School Committee, Snow Library Board of Trustees and the positions of town constable and town moderator.

Incumbent select board members Mark Mathison and Michael Herman are each looking to retain their seats on the board. For Mathison, the decision to run again was driven in part by the fact that no one else took out or returned papers to contest his seat.

He said he initially ran for the board to help give a voice to younger residents and families who he said aren't represented enough in town government. And while he said gains have been made getting younger people to join several boards and committees, the time commitment the select board requires makes serving difficult for residents who also need to balance family life with working full time.

"I'm encouraged by the fact that a lot of younger people have stepped up to be on some of the other boards and committees," he said. "We've got younger members on the board of health, the shellfish and waterways committee and finance committee. People are stepping up and making those commitments to other committees and boards that meet once, maybe twice a month. But they can't make that kind of commitment to be on the select board. I can respect that and appreciate that."

A longtime teacher at Nauset Regional High School, Mathison has so far balanced his role on the board with work. But he plans on retiring from teaching at the end of the current school year and shifting his focus to building and construction. The move, he said, should make scheduling his time with the board easier.

There are also unresolved issues in town that Mathison said he wants to help see through in his next term. At the top of that list are sewering and housing. The board has been deliberating options for allocating sewer betterments to users in the downtown and Meetinghouse Pond areas, and Mathison said the board needs to strive for fairness in deciding what users will pay. The board was due to vote on the betterments at its March 30 meeting.

Housing, meanwhile, remains a much thornier issue to untangle. The Cape is in the midst of a housing crisis that continues to make it difficult for young families and working professionals to live in town. Adequately addressing the problem will require creative solutions, such as the allowance of accessory dwelling units, he said.

"This town can't survive importing everyone from Plymouth, Fall River and New Bedford," he said. "There's got to be this understanding that you can try and pay somebody $20 an hour to come and do some kind of menial labor, but they can't afford to live here on $20 an hour. They can't afford to live here on $80 an hour. There has to be some recognition that that's just not sustainable in this town," said Mathison.

Herman, who was elected in November to finish the term vacated by Cecil Newcomb last June, is running for his first full term on the board. As he did in November, he is running unchallenged for the seat.

"I would love to see more engagement in our town, whether it be at town meeting, during public [comment] or running for town boards and committees," Herman said when reached by phone Tuesday morning. "While I say that, running unopposed is definitely easier than running opposed. But overall as a town, we need more engagement."

If re-elected (write-in candidates will also be considered on the ballot May 17), Herman said he plans to push for the creation of a new position in town hall geared toward growing civic engagement.

"I believe the select board is there to give options to the voters," he said. "They need to realize that they make the final decision, whether it's at town meeting or on the ballot. A lot of times voters don't put that together. They feel that things are decided already before them, and they're not."

And with Orleans officials vested in planning for the future on a number of fronts, from studying the use of the former Governor Prence Inn to planning for a new fire station and growing economic development downtown, getting more residents involved in the decision-making process is critical, he said. "We need the town's input," he said. "We need their support."

Elsewhere on the spring election ballot, Ginger Stribula Marks has returned papers to run for re-election for one of two three-year seats up for grabs on the Orleans School Committee. A newcomer, Maxine Minkoff, is running for the second seat. Incumbent member Hank Schumaker is not seeking re-election.

There are two three-year terms up for grabs on the Snow Library Board of Trustees, but only one person, Pamela Ritchie, returned papers to run. Claire Gradone took out nomination papers for one of the two seats but did not return them by Tuesday's deadline.

Josh Stewart will seek re-election to another three-year term on the Nauset Regional School Committee. Also running unopposed for re-election are Mary Stevens for constable, David Lyttle for town moderator and John Smith for the board of health. All are seeking three-year terms.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com