Wednesday’s debate between candidates for the lone selectman spot up for election in March quickly turned into an examination of the board and its performance in recent years. Wednesday’s debate between candidates for the lone selectman spot up for election in March quickly turned into an examination of the board and its performance in recent years. 

Throughout the debate, challenger George Shamma pointed out what he saw as several shortcomings of the present administration and its leadership while incumbent John Tuffy didn’t engage in these critical remarks.

During opening remarks, Shamma credited his role in helping the Ashdod fire station receive funding for full staffing in the next fiscal year, calling the selectmen’s decision not to do this “egregious,” especially since he came before the board self-admittedly begging them to reconsider.

“Town meeting spoke and Ashdod was opened,” he said.  “I want to continue to be activeÖand feel there is a vacuum [in the board of selectmen].”

Tuffy did not respond during his own introduction, saying only that Duxbury faces many fiscal challenges and stating his pride in the town and “how it conducts itself as a community.”

When asked what the town can do to reduce health insurance costs and avoid another deficit like the $1.3 million it faced last year, the candidates differed on how they thought the town was going to avoid more financial trouble.   While Tuffy explained the HMO option presented to town employees and the formation of a review committee to help prevent further deficit, Shamma said that he did not think the town was being aggressive enough in searching for other options for town employees.

The divide in opinions greatly increased when both men were asked their opinion on how the board of selectmen communicates with the public. 

Shamma recounted his recent appearance before the three-member board to discuss Ashdod and said he was treated poorly, pointing out that Tuffy was not there to hear his pleas regarding the station’s future.  He further said that citizens with concerns often call the town manager’s office, but that he “is a clerk who basically runs the ship and it’s up to the selectmen to tell the ship where to go, but I don’t believe they are doing that.”

Shamma then spoke in favor of a five-member board of selectmen to provide greater diversity and a presence in town not available in the current makeup of the group.

Tuffy discussed the Town Manager Act adopted 17 years ago by the town to provide guidelines on town government then and the recent action at this year’s Town Meeting to appoint a government study committee to review the way the town will operate in the future.

“The result of that [study] will determine what the board of selectmen looks likeÖand I look forward to what that study has to say,” he said.  “As for communication, I think the board is open and accessible.”

When each candidate was asked what the town will look like in 10-15 years and their role in getting it to this point, Tuffy said that Duxbury’s future will be defined by the steps it takes now as far as zoning, development and other factors.  He further painted a picture of cooperation between town boards and its citizens to avoid the town from becoming overcrowded and overdeveloped.

Shamma said he’d like to see the town be the same as it is now, but the current trend of “spend and tax mentality” threatens that.

“I believe the selectmen and some of the other town boards believe the only way to raise money is to tax and raise fees,” he said.  “Duxbury’s taxes are highway robbery and what is suffering are our schools, our educational program, our library is a disgrace [if we lose] our accreditationÖbut for the last five years, spending has been out of control.  I can’t solve this in one night, but I can in three years.”

In rebuttal, Tuffy said that this was a difficult budget year that the town began preparing for in July, hearing from departments on what their budgets would look like with cuts.  As a result, he said, the town set its priorities and came up with a spending plan that made cuts that were difficult for many departments and the town leadership.  He also defended the selectmen’s offer of an additional $10,000 to reduce the number of shifts Ashdod would be closed at Town Meeting, adding that they asked the fire department not to close it in emergencies or inclement weather and asking that any extra money go toward that cause.

Shamma said that it seems that the town has continued its spending spree, calling the senior center a “Taj Mahal,” but raising the taxes so high that no seniors are there because they can’t afford to live in town.

In their closing remarks, Shamma continued his criticism of the board with Tuffy staying away from retaliating and instead clarifying his opinion of the board’s work.

“The board of selectmen are good people, but they have fallen into a state of lethargy,” said Shamma.  “Attendance is terrible and I won’t put anybody on the spotÖbut it seems like we have decisions made by two selectmen not three, which is one of the reasons I think we need five.  We need people with ideas, we need leadership and that’s the problem right now; there is a vacuum of leadership.’

Tuffy said that selectmen and the town manager came up with a $48 million budget, but that it is the “town’s budget” and they get the final say.

“In the end, there were two line items the town did not agree with us on and I don’t think that’s a bad batting average,” he said.  “No one took it personally and in the end, Town Meeting gets to decide.”