Winner of Write-in Declines, Leaving Vacancy  
Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let’s check returns from Webster’s annual town election. Voter turnout — something like 16 percent — was generally discouraging.

Voters created a potential conflict of interest for the School Committee and surprised a resident with a write-in victory for Finance Committee.

The citizen declined the office, said Town Clerk Robert T. Craver. Public service can’t be mandated. Another 10 or so residents got single or a couple of write-in votes for the finance office, but no one was elected. The vacancy can be filled through a joint meeting of selectmen and the remaining finance committee members, said Mr. Craver.

The potential conflict of interest came with the election of political newcomer Ted D. Geotis to the School Committee. He displaced veteran panelist Martina Gorski-Strong by 87 tallies, 867-780. Mr. Geotis is employed as a custodian at Webster Middle School, according to a town report listing. Two school offices were filled. Incumbent Joan Czechowski was easily returned with 1,090 votes.

Conflicts of interest are not uncommon here. Two selectmen, Mr. Duggan, a town DPW worker, and Donald Bourque, a volunteer with Engine 1 in the Fire Department, recused themselves from the recent evaluation for Town Administrator John McAuliffe. Denying a livelihood or rejecting volunteer effort is not a Webster way of doing things.

Returns in the selectmen’s race were Deborah Keefe 998, Jeffrey Duggan 805, Robert J. Miller 743, and Leslie Stevens 695.

Americans 45 and older make up a majority of the voting-age population, suggests a recent census-based analysis. I can furnish but a minor sampling, based on my minutes at the polls. Never mind baby boomers, those exercising franchise around 10 a.m. May 2 were mostly senior citizens, meaning I was among equals.

My take on the selectmen’s field says no one was disgraced. The four candidates, Ms. Keefe and Mr. Duggan, both reelected, Mr. Miller and Mr. Stevens lined up behind a 230 or so ballot spread, descending from 998, tops for Ms. Keefe, to a respectable 695 for Mr. Stevens. There’s no telling how things might develop in the future, but candidate Stevens has something to measure another Board of Selectmen’s race against. He knows where his strengths are.

Timing might have been Mr. Miller’s predicament. Coming back after a year off is not easy, particularly in a field with talented hands, and incumbents Duggan and Keefe backed experience with spirited campaigns.

The vacancy for town treasurer went to Senior Center director Linda Slota, who won the four-way race handily. Returns were Ms. Slota 645, Joseph S. Beresik 428, Juli Dell’Anna 379, and Michael Dostoler 323. Ms. Slota replaces Eleanor Doros, who resigned, gaining the two years remaining on her term. The incentive for Ms. Slota was probably the pay differentials carried on town drafts going into the election. It’s the first time in probably 25 years that the treasurer has not served as a deputy, since Joseph S. Chmielewicz was elected and succession fell to assistants Dorothy V. Dabrowski and Ms. Doros. In case anyone is interested, the Senior Center director is named by the town administrator.

Redevelopment Authority member Shawn Collins, with dual service on the School Committee the last few years, did not file for re-election to the redevelopment agency. No one else expressed interest before the general election. Retired Police Chief Paul J. Minarik managed 10 write-in votes to add the redevelopment panel to his growing public service register.

Loretta Scott-Walker defeated Steve Sutton in a fairly close race for Board of Health, 837-744; and James Avery, once a Regional Vocational School Committee member, was named to the Housing Authority seat vacated by Edward Dowgiewicz. He had 890 votes to 680 for his opponent, Dianne Hunter.

Assessor Mark Becker, Library Trustees Jean M. Travis and Christina M. Ralph, and Town Collector Maryann McGeary were all re-elected without opposition.

Aside from the organized write-in campaigns, there were relatively few write-in votes in this year’s town election, indicating people went to Town Hall to support one or more of the candidates, and few had cause or desire to write in another name.

There were only six write-ins for Board of Selectmen, suggesting general support for the field. On the flip side, hundreds skipped the fill-in ovals for Library Trustees and other down-the-ballot offices. Ms. Travis and Ms. Ralph were unopposed. Only one Precinct 5 voter penned in another selection, meaning just one ballot of the 1,871 cast had an alternate choice. Make that statistic unparalleled in my decades on the town election scene. Write-in voting has always been part of Webster’s election process, but alternate spaces have appeared on municipal ballots only since adoption of fill-in-the-oval voting and counting by computers.

Webster’s population is 16,500, with 11,374 registered voters. Only 1,871 of the qualified exercised that franchise May 2, on a day that international headlines were about the shooting death of Osama bin Ladin. Nonvoters missed a great American opportunity.

John R. Maisto Sr., of Perryville Road, Webster, lives right next to the French River, and the three bridges project in that village.

He’s become So I’ve Heard’s unofficial observer for the undertaking, now with the biggest and last bridge. “We’re talking state of the art with this work,” Mr. Maisto said the other day. “When they’re finished, probably in another year, we’re going to have a first-class shortcut from Webster to Dudley and down to North Grosvenordale.” It will travel both ways, he allowed.

“Those bridges will hold anything they drive over them,” says John. “I think they’ll even be tornado-proof.” Working on the connector is hard, difficult work, he said. “The guy on the machine is OK, but the fellows on the ground are sometimes up to their knees in mud.”

The recently incorporated Janet Malser Memorial Trust Foundation will fund the restoration of the 42-by-30-inch Merino (Dudley) and Webster map that hangs in the Webster library, reports Dudley Historical Commission member Michael Branniff. The project was suggested by Pearle L. Crawford Memorial Library director Matt Hall. A duplicate will be made for the Dudley Library.

“The map is one of a kind, an absolute treasure,” says Mr. Branniff. Repair of the Civil War portraits formerly kept in the Webster selectmen’s office might qualify for Malser money in the future, thinks Mr. Branniff. We hope so!
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