By GAYLA CAWLEY
MARBLEHEAD — Board of Selectmen candidates got an opportunity to state their cases to voters during on a forum Monday night, leading up to the May 9 Town Election.
A term on the five-member board of selectmen is only for one year, so incumbents have to run annually. Six candidates are running to fill five seats. Four incumbents are vying to retain their seats and two challengers are looking to get on the board.
Jackie Belf-Becker, who serves as chairwoman, Harry Christensen Jr., Judith Jacobi and James Nye have each decided to run for re-election. Bret Murray decided not to run for another term. John Liming and Mark C. Moses Grader are each running to become selectmen.
The four incumbents and two challengers faced off at the Marblehead League of Women Voters’ Candidates Night at the Marblehead High School Library. The forum was moderated by Jeff Shribman, a former selectman.
Belf-Becker, an attorney, said she has lived in Marblehead for 41 years. Her husband of almost 43 years is a lifelong resident. Their two children have gone through Marblehead Public Schools. She is running for her 13th term on the Board of Selectmen and has been chairwoman for nine years, not all consecutively. Previously, she served six years on the School Committee, including three as chairwoman.
“I believe that understanding the town, the budget process and the need to be fiscally responsible while addressing the services Marbleheaders rely on are key factors to one’s success as a selectman,” Belf-Becker said. “We don’t reinvent the wheel here. We keep it rolling smoothly and seemingly effortlessly.”
Belf-Becker said the town has consistently received a Triple A bond rating, which she said speaks volumes to the strong financial position of the town. Also reflecting that strength, she said, is the lower than most tax rate. She said the town has not had a general override for the past 12 years, largely due to fiscal planning.
One of the key issues for the board, Belf-Becker said, is that all collective bargaining agreements have to be renegotiated in early 2018. She said successful, fair, and good faith negotiations are beneficial for both sides, and an experienced board is best able to handle collective bargaining.
Jacobi said most of the qualities that she brings to the board come from the values that her parents, late husband and family have instilled in her, which are “the importance of honesty, integrity and service to others.” Her years as a classroom teacher have also been critical, she said. She said her calm temperament allows her to listen to concerns, evaluate situations and sometimes change her mind.
Jacobi said she has served on the board since 2000, and ran originally to make sure a well-run town stays well-run.
“Most importantly, I am running because I feel energized serving the town I am lucky enough to call home,” Jacobi said.
An important issue facing the board, Jacobi said, is being able to live within a budget so the town doesn’t have to ask for a Proposition 2½ override. “It is challenging, but it is important to keep the level of services Marbleheaders have come to expect,” she said.
Christensen, who is over 70 years old, said he’s served for about 20 years on the board since the 1990s on three different stints, but couldn’t remember how many terms. He said he has lived in Marblehead all of his life, with the exception of the year he spent in the United States Marine Corps.
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Christensen has been practicing law in Marblehead for more than 30 years, with much of it in municipal law. He is married with two children and has three grandchildren. After the first semester of his Bachelor’s degree, he joined the Marine Corps. He was badly wounded in Vietnam, spending about five months there, and was sent home. After a stint in the naval hospital, he went back to school.
What’s most important for the board, he said, is what it has been doing.
“What we do is protect our town employees and ensure that we provide you people with the same services that you’ve been receiving over the years for the same buck,” Christensen said. “I’ve always thought that it’s been a pleasure and a privilege for me to serve the town.”
Nye, a Marblehead native, is the president and CEO of National Grand Bank Marblehead. His three daughters were raised in the town. He was first elected to the board in 2005.
“Over the past, the board, the town administrator and the finance director (departments) have managed the town budget efficiently and economically within the scope of Prop 2½ with no general override required,” Nye said. “I would like to continue this work on behalf of the taxpayers of Marblehead.
“The most pressing issue this year, as is every year is delivering the high level of service that the residents of Marblehead expect and deserve while providing for a small increase in pay for our town employees within the town’s budget, avoiding the general override.”
Grader said as a member of the Finance Committee for nine years, and chairman for the past five, he has been responsible for advising and recommending to Town Meeting. With his FinCom colleagues, he has reviewed, analyzed and vetted every appropriation budget and article project that has come before the town in that period.
Grader, co-founder and managing partner of Little Harbor Advisors, an investment management firm based in Marblehead, is married with two sons, who were educated through Marblehead schools.
He said the financial health of the town is the No. 1 issue, as the quality of services Marblehead residents have come to expect cannot be maintained without strong and well managed financial resources.
“What you have in me is a financial fiscal conservative who No. 1, has a deep understanding of the complex workings of the town government budget approval process and No. 2, who understands the importance of collaboration, fostering and maintaining the culture of accountability and getting things done,” Grader said.
Liming, a former selectman, said he would focus on fixing sidewalks, so children can walk to school safely. He said the sidewalks are in disrepair. He said he would work on giving more transparency, offering selectmen hours at town hall. If elected, he said he would pledge his stipend to go the Marblehead Holiday Decoration Fund.
“By running and winning, I hope I can open the gateway for other citizens of Marblehead who desire to run for public office,” Liming said.
The two candidates for the Cemetery Commission, the only other contested race on the ballot, were also supposed to debate each other, but Rufus Titus could not make it. Rose Ann Wheeler McCarthy and Titus are vying to fill a vacant seat on the commission, as William James is not running for re-election.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.