WELLFLEET — Ask her why she deserves another term on the Wellfleet Select Board and Justina Carlson preaches continuity.
“I don’t think it’s time to switch horses in midstream,” she says.
Carlson acknowledges the challenges facing the town, most notably the budget and turnover at town administrator. But she says disrupting the current team now would only introduce more instability. The town needs someone, she says, “who knows the ropes.”
Initially, Carlson decided not to run again. She changed her mind after the filing deadline. So, she is a write-in candidate for her own seat in the June 30 election.
Why did she change her mind about running? Carlson says senior town staff members and other members of the select board encouraged her. She won’t name them.
The one-term incumbent says she’s proud of what the current board has achieved in the past year. She’s particularly proud of the 95 Lawrence Road affordable housing plan now out for bids from developers. She uses the phrase “a good team” more than once when describing the select board’s work. It’s working well, she argues, so why switch it up?
The town auditor’s most recent report revealed an array of problems including a “material weakness” in Wellfleet’s cash management, the most serious finding possible in an audit. The town’s disastrously bungled accounting has been building for at least two years, according to Interim Town Administrator Charlie Sumner, but the auditor’s report appears to have caught the select board unawares.
Carlson, though, doesn’t see the situation as evidence that the select board has been negligent.
She repeatedly blames the problem on the retirement of three long-tenured town hall employees some years ago, including the town treasurer and tax collector. She also brings up the well-documented turnover at the town administrator position.
Carlson believes she and the other members of the current board deserve credit for how they’ve responded to Wellfleet’s money issues. She says the board moved “aggressively” to fix the problems identified in the auditor’s report. She points to the select board’s hiring of Sumner, who brings 30 years of experience to the position.
Nonetheless, Carlson recognizes the turnover problem needs fixing. Sumner is retired and will not be in the job long-term. Soon, Wellfleet will have its fifth town administrator in six years. She says there’s “clearly” a need to change the hiring process.
When asked what her greatest priority will be if elected to a second term, Carlson lists three: affordable housing, clean water, and “cleaning up the mess in town hall.” She plans to continue her work on water protection and is the liaison to the town’s wastewater committee. As for affordable housing, Carlson mentions a plan for an affordable housing initiative “in its infancy,” coming out of an existing relationship with Cape Cod Cooperative Bank.
As Carlson outlines her ideas, she reflexively considers their cost in resources. Even her small ideas, like starting an Instagram page to improve town communication, begin with thoughts about the draw on “staff time.” With her business background, she’s familiar with how organizations function, she says. She often refers to her Ivy League pedigree (she went to Harvard) and to having started a successful web-development company in California and then sold it.
She’s careful with her words, referring to a small stack of printed notes to keep herself on message. Despite being the incumbent, she’s not taking any chances.
“I don’t think anything’s solved by going after the select board with pitchforks,” she remarks. “I think we should keep the team intact.”