WELLFLEET — For the first time in recent memory, the ballot for this year’s town election lists fewer candidates for the town’s most important board than there are seats to be filled.
Incumbent select board member Helen Miranda Wilson is running for re-election. But Justina Carlson, who is completing her first three-year term on the board, declined to take out nomination papers this year, and no one stepped up to take her place.
That means the fifth select board position will be filled by whoever gets the most write-in votes in the June 14 election. Inquiries by Independent reporters over the last week directed at various current and former town officials failed to identify anyone who has thus far decided to make a run for it.
When she was asked why she had decided not to run for re-election, Carlson said that “it wasn’t the right time to continue the commitment” to serving on the select board. She declined to elaborate, except to say that “I have a little business thing” that she expects to keep her busy.
Carlson also noted that serving on the board is difficult “not just in terms of the hours, but in terms of the types of issues that come up, because of turnover in the town administrator spot.” She described lack of continuity in the administrator’s office as something that makes the select board’s work harder.
Nevertheless, “I’ll miss the board,” she said. “It’s a really great board right now.”
Michael DeVasto, the current chair of the select board, said that he has been trying to persuade people to run for Carlson’s seat. “I’ve heard some interest,” he said, “but I don’t know anyone who has committed to doing that.”
DeVasto cited both the heavy time commitment required of board members and the pay, which in his view is inadequate. Select board members currently get $2,500 per year, plus the town pays for a portion of their health insurance premium. He said that a higher rate of pay would make it more likely that younger working people might be willing to run.
“I think when people are compensated with tax money, they have to be responsive to their constituents,” DeVasto said. “There’s an obligation that’s different from being a volunteer.” At the same time, he admitted, the salary “would never be high enough that people would do it for the money.”
“I don’t think pay is a motivating factor for most people,” said Ryan Curley, the newest member of the select board. “It isn’t for me. I felt like I could have a positive impact on the community, rather than just get angry about national politics.”
Several people mentioned the length of select board meetings — which often run to three or four hours — as a reason why fewer people are willing to serve. DeVasto cited the need for remote meetings via videoconference as a complicating factor.
“Zoom adds about a half hour to the meetings,” he said. “It’s difficult to cut people off. And there’s a delay, so when you try and interrupt, it’s three seconds before they hear you.”
Curley agreed that the remote meeting format was a problem. “Some people just don’t want to deal with Zoom,” he said. “That could be a reason why people don’t want to do it. I think it’s great that meetings are being recorded and broadcast. At the same time, it is a barrier.”
“I haven’t heard of anybody saying they’ll run or want to run,” said select board member Janet Reinhart. “A couple of us are encouraging Justina to be a write-in candidate. She might turn around. They’re giving her some love, you know? It’s needed. When you get love as a selectperson, it’s great. But you don’t get it all the time. It requires a lot of emotional and mental energy.”
The lack of appreciation for the long hours and hard work was also mentioned by Kathleen Bacon, who served on the select board until a year ago, when her seat was taken over by Curley.
“I don’t know anybody who wants to touch that board with a 10-foot pole,” said Bacon. “It’s an unpaid job. It’s a 30- to 40-hour-a-week job where you’re basically a volunteer. You’re getting skewered left and right by the Ginny Parkers and the Jude Aherns.”
Berta Bruinooge, another former member of the select board, lamented what she sees as a “disconnect” between townspeople and the present board.
“Back in the day you could go to meetings and participate,” said Bruinooge. “Now, it’s very difficult to watch. I have a decent-size flat screen TV, and even so, it’s very difficult to read the agenda on the screen. There’s an apathy on the part of townspeople. Back when everything was live, there were always people at the selectmen’s meetings, and if there was an issue, there were a lot of people there. Now it’s hard for people to sit at home and participate in town government. That holds over to those who might have wanted to run this year. Why make the effort?”
Walter Rowell, who ran for the select board three years ago at age 21, said he had “no comment at this time” about whether he would mount a write-in campaign. In 2018, he said he thought Wellfleet and Provincetown should “annex” Truro by dividing it at the Pamet River Valley, with South Truro going to Wellfleet and North Truro to Provincetown. “If anything changes, I’ll be in touch,” he said this week.
Wilson, the one announced candidate for select board, said she couldn’t remember there ever being a board position won by write-in vote. And she had no complaints about the job.
“It’s pretty easy for me,” said Wilson. “I just like working with other people. It’s not like this is some terrible thing that I’ve been suffering. It’s a job and I like it. Why not keep doing it? I’m all trained. I have an appetite for it. I’ll work with anybody the town gives me to work with.”
The one contest on this year’s Wellfleet election ballot is for one seat on the cemetery commission. Incumbent David Agger is being challenged by Donna Rickman.
All of the other elected positions are uncontested. Town Moderator Daniel Silverman is running for re-election, as are housing authority members Elaine McIlroy and Sarah Pechukas Slivka. Incumbent school committee member Jill Putnam will be joined on the committee by newcomer Liberty Schilpp. And three available seats on the board of library trustees will be filled by Yvonne Barocas, Adam Miller, and Kathleen Schorr.
The last day to register to vote in the June 14 election is Friday, June 4.