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School board transparency key focus in Franklin’s city elections

Creating a more open and transparent school board has become a theme in Franklin’s city elections, particularly among four candidates for open school board seats.

“It seems to me that most of the interest in this fall’s elections fall on the school board, and we’ve had a lot of controversy there so that’s understandable,” Mayor Ken Merrifield said.

The election is Tuesday, and voters will choose four city councilors, four school board members and a mayor.

The only contested race is a council seat, in which incumbent Paul Trudel faces board member Steve Barton. Incumbent councilors Doug Boyd, Ted Starkweather and Tony Giunta are all seeking re-election.

In school board races, newcomers Timothy Dow, Angela Carey and former football coach Greg Husband are running to fill seats being vacated by Karen Grzelak, Ray Yonaitis and Barton. Incumbent Chad Carey (no relation to Angela Carey) is running for re-election. Merrifield is also uncontested in his bid for a fourth term.

Husband, Chad Carey and Angela Carey have said they’d like to bring more transparency to the school board and spend less time focusing on personal issues. The school board faced its share of controversies this year, including backlash to Husband’s firing, a citizen-led movement to unseat two board members and an effort in August to unseat Yonaitis as board chairman. Yonaitis said he is not seeking re-election because he no longer has children in the school district.

“I honestly think that the school district needs to get back to being concerned about what’s best for the kids,” said Angela Carey. “In the recent past, it’s been about personal agendas and not being very open to the public.”

She works in the city’s planning and zoning office and has two children in the school district. She’s also coached junior varsity softball and basketball in the past and volunteers with several organizations.

Husband, who was fired as football coach this spring, has been vocal about his disdain for the school administration and several board members. He said he’d like the school board to be more transparent and accountable to the public. Husband previously served two terms on the city council and has been involved in a number of community sporting clubs over the past 20 years. As football coach, he started a homework club to help his players with their academics.

Chad Carey, who is seeking re-election, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the school board last spring. He was a vocal supporter of Husband after his dismissal. Dow, the fourth school board candidate, could not be reached for comment.

The school board is also a main topic in the contested city council race. Barton, who’s been on the school board since 2002, said last month that he’s always considered running for city council. He said his knowledge of the school board would be helpful in improving relations between the two groups.

But Trudel, his opponent, said Barton lacks a proven track record of successfully working to improve the relationship. Trudel, for his part, is a member of a school-council liaison committee and first suggested a summit between the two groups last fall. That summit eventually happened this July, and Trudel, along with school board member Al Warner, have proposed holding a similar meeting at least twice a year.

In Barton’s time on the school board, Trudel said, “he was a part of the contention that had existed, and 11 years is an awful long time to sit there and not take any action.”

Barton challenges that characterization of his time on the school board. He said he was one of the first people to speak up about the large number of teachers leaving the district in recent years and has been a voice of reason within the school board. During his tenure on the board, the district’s drop-out rate has fallen and scores on the state tests have improved, he said. He said his long history of living in Franklin and involvement in the community make his the best candidate for the job.

“I’m a strong support of families in Franklin,” he said. “I’m a good listener, and I think I’d be beneficial to the people overall.”

Merrifield said if elected for a fourth term, he will focus on bringing more businesses into downtown Franklin. During his tenure as mayor, Merrifield has also been a vocal advocate of the Northern Pass project, which would build a converter station in Franklin that would drastically increase the city’s tax base. Merrifield recently began a job as business administrator in the state Department of Education.

Turnout for municipal elections typically hovers between 7 and 10 percent, said City Clerk Holly Burbank. Merrifield said that even though most of the races are uncontested, a low turnout means there’s a greater likelihood that a write-in candidate could wage a successful campaign. In last year’s elections, for example, Tamara Feener won a school board seat on a write-in campaign.

“I think it’s a mistake to think that there will be no contest,” he said. “I’m really hopeful that we have a surprisingly big turnout.”

This story has been updated with comments from Steve Barton, who could not be reached in time for its original publication.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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