PROVINCETOWN — The three candidates running for select board in the May 11 election named pathways to create more year-round housing and to push the long-delayed construction of a new police station forward. They also displayed sharp differences during a virtual candidates night on April 21, sponsored by Provincetown TV, WOMR radio, the Provincetown Banner, and the Independent.
At the event, Leslie Sandberg, Oriana Conklin, and incumbent Lise King, who are competing for a single seat on the five-person board, each got two minutes to respond to 12 questions posed by the press and audience members. (To watch the event, go to the Provincetown TV Facebook page.)
All three candidates agreed that the town needs a new police station. After several failed attempts to gain voter support for a new station, Sandberg, 58, said the public needs to be given three different sizes and prices, starting with the original figure, $8.6 million, that was proposed in 2017.
King, 56, said the select board and the new town manager, Alex Morse, have already prioritized consensus building to pass the police station.
Conklin, 30, said a lot more people will favor a new police station if it includes mental health clinicians or social workers on staff. This, she said, would address the call for police reform.
To create more affordable housing, King suggested adding modular temporary housing during the summer season and reclaiming “asphalt spaces” in town. Sandberg said the upcoming state renovation of the Route 6 corridor beyond Shank Painter Road toward Herring Cove could create land for housing. She also suggested raising the height limits in nonhistoric parts of town.
Conklin said Provincetown should impose a community impact fee of 3 percent on “investor-owned properties,” defined as two or more residential properties under the same ownership but on a different lot from the owner’s primary residence. This revenue should go towards housing, she said.
Then came a question about whether the candidates support creating a new communications office at town hall. Conklin said it would be “far, far, far more important” to support the petitioned article on Saturday’s town meeting warrant to create an office of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Sandberg and King both said yes to a communications office, though they displayed divergent views on how to communicate with the public.
This became clearer when an audience member asked King to defend her having talked to a reporter for the New York Times at the beginning of the pandemic last year.
On March 25, 2020, King and others across the country were interviewed by Jodi Kantor about urban dwellers seeking refuge from Covid-19 in rural places. King told Kantor she had heard reports “about plane after plane touching down” at Provincetown airport.
Kantor then quoted King’s Facebook page, where King wrote, “If you come here and fall ill you are taking a risk that we won’t have the capacity to help you.”
That interview turned out to be controversial. David Abramson, chair of the select board, issued a public rebuke, which stated, in part, that there was no increased plane traffic and that King’s interview was an “act of self-promotion” that was “unconscionable during the midst of a pandemic that has our town, country, and the world on edge.”
Sandberg said that if she had been on the select board and had been contacted by a reporter, she would have called for an executive session and talked to the other board members to come up with unified statement before speaking to the press.
“I think it’s very important that you send a message of calm,” Sandberg said. “I also thought it was an awful message to send to people who own homes legally here.” She added that, in her view, King’s statement made it seem that home owners from away weren’t welcome here.
Sandberg also praised Abramson’s rebuke of King, saying at first that Abramson “wrote” the statement, but then correcting herself to say, “He read it.”
King used her one remaining minute in the program to rebut Sandberg’s critique. She said she had apologized immediately in 2020 for making a mistake about the airplane traffic. But, she said, Sandberg has continued to use the incident as a distraction from King’s otherwise positive public service.
Town boards cannot legally call an executive session to discuss how to respond to questions from the press, King said. It would also have violated the Open Meeting Law to call her board colleagues privately to discuss this, she added. King said she did, however, ask Abramson if they could hold an emergency meeting to talk about the developing health crisis in March. He refused, she said. Abramson had declined to comment.
In the final seconds of her rebuttal, King told the audience, “Leslie Sandberg actually wrote the takedown of me after this thing came out in the New York Times.”
Sandberg later told the Independent that she wrote Abramson’s response with what she said was a group of people providing help to Abramson to deal with a “crisis.”
A few months later, in July 2020, Sandberg, who owns a strategic communications company, Rose, Sandberg & Associates, got a contract with the town’s health dept. to do public relations work during the pandemic. Her contract ended March 31.