Chelmsford