At first glance, it might appear democracy is taking a power nap in Swampscott with only one contested race in the April 24 town election.
Board of Assessors Chairwoman Linda Paster and tax firm owner, Diane O’Brien, are vying for a single open seat on the board.
The big local offices — School Committee, Board of Selectmen — lack contested races this spring, but a veteran selectman and committeeman underscored why the lack of election competition this year is no reason for voters to bemoan this year’s lack of competitive races.
Selectman Peter Spellios stressed the importance of “… continuity in town government …” in describing why he is running for a second, three-year term. In a rare admission by an elected official, Spellios said first terms in office are primarily learning experiences setting the stage for focused work by experienced elected officials on “quality of life investments” benefiting the town.
Veteran School Committee member and town police officer Ted Delano put it another way by talking about how two terms on the committee have equipped him to view the School Department budget with an experienced eye.
Delano and Spellios both have a point. Incumbency makes elected officials easy targets for criticism and ridicule. Criticism has its place in a democracy but ridicule is the lazy refuge of the person who is afraid to put themselves on the firing line and run for office.
Any community benefits from experienced elected leaders working with proven municipal professionals to solve problems, tackle budgets, and draw up long-term plans. As a number of towns are finding out this spring, town managers and administrators last about as long in their jobs as Major League Baseball managers.
The short shelf life for hired municipal professionals places more pressure on elected officials in small communities to learn local ordinances and state law and use laws and regulations to shape policy and solve problems.
Experience, as Spellios notes, is really the only way to gain the required skills elected officials need, in his words, to ensure “…continuity in town government…”
Town Moderator Michael McClung is another veteran local elected official running without opposition. McClung said his involvement in running Town Meeting extends to encouraging residents to take an interest in serving on Town Meeting. Anyone who has ever attended one knows a Town Meeting is equal parts debating society, social occasion, and an exercise in democracy at its most elemental level.
It’s to his credit that McClung takes sufficient interest in Town Meeting procedures and history to seek a third, one-year term as moderator. Valuable time is saved and a smooth Town Meeting is assured if an experienced moderator stands at the helm of Town Meeting.
Spellios, Delano and McClung are not the only experienced elected officials seeking reelection on April 24. Marianne Hartmann is running for another term on the Board of Health and Richard Callahan is seeking re-election to the Housing Authority.
Tript Sembhi is running for a three-year term as a Trustee of the Public Library after being appointed last year to fill the seat of a trustee who decided to step down. David Zucker is running for the Planning Board seat in the wake of J.R. Young’s decision to not run for re-election.
Swampscott is fortunate residents are stepping up to run for election and fill board vacancies. The town is even more fortunate to have veteran elected leaders who are motivated and inspired enough by their service to continue offering their experience to the town.