Stow Selectman Candidates Q & A: Birch-McMichael and Golder

| June 10, 2020

Originally Published May 20, 2020

With three contested races in this year’s Town Election, we are presenting candidate interviews for those races to help voters decide between the candidates. This week we feature Megan Birch-McMichael and Len Golder, who are both running for the open three-year Selectman’s seat. Both candidates were given the same questions and their responses appear UNEDITED below.

Megan Birch-McMichael

Introductions
Megan Birch-McMichael: For the last 2 years, I have served as a voting associate member on the Planning Board and chaired the Lower Village Revitalization Subcommittee. I was the co-director of the inaugural Run for the Kids in 2019 and have volunteered for SpringFest for the last three years. I volunteer monthly at the Stow Food Pantry and I have volunteered at the Town Election.

This town runs on volunteers and I’ve been so lucky to get to work with so many of them over the past 6 years. I would be honored to be able to volunteer as a member of the Board of Selectmen and to be able to help to shape policy for current and future citizens of Stow.

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Len Golder

Leonard Golder: I have served in Stow Town government for almost the entire 30 years I have lived here. I have served as Selectman, Library Trustee, on the Cable Committee, and currently on the Zoning Board as well as on the Planning Board for the past 14 years.
Like many people I have had several careers ,including mental health worker, social worker, public administrator and attorney. I have also done arbitration,fundraising,marketing and free lance writing.
These jobs have helped inform who I am and provided me skills including management, hiring, conflict resolution, legal reasoning ,decision making and crisis management.
I have tried to use these skills in my volunteering in Town Government . I will apply them if I’m elected Selectman.

Questions 1: The Selectmen will be choosing a new Town Administrator in the coming months. What are the top three skills you believe the successful candidate should have?

Birch-McMichael: The most important skill that the candidate should possess is the ability to communicate effectively across all aspects of Stow government. A candidate who has a proven track record in maintaining a balanced budget is crucial, especially in this economic time. And a candidate who is able to look forward with a 5 and 10-year plan for the future of the town, both economically and socially, and can work with the various boards to implement these plans is ideal.

Golder: The same skills as Bill Wrigley. As a Selectman I convinced the Board by a narrow vote to hire Bill. He had skills in budgeting, grant writing, legal management, environmental services, labor relations.
These are all important skills for an administrator. But the 3 most important skills are the ability to solve problems and think outside the box, work with people and to handle a crisis.
Hiring the right person is also a skill. Ask Bill Belichick. I was able to interview applicants and ask problem solving skills testing critical thinking because of my previous experience as a manager in 2 jobs working for the Commonwealth.
Here’s what I would not ask in an interview: Tell us your weak points. What’s somebody going to answer to that ? Tell us your strengths. Who cares? I’ll determine that.
Also I would Not give presumptive preference to a current Town Administrator in a bigger town or who was getting a higher salary than this position. I would want to know the reason they’re leaving.

Question 2: With the potential negative economic impact to the Town of Stow from the current pandemic, what measures would you recommend to mitigate that impact?

Birch-McMichael: Unfortunately, in a time of economic crisis, we’re going to have to look at the possibility of trimming programs and projects that in a healthier economic climate we would be able to fund. While we’re not in that position currently, it will be important to work with the new town administrator to make sure that they understand the needs and desires of our particular community and where we can afford to push pause on programs, and where we need to continue to fund them.

Golder: There’s a warrant for this Town Meeting which will give 3 months 85 per cent reduced back rents to tenants who have been impacted by the coronovirus. Unfortunately stringent asset limitations imposed by the State don’t allow for similar relief to burdened homeowners who make up the vast majority of residents. I would ask our legislators to file legislation to raise the asset limit.
With some creative thinking we can provide some relief. I will explore giving homeowners whose income is affected by the pandemic a deferral of paying at least a portion if not all their property taxes for up to 3 quarters with no interest or penalties if we can get a steady revenue stream and available funds to keep the budget operating Affected homeowners who are going into tax title or foreclosure for non payment of property taxes should get a deferral until the pandemic is over and they can recoup.
If we can get the commercial landlords to give the Town small business owners at least 3 months deferral on their rent we could give the landlords one quarter deferral on paying a portion of their property taxes.

Question 3: Capital Planning Committee has cited four potential $1+ million projects Stow could face in the next decade — PFAS clean-up, Nashoba high school building construction, expanding Randall Library, and renovating Town Hall. In what order would you prioritize those projects and how can the town diminish the potential tax burden on property owners?

Birch-McMichael: Each of these programs has a specific impact to citizens in this town, whether it’s in health, education, resources or availability of space.
Having said that, the PFAS remediation is a public health issue and needs to be dealt with in the short-term. It is also the least expensive item on the list of 4. We will need to pay our fair share for the high school as part of being in a regional school district as we seek to maintain the high standards of education of which the commonwealth of Massachusetts is proud. Updating the infrastructure and technology in the Library, while maintaining the historical characteristics of the building is something that I know the Trustees will work on as they look for both town money and outside grants. It is not going to be enough to just fix up the bones of Town Hall without re-envisioning what the town-wide functionality of the space is, and I hope that as the renovations are being planned, that is a key element of the design.

Golder: The PFAS water treatment is a health and safety issue for the town schools and neighboring residents and needs immediate action. I support the upcoming town warrant for research and follow up for treatment. We can look for possible state and federal aid to alleviate the cost.
The Nashoba school construction according to Capital Planning won’t take place for a decade. I support the warrant article for the needs study. This is a long term project.
The Town Hall is the cultural and historical focal point for the Town. It’s repair should be an immediate goal to prevent deterioration. Several years ago we got free labor from the Middlesex Sheriffs Office from supervised minimum security prisoners. We should try to do this again. Extra funds needed should be from Community Preservation money .
The library is an intermediate issue but there’s a potential immediate solution. The High Rock Church for sale at $750,000. could be used for the library instead of the $4 to $7 million projected for new construction. The Randall Library could with volunteer labor be converted to a teen center.
Overall we should take on new debt only as comparable old debt is retired and to be creative and not drive up higher taxes. We need to help people afford to remain here.

Closing Statement:

Birch-McMichael: While Stow has always been a rural community, filled with apple orchards, farms and golf courses, it is clear that change is on the horizon. I believe that I am the best candidate for the Board as I know that we can maintain the rural feel of the town, while also adapting to, and thriving along with, the changing landscape. It is important to me to be a voice on the Board that represents a contingent of voters in this community that is not currently there, a parent with young children in the school district. Having a seat at that table will allow for equal representation of the taxpayers and I humbly ask for your vote.

Golder: I initially decided to run for Selectman because I wanted to use my 30 years experience in town government to help the town navigate some important pending issues including the hiring of a new town administrator, a project I played a major role in when we hired our first administrator.
But like a storm cloud a major impending tsunami emerged on the horizon – the coronvirus pandemic. Suddenly we find our lives have been upended as we face a new and uncertain future. Government needs to play a major role in helping us navigate through this storm. Local government is where government) most directly touches peoples’ lives.
In one of my favorite movies,, Casablanca, the main character, Rick, says this is bigger than any of us. I’m not Rick and this isn’t WWII. But what we’re in is certainly bigger than any of us.
I want to help provide some leadership as a Selectman through this challenging time.

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