Mask mandates, public safety among issues discussed by Rochester candidates

May 10, 2022

ROCHESTER — Mask mandates, town development, public safety: It was all on the table for discussion at Monday night’s Candidates’ Night event.

Hosted at the Council on Aging, the event was moderated by Council on Aging board vice president Michael Cambra.

Candidates for the open Select Board seat, incumbent Brad Morse and newcomer Adam Murphy were both in attendance.

Incumbent Sharon Hartley and newcomer Melissa Anne Goneau both spoke at the event as contenders for the open three-year seat on the School Committee.

The candidates running for the open two-year seat, Jason Chisholm, Greg Hardy and James O’Brien, all spoke as well, though Chisholm was attending remotely due to a work conflict in Boston.

Select Board candidates face off

Incumbent Morse focused on what the board has recently accomplished and the challenges it has yet to overcome in his speech. His opponent, Murphy, spoke on his prior roles in public service departments and how his experience writing grants could benefit the town.

Morse highlighted his experience as a Select Board member during a time when Rochester created several full-time positions, including its Town Administrator.

He was questioned how the town would utilize American Rescue Plan Act funds from the federal government, which Morse said would be useful for “shovel-ready” projects, not those still being planned, like the town fire station.

Murphy highlighted his time as a Marion firefighter, police officer, paramedic, deputy harbor master and worker in his father’s trucking business. 

“I learned how to support and work as a team,” Murphy said, especially when he was tasked with merging Marion’s fire department with its ambulance services.

He’s given presentations to the Select Board for many years as a deputy harbormaster in Marion, Murphy said, and his experience working with budgets and applying for state grants could help him find more revenue opportunities for Rochester.

School Committee candidates discuss mask mandates, challenges

The past decisions of the School Committee were often a topic of discussion among current candidates on Monday night.

Candidate for the two-year committee seat Hardy painted himself as an outsider, a concerned parent who felt that the School Committee didn’t listen to parents who wanted masks to be optional in schools. He emphasized his status as a “concerned parent,” repeating that because a few residents asked for his background and experience working with the school system.

“This is one of the biggest issues that made me want to run for school committee,” Hardy said of masking in schools. “I think that if school committee members won’t listen to the voice of the parents and the community, then I think they shouldn’t be on the committee because I think our kids deserve better.”

Hardy’s opponents, Chisholm and O’Brien, spoke of their experiences working on the School Committee and in other school systems, respectively.

“I’ve got a very strong moral compass,” Chisholm said of his character. 

With three sons in the school system, he said “There’s a big incentive for me to be involved.”

Chisholm also highlighted his work as the executive director of the nonprofit Tri-Town Against Racism, which was founded two years ago.

O’Brien, retired superintendent of Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School, described his years of experience running a large school system and as a paraprofessional.

He described a change in incoming freshmen students he saw arriving at the high school. O’Brien described the new ninth graders as flowers that had been left in a closet for two years.

“They were behind the times emotionally, educationally,” he said, explaining what he saw as the pandemic’s effect on students and the need for student and faculty support.

Incumbent candidate for the three-year committee seat Hartley described in detail her many years working in education, having earned degrees relating to educational administration and worked as a teacher.

She referenced being named Rochester Woman of the Year in 2010 and how she served as the committee’s representative on the Rochester School Building Renovation and Expansion project.

The candidate running against Hartley, Melissa Anne Goneau, had her voice choke up nearly the moment she took to the podium. 

Goneau described her campaign as a “long time coming,” and she spoke on issues she sees as problematic to Rochester schools, like Common Core standards, student data collection, the No Child Left Behind Act and “controversial topics” taught to students.

When asked by an audience member about what she defines as “controversial topics,” Goneau paused and said “sexual preferences, gender identity, things of that nature,” she said. “I’m all about whatever you want to be, whoever you want to be. I just have a problem with young children that have yet to develop having something like that pushed on them.”