Published in the July 18, 2016 edition.

WAKEFIELD — The winner of tomorrow’s Special Election will fill the nine months remaining on the term of former selectman Betsy Sheeran, who stepped down from the board after she was elected Town Clerk in the Annual Town Election last April.

The Daily Item asked all six candidates to identify the most pressing issue currently facing the town and explain how they would propose addressing it as a member of the Board of Selectmen.

The six candidates are Phyllis Hull, Allyson Houghton, Nathaniel Gayman, Christopher Callanan, Mehreen Butt and Daniel Benjamin.

“I think the town as a whole has several immediate issues to address, #1 our schools,” Benjamin said. “The High School (Statement of Interest) has been submitted to the Mass. School Building Authority and we should be getting an answer if we have been accepted for a new or renovated school around the first of the year and what will be the best way to go about it.

“I think we need to address the High School. This is a building built in the early ‘60s, a school that I went to as a Junior H.S., after the Atwell School building was destroyed by a major fire. This building was built very quickly and is approaching 60 years in age. Later in the ‘70s another addition was added to create the High School of today. During this time a lot of cutbacks and money saving measures reduced the quality of this building. The Field House was reduced from a full size building to a 3/4 size building and is not capable having indoor track meets.

“Over the years more cutbacks in the needed maintenance of these buildings further reduced the H.S. quality, so today we have a crumbing and outdated structure both mechanically and educationally. We are also a point where our High School accreditation is at issue, and accreditation is only a few years away. Yes, we can say if we had maintained it better we wouldn’t be having this problem but we can’t correct what was done in the past! But we can make sure in the future that we learn from those mistakes and make sure we have a rock solid maintenance program with a 5, 10, 20 year plan for all our public buildings.

“We also need to look at the Walton School which has space needs, and a Greenwood School that needs a lot upgrades and is one of our oldest schools. We as a town need to work together helping each other with increased costs and raising taxes and together think about our Seniors on fixed incomes with abatements, ‘Circuit Breaker’ tax credits and ways to help them stay in their homes. We also need to provide the best education we can afford to give our youth,” Benjamin said.

“In the early ‘50s someone thought about me and my generation and built us a new Memorial High School on Main Street, he added. “I think I owe the next generation a new school they can also be proud of. ‘We Galvinized once, We can Memorialize again.’ But we must all work together in accepting new ideas and listening to the experience of our seniors who we owe so much to! We’re all in this together and must make decisions that are for all the people. We need to think about each other’s needs and pray we do the very best for everybody, thinking about WE and not ME!!

“I must also address another deep concern of our community that affects young, old, rich, poor, everyone, Our ‘Opioid Crisis’ must be looked at! Too many times, I have read with a broken heart the obituary of a person with a bright future ahead of them, taken because of drugs. Our Wakefield Health Department has done a fantastic job with this and education of this crisis but we must do even more! Narcan should be available in all schools and public buildings and there should be trained personnel available.

“As I am writing this I am listening to the reports of another Police tragedy in New Orleans, We are so lucky to have a Police Dept. that is so well respected and trained with police officers that go to work every day never knowing if they will return home to their families. An accredited department that makes our town proud, because they care and we care about them. I go to bed each night knowing we are all safe! Thank You for your service to us, Wakefield Police Department!”

Candidate Mehreen Butt says that she wants to be the voice of diversity on the board.

“In our town’s April election, 14 percent of the town voted,” Butt observed. “I decided to run in this election because I truly believe that democracy works best when we have new, diverse voices in all levels of government. I want to be that diverse voice. We should have a full Board to represent the voters of our town. I hope my experiences, my passion and my dedication earn your vote tomorrow.

“I pulled papers 8 weeks ago. While gathering signatures, door knocking and meeting as many voters as I can, three issues were constantly repeated. Wakefield residents are so proud of our school system. All ages love the Galvin Middle School. We’ve had so many families move to Wakefield because of the new school. It’s important to invest in the public school systems.

“Second, I was told how important it is to continue to revitalize and invest in the downtown. I heard this from both residents and business owners. We have great businesses downtown. Businesses I grew up coming to from Lynnfield. There’s an opportunity for the Board of Selectman to find ways to help local businesses which is then better for all residents in Wakefield.

“And the third issue I hear about is maintaining the beauty and safety of Lake Quannapowitt. The Lake is known throughout Massachusetts. The fields, playgrounds, gazebo and water activities are all reasons we need to keep the Lake as a resource for future generations,” Butt said.

“I’m currently the Director of Public Policy at Rosie’s Place,” she noted. “Every day I help low-income and homeless women. I’ve dedicated my professional career to helping others, whether it be in non-profits or government. I know this election was the right time to start serving my neighbors in Wakefield. I grew up walking the Lake and going to the Beebe Library. As an adult I’ve volunteered at the Wakefield Interfaith Food Pantry and belong to the Books by the Lake book club. I’ve loved being a part of this town. And as I’ve spent this summer knocking on doors and meeting voters, I know that Wakefield is a town I want to continue to be a part of and hope to serve. I hope to earn your vote tomorrow.”

Christopher Callanan said that the selectmen must balance many interests.

“While it might seem like an easy question to address, a Selectman must balance the many competing needs of the town,” Callanan said. We have to fund our labor and contractual obligations, maintain our infrastructure including buildings, roads and water and sewer systems, educate our children, ensure our retirement plans are properly funded, provide for public safety including caring for those caught in the midst of opioid addiction and address numerous other aspects of life in the Town of Wakefield.

“However, I think the issue front and center on many people’s minds is the need to revitalize our commercial areas. I have lived in Wakefield my entire life, and one of the things I love most is the familiarity I feel when traveling around Town. While this is desirable and quaint in many ways, most commercial buildings in Wakefield have not been updated in a manner that would maintain our New England small town feel but incorporate 21st century amenities.

