Published in the April 5, 2016 edition.
By BOB BURGESS
WAKEFIELD — The two women running for Town Clerk in the upcoming municipal election almost got through last Friday’s televised debate on WCAT without bringing up the recent past and how the important position became vacant in the first place.
While extremely mild by current presidential campaign standards, Kristen K. Henshaw did call out the selectmen and opponent Betsy Sheeran for telling former Town Clerk Mary K. Galvin they planned to make the post an appointed one, that Galvin had to resign in part because town officials and others had conducted a campaign of harassment against her and that Henshaw was not reappointed as warden in Precinct 6 because she spoke up publicly for the embattled Galvin, who retired at the end of last June following about a year’s absence from work.
Henshaw alluded to these in her closing statement in the WCAT studio at Wakefield Memorial High. Sheeran and Henshaw are running for Town Clerk in the April 26 local election.
Henshaw called not being reappointed as a poll work a “bitter lesson to learn” and said the only reason she was running for Town Clerk is because no one came forward to challenge Sheeran, who took out papers for the post as early as allowed under this year’s municipal election schedule. “It would have been a de facto appointment,” Henshaw said.
“I wish Mary K. was still” the Town Clerk, Henshaw added at one point. Galvin was in office for 12 years, but certain stressors she said were the result of a hostile work environment kept her from coming to work for over a year. In early 2015, some town officials — particularly Finance Committeeman Dan Sherman — had had enough and asked Galvin to either return to the office on a daily basis or leave the position.
Last Friday, Sheeran seemed taken aback by Henshaw’s comments and used all of her closing time at the end of the half hour forum to respond to Henshaw’s criticism of herself and the board she sits on.
Sheeran pointed out that she was a past supporter of Galvin’s.
No single person or board, Sheeran explained, has the authority to change the position of Town Clerk from elected to appointed; it must be done by changing the Town Charter.
Any reappointment to the position of poll worker, while formally done by the selectmen, comes at the recommendation of the Temporary Town Clerk, the head warden and the Town Administrator, Sheeran continued.
Additionally, Sheeran said she has been very careful over the course of the last several months not to cast any vote that could conflict with her desire to be the next Town Clerk. Sheeran also said she has “every right to run” for the office.
Moderated by Bill Carroll, the same man who referees Town Meeting sessions as Town Moderator, the Town Clerk candidate forum allowed for questions from the local media and from Wakefield residents at large, as well as closing statements.
No personal attack questions were allowed, Carroll made clear.
Henshaw said she can surely do the job after being both a poll worker and a one time member of the local Board of Registrars. “I know how elections work,” she said, touching on just one of the jobs of the Town Clerk.
Henshaw went into her extensive background and the jobs she has had, saying they have prepared her for the “amazing stew of responsibilities” in store for her should she be elected Town Clerk, who is the town’s chief elections officer and vital records keeper, among other things.
“There are certainly happy moments as Town Clerk,” Henshaw said more than once during the debate, like when someone comes in for a birth certificate. She said you also get to know just about everyone in town, since the Town Clerk’s office deals with many different things, like the issuance of dog licenses.
“Mary K. Galvin told me once that the office is the hub of the town and it is,” Henshaw said.
Sheeran said she has served on elected town boards in Wakefield for 27 years and is very aware of what goes on in Wakefield. She explained that she also, as an elected official, must be up to date on all laws that dictate how municipal boards govern in a given community.
Sheeran said she is very cooperative and willing to work with others, is very detail-oriented and is a natural problem solver. She added that she does “not suffer procrastination” and is very proud of her record of efficiency, her record of getting things done.;
Sheeran said she is also a very organized person and likes to prioritize multiple projects and then work backward and start “picking off” each listed priority “like ducks.”
Henshaw said she is an organizer too — “I tend to to organize things in piles but I know where everything is. I prioritize and deal with what has to be dealt with first.”
The first citizen’s question was from Bronwyn Della-Volpe, who asked how the candidates planned to avoid nepotism and conflict of interest if elected.
Henshaw said she didn’t know how to avoid in a small town, but that nepotism was a bad thing and needed to be avoided at all costs.
Sheeran explained that there is a lot of oversight governing nepotism and conflict of interest today. While she supports unions, Sheeran said there is a merit system in place to promoting people to many town jobs. “People,” she said, “are qualified for the jobs they get.”
The candidates were asked about election modernization and how provisions like early voting would impact the Town Clerk’s office.
Sheeran said the office must take advantage of all innovations available to it and use every avenue — including the office website, print media and social media like Facebook — to “let people know what they have to do” and what the deadlines are to do them by. “We need to educate in every way possible,” she explained.
She added that the town has a Wakefield 101 event coming in May designed to promote Wakefield to new citizens and let them know what services and programs are available to them.
Henshaw said she supports anything that makes it possible to get more people out to vote, adding that she has witnessed first hand how difficult old election rules made it for people to vote by absentee ballot.
The candidates were asked what they would do during the first few months if elected Town Clerk.
Henshaw said she would go to the high school and begin a drive to “register our youngest voters.” She would also go to the Festival by the Lake and get residents to sign up to vote.
Sheeran explained that voter registration is already being done at the high school. She said she would see to it that the office website is updated and a Facebook page established to better communicate to the public what is going on, especially when it comes to voting-related deadlines. She said she would also discuss with department heads what they need from the Town Clerk’s office.
Sheeran continued that the office is “not a penny candy store,” explaining that she would want to get a charge card machine to make it more convenient for residents to pay for the various licenses and certificates they may need from the Town Clerk’s office. She also would like to get all records on computer disc to increase their availability and ease of access.
Answering another questions from the public, Sheeran said she would bring her experience working with people in town government to the Town Clerk’s office, as well as her ability to organize, to “get the job done” and to get along with people. Sheeran also said she is very detail-oriented.
Henshaw said she likes people and is a fast learner. She explained, “If you’re patient, this office is a great place to work. You get to know everybody.”
The Town Clerk’s debate will air many times on WCAT channels leading up to the April 26 election. Check WCAT’s website for more details.
Those working on the telecasts were: Producer David Watts Jr.; Associate Producer Tom Stapleton; Director/Technical Director Scott Kurland; Audio, Ryan Boyd; Graphics, Scott Kurland; Camera: Joe Puleo, Jenna Sanchez and Hayleigh Walker.