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Police chief challenges incumbent selectman
Sunday, March 20, 2005
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LUDLOW - This year's election campaign is dominated by a race for selectman between incumbent three-year Selectman James D. Cavallo and Police Chief James J. McGowan.

The only other race on the ballot is between Board of Health incumbent Carol A. Szczebak, who is seeking another three-year term, and challenger Jo A. Pettengill.

McGowan said this week he was prompted to run for selectman because for the past four years, the small town departments have gone without funding increases while the Board of Selectmen at the 11th hour supported giving additional funds to the School Department budget.

He said that as police chief he was told by selectmen that there would not be one additional penny for any departments, only to have them support a $400,000 increase for the School Department budget.

Cavallo said that at the May annual town meeting, he voted to appropriate an additional $500,000 for a police radio system. He said that a motion to appropriate an additional $1.2 million for the School Department budget was voted down, so he motioned to appropriate an additional $400,000 to the School Department budget.

"It was overwhelmingly approved," Cavallo said, by the other selectman and by the majority of those at the town meeting.

McGowan said he is running for selectman in order to bring balance to the board. He said selectmen need to be concerned that all departments are adequately funded.

Meanwhile, an opinion given to selectmen by Town Attorney David Martel said that McGowan will be limited in the issues he can act on if he is elected to the Board of Selectmen.

Martel said that if McGowan is elected, he would be precluded from voting on any budget recommendation for the Police Department. Martel said McGowan should particularly avoid taking part in deliberations which deal with compensation for police officers, because the chief's salary is tied to the salary increase percentage for patrolmen.

If the police chief were a selectman, he also would be precluded from evaluating the performance of the town administrator or negotiating a contract for the town administrator, Martel said in his legal opinion.
Martel said there is no law that prevents McGowan from seeking a seat as selectman.

"He can run," he said.

Martel said that potential conflicts of interest would have to be handled separately as they arose.

Cavallo said the overriding sentiment of people in and outside the community is, "why is the police chief running for selectmen?" He said some people find the situation unusual.

McGowan said that if elected, he would seek to use common sense in making decisions, and would "treat everybody fairly."

Selectman John D. DeBarge said that while he believes McGowan is a good police chief, there are too many areas where legal opinions would have to be obtained regarding a possible conflict of interest if McGowan were to act as both police chief and selectman. He said he does not favor department managers serving on the Board of Selectmen.

Pettengill is challenging incumbent Szczebak for a three-year term on the Board of Health.

"From my experience, having attended and taped countless Board of Health meetings over the years, and attended courses sponsored by state health professionals, I saw the need for a change to improve the services provided by this board to our community," she said.

She said she has acquired certification in many health areas, and been trained for inspecting pools, camps, and housing. She said she also is a certified food inspector.

Szczebak said she has conducted numerous residential and commercial inspections, as well as inspections of pools and summer camps. She said she also has conducted investigations of food-borne illnesses.

All other positions on the ballot are uncontested.
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