“Some neighboring communities have successfully transformed their downtown areas with a single theme. An example is the Victorian theme in Melrose. A themed approach has allowed those towns to impart a consistent look and feel to new development that has taken place over the past 30 years.

“Also, Wakefield would benefit greatly from developing stronger partnerships with our commercial property owners and businesses which are tenants. We need to give them a better reason to join together with the Town to create commercial districts Downtown and in Greenwood that we can all be proud to call ours. If we find a way to do that, our commercial tax base will expand and homeowners will get some relief from the costs of updating the Town’s infrastructure,” Callanan said.

“The current unsatisfactory situation Downtown and in Greenwood did not develop overnight and it will take time, dedication and a willingness to try new things until we get the right mix of solutions,” he added. “In fact, it is imperative we try new approaches even if some do not work out. One such plan that is meeting with success is the partnership with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council that the Board of Selectmen has partnered with to develop a cultural district on Albion Street. Repurposing the WMGLD building has been met with open arms by our community and this partnership is a great step in the right direction. In order to correct the problem, we should work as a team with developers, landlords and businesses rather than simply trying to regulate them without buy-in from all stakeholders.”

Nate Gayman said that economic development is the most pressing issue.

“I feel that the most pressing issue currently facing the Board of Selectmen is the need for revitalization and economic stimulation in downtown Wakefield,” Gayman said.

“My goal is to revitalize downtown Wakefield while raising the positive interaction among our residents. This is a large task to accomplish with limited resources. If elected, I want to work with individuals in our community that have the same goal for downtown and ‘roll up our sleeves’ to do something about it. I do not want another dollar given to any consultants on “feasibility studies” that do nothing but waste tax money. Instead I want to work in the community to volunteer time and effort in making changes in downtown that are noticeable, achievable and desirable to new businesses. I believe that this is our largest issue at hand today.

“The town has many challenges ahead that I believe we can accomplish through collaboration and old fashioned hard work. Our assets are many. We have a tremendous base of people who live in Wakefield and we have many valuable and desirable attributes that set our town apart,” Gayman said.

“If you believe in Wakefield, and want to make downtown Wakefield great again – vote for me! He added. “Reach out to me and come work with me!”

Allyson Houghton also saw downtown economic revitalization as the key issue.

In my option, the most pressing issue that the Board of Selectmen is facing at the present time is economic stability,” Houghton said. “The growth of our downtown is essential to our town thriving as a whole. If we are filling our storefronts with successful businesses we as a community will grow. With so many of the downtown store fronts empty, we are missing out on valuable revenue for Wakefield.

“We have numerous groups in Wakefield that have started to create some momentum to revitalizing our downtown but we still have a ways to go. We need to look at the condition of our downtown buildings. Some of the landlords in the town are not maintaining the buildings the way they should and because of that many businesses are unwilling to come to Wakefield. We need to do everything we can to get these landlords to work with the town. We need to look at programs to loan commercial property owner funds to use to refurbish properties. We need to encourage the landlords of the buildings to fix them up by offering tax incentives.

“Our town leaders, our business owners and our residents need to all work together to bring new businesses to our town. I would like to see programs in place for small business owners wanting to open a business in town to help them with the process. We need to look at loan programs that have been used in the past to help new businesses get started.

“The other side of this problem is how do we bring people to our downtown to shop. We have done a great job of trying to showcase our local businesses with events such as the Italian Festival and Holiday Stroll. We need bring back the shoppers after these events and we need to look at what draws people to our town to do it. With so many people utilizing our farmers market during the summer months, a shuttle or trolley service to bring them downtown to shop on Saturdays would be a great way to bring them to our local businesses. When people are walking the Lake and want to stop for something to eat we should use social media to post menus to our local restaurants.

“I would love to see things added to or streets to make them more inviting. The new planters on Main Street are a great start. Benches along Main and Albion streets would be a great addition for visitors to sit and relax while visiting the downtown.

“I would also like to sit down with other communities whose downtowns are thriving and find what has worked for them and how could those ideas work here.

“It has taken some time for our downtown to get to the condition it has and this is not a short range project but once we are able to stabilize our economy we will be able to build a stronger community. With thriving businesses, we will have more means to maintain our other areas of the town. We will be creating jobs for our residents. We will be bringing new residents to Wakefield. We would have more resources to be able to lessen the tax burden for our residents on fixed incomes,” Houghton said.

“I am ready to take on this issue in town and put in the work it will take to fix it if I am elected to the Board of Selectmen,” she added. “If our local businesses are succeeding, then we as a community will succeed.”

Phyllis Hull said that the most important issue is meeting the community’s diverse needs.

“The most pressing current issue for the Board of Selectmen is meeting the needs of Wakefield’s very diverse population,” Hull said. “Young families need a school system with excellent staff and buildings. Older families need a stable tax base so they can pay the high costs of a college education for these Wakefield educated young adults. Single parents, retirees, seniors, average income workers and people on fixed incomes for whatever reason need low taxes so they can pay their mortgages, rents and all the other living expenses.

“First I would like to make my position on new school buildings very clear. I am for new school buildings that are well maintained as long as it can be done responsibly. Other candidates are suggesting we can easily take care of all these diverse factions. I don’t think it will be easy at all.

“A step in the right direction is increasing the small business base in Wakefield. If the businesses are thriving and taking some of the pressure off the residential tax rates everyone will benefit. The Board of Selectmen must be appreciating and innovative with new business. Wakefield residents will need to be welcoming and supportive of these tax paying businesses,” Hull said.

“I will be a voice for the people on the Board of Selectmen,” Hull added.