Selectboard sees three-way contest in Conway

PHILIP KANTOR

PHILIP KANTOR

ELAINE CAMPBELL

ELAINE CAMPBELL

ROBERT BAKER

ROBERT BAKER

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-04-2024 11:23 AM

CONWAY — For the first time in many years, voters will be asked to consider a three-way Selectboard race this week, as incumbent Chair Philip Kantor faces a challenge from Fire Chief Robert Baker and School Committee Chair Elaine Campbell.

The election will be held on Thursday, June 6, at the Conway Town Hall, 5 Academy Hill Road, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. While there are three candidates running for Selectboard, there are several vacant positions remaining on the ballot, including three Board of Health seats.

Philip Kantor

Kantor, 60, has served on the Selectboard for six years and has spent the last three as chair. He is seeking another three-year term in which he said he plans to follow through on many of the initiatives he’s launched, including a senior transportation pilot with the Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA) and senior property tax work-off program that will begin in the new fiscal year.

“Being on the Selectboard is an excellent platform to help people,” Kantor said of those types of programs he has spearheaded. “This is just a great opportunity to have a direct impact on people’s lives and just help them; and that’s why I do it, it feels good to do it. And I have used that platform to help people.”

With a half dozen years on the Selectboard and 12 years on the School Committee, Kantor said he has built up a wide network of Conway and regional contacts that he can tap into whenever he needs to get something done. He noted his time on the School Committee has also allowed him to serve on superintendent search committees and the budget subcommittee, and he has chaired the union negotiations subcommittee.

With that network of contacts and experience, Kantor said he is able to lobby for the town’s interests at the state level, which he said helped the town receive more than $1 million in storm damage relief funding in January — among the highest awards in the state — as he requested the state look at damages relative to the size of municipal budgets. Borrowing authority that was previously approved to pay for road damages was rescinded last week at Town Meeting.

“That was my idea and it found fertile ground,” Kantor said, adding that his previously established relationships in town and around the state helped move that along. “Being able to give the decision makers in state government a reason to help us and ability to help us instead of just the normal factors that would have excluded us from getting large amounts. That was really key to us getting the amount that we did.”

Kantor added he is “budget-savvy” and he is the strongest candidate “in terms of experience, capabilities, institutional knowledge,” which can keep the town’s momentum moving forward.

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“I am super hard-working at this, I have ideas that I have successfully implemented and will continue to implement and benefit the town,” Kantor said. “I love this town and I care about the people in it, and it’s been a great honor to serve and I think I have more left in the tank.”

Robert Baker

Baker, 75, is the town’s fire chief of 44 years and is running for Selectboard on the platform of communication, collaboration and community-building. He seeks to rejoin the Selectboard for the first time since he was previously elected in 2015.

“I felt that I could help the town a lot because I’m probably the only one running that has been in town most of my life. … I probably know the most people in town of anybody, they all know me and know the kind of job I do. I get along with everybody and I know where every piece of land in the town of Conway is,” Baker said. “I’m open-minded to everything and I’m willing to try to help anybody out that wants to have help.”

With four decades under his belt as the fire chief and 20 years as the highway superintendent, Baker said he has developed the personnel-management and budgeting skills needed to assist his fellow Selectboard members and town employees in running Conway’s business and, most importantly, he added, he knows how government works.

If he is elected, Baker’s numerous priorities include pushing the state to speed up work on Bardwell’s Ferry Bridge, which is closed indefinitely; continuing work on senior programs in town and determining the best ways to help those who are on fixed incomes; and encouraging more resident participation in town boards by being easily accessible in the community.

“You’re a servant of the town, of the community, you really are. It’s like being fire chief,” Baker said, adding that community outreach is essential, even if you can’t convince someone to join a board. “If nothing else, you can get their opinion on what they feel is the most important thing the town can do for them. You can send out surveys all you want, but only a certain percentage of them are going to fill them out and send them back in.”

Another priority he’d like to pursue is some sort of grant writer position, which can help a small town like Conway continue to tackle large projects.

Baker said his “accessibility and willingness to work with the town” and listen to residents’ concerns make him a strong candidate.

“I’m a firm believer that if somebody asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, the worst thing you can do is lie to them and the best thing you could do is say, ‘I’ll investigate it and get back to you.’ As soon as you investigate, call them right back and tell them what you found out,” Baker said. “Don’t just drop the ball and walk away.”

Elaine Campbell

Campbell, 62, is a longtime School Committee member and currently serves as chair. She is a clinical psychologist and, with her son going off to college, she said she has more time to give to the town. Campbell is running for Selectboard with a goal of encouraging more resident dialogue and participation, adding that she feels “like we need some different leadership in town.”

“If you have a small town of 2,000 people, you’ve got to listen to what everybody is looking for in town,” Campbell said, adding that residents will “find somebody who’s very willing to listen to their opinions about town, willing to work cooperatively and eager to get new people involved.”

In her day job, Campbell manages state and federal contracts and grants, as well as a $32 million budget, which she said will help her keep costs down in Conway.

“With all the COVID money gone, I think budgets are going to have to do some shifting, so we really have to look for opportunities for grants that come out,” Campbell said, adding that the town needs to mitigate future flooding and take care of paying municipal employees. “You have to be aware of planning and what’s coming down the road. Control costs you can control and look for other opportunities.”

The goal is balancing all of these needs, while also ensuring the “gem” that is the Conway Grammar School is well-funded.

“You can’t start going cheap on your schools because then you have a very educated population that will start looking for other options,” she said.

Other priorities include working with the town’s senior population to keep them in town and not be priced out, while also tapping into the vast knowledge held by Conway residents.

“We have a lot of [Community Preservation Act] funds that are kind of sitting in the bank. It would be really nice to figure out a way to create some senior housing or options, so seniors don’t get priced out of town,” she said. “You have such wealth and knowledge in our seniors.”

Service to the town, Campbell added, is mutually beneficial and there are numerous vacancies on several boards that need to be filled.

“There’s a lot of people out there with a lot to offer that don’t realize that they can contribute,” Campbell continued. “Giving back to your community is so rewarding and helps you develop even more relationships around town and helps you learn more about the town.”

The rest of the ballot is as follows:

■Board of Assessors, three-year term — Russell French, incumbent.

■Board of Health, three-year term — vacant.

■Board of Health, two seats with two-year terms — vacant.

■Constable, one-year term — Randall Williams.

■School Committee, three-year term — vacant.

■Moderator, one-year term — James “Jimmy” Recore, incumbent.

■Planning Board, two seats with three-year terms — George Forcier, incumbent, and vacant.

■Planning Board, two-year term — Jeffrey Lacy, incumbent.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.