By Bill Kirk
---- — The gloves have come off in the two-way race for an open seat on the Board of Selectmen, as the candidates are swapping charges over competency and qualifications.
In advance of Tuesday’s town election, Jodi Oberto, a manufacturing sales representative, said her opponent, local Realtor Mary O’Donoghue, is part of Andover’s old boys’ network whose 12 years on the Finance Committee have led the town to overspending and high taxes.
But O’Donoghue countered experience is just what the town needs now.
The selectman’s race is the only contested seat on the town ballot. The successful candidate will replace longtime Selectman Mary Lyman, who has declined to seek another term.
“I was at Old Town Hall on Saturday speaking to an older woman who was so glad to see me she gave me a hug,” said Oberto, a 47-year-old, married mother of two children in the local schools. “She said I’m going up against someone who’s been around a long time, almost like the good-old-boy network — they want to keep their own in there.”
Added Oberto: “She’s been on the Finance Committee for 12 years and has been part of the decisions that have us in the situation we’re in now. People will either like her because she’s been around, or they won’t because she’s been around. She’s definitely backed by the old-boys’ network.”
In response to the claim she is part of an old-boys’ network, O’Donoghue, 57, replied: “The level of this conversation is not very high. She is saying whatever she can to hurt me because she has no campaign.”
“If Jodi had been listening to Finance Committee meetings over the years, she would have heard a clear message, that we need to rein in spending,” said O’Donoghue, who works for William Raveis Real Estate on Bartlet Street and has two grown children.
She explained the FinCom, as it’s known, is an advisory board comprised of nine members who make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting.
“The Board of Selectmen is a very different body in town,” she said. “I hope Jodi understands the difference between them. We have always urged budget restraint and my fellow board members can corroborate that. Experience counts, at least in my world.”
According to campaign finance reports submitted to Town Clerk Larry Murphy on Monday, that may be true.
Oberto had spent just $37.70 on business cards for the campaign, which she paid to herself. She said she has since purchased 50 lawn signs, most of which she has put up around town. That expense will appear in her final campaign finance report after the election.
O’Donoghue, meanwhile, reported $3,480 in donations and $1,443 in expenses for signs and strapping. The donations include $250 from John Moffitt; $200 each from Linn Anderson, Chris Doherty, Joseph Doherty and Douglas Howe; and $100 each from Michael Boness, Michael Deluca, Jane Gifun, Larry and Nan Larsen, Karl Mentz, Margaret O’Connor, Beibhinn O’Donoghue, son Geoffrey O’Donoghue, Susan Stott, Jon Stumpf and Timothy Sullivan. Her husband, Geoffrey, has donated $500 and she has also made a $500 contribution to her own campaign.
Oberto said she doesn’t like asking people for money.
“(The election) is something I’m taking on and I should handle,” she said.
O’Donoghue said she has been talking with voters at meet-the-candidate functions and has heard loud and clear what the issues are.
“The common theme is that people are concerned about spending, transparency and accountability in the budget process,” she said. “That’s the main theme. There’s a sense that the interests of the taxpayer have been lost in the process.”
As a member of the Board of Selectmen, she said she would push for easing up on the levy limit so that the town spends less each year, which would save taxpayers money.
“We are taxing pretty close to the levy limit,” she said. “That could give immediate relief to everybody.”
She said she’d push for accountability and transparency by asking tough questions. “We need to let people know they answer to the taxpayers,” she said.
“People are listening very carefully,” she added. “The audience is there. From speaking with many groups of people, people are very informed, but they are very frustrated.”
She said seniors in particular feel left out of the process.
“They feel unimportant,” she said.
In fact, last Friday, a meeting was scheduled at Town Hall between members of the Board of Selectmen and representatives from the Punchard Center to discuss ongoing issues with the town’s seniors. But nobody from the Board of Selectmen attended. O’Donoghue, Oberto and about a dozen other people showed up.
“That was a slap in the face,” Oberto said. “Nobody even showed up to talk to them. The youth center goes through, but ‘screw the old folks’ is the feeling people have.”
Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said the meeting was not posted, so it would have been illegal for the selectmen to attend.
Oberto said some people are now talking about term limits for selectmen.
“They’ve been there too long,” she said. “You like them as people, but it may be time to clean house.”
She said O’Donoghue will be more of the same.
“If they want someone who can spit out numbers and percentages until their eyes glaze over, they’ll vote one way,” she said. “If they want someone who asks normal questions — how can we afford this, how can we fix that, they’ll vote another way. The spending has to stop. Things have to tighten up, you have to say ‘no.’”
Address: 69 Salem St.
Personal: Married to husband, Geoffrey; two grown children
Professional: Realtor with William Raveis, Andover
Political/civic experience: Finance Committee member, 12 years, two as vice-chairman; on several committees and task forces, including the Youth Center Task Force, Bancroft School Task Force and as liaison to the School Building Committee
Key issues: Property taxes and town/school hiring. Wants town to stop taxing to the levy limit, to allow for immediate savings in their property tax bills. She also wants town and school departments to stop hiring new staff. “Over 70 percent of the budget is personnel, health and retirement benefits. That’s the nut to crack.”
Address: 11 Hartford Circle
Personal: Married to husband John; two children in Andover public schools
Professional: Sales representative for manufacturing firm
Political/civic experience: Ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2010 as an Independent
Key issues: Give senior citizens a tax break. “They don’t have children in schools. They’ve done their part. They’ve paid their fair share. We should do anything we can do to reduce their burden to make their lives easier.” Simplify approach to difficult problems, like what to do with the Town Yard. “Do we need to spend $4 gazillion dollars or can we keep it simple and make it work? Like the saying goes, ‘Keep It Simple Stupid.’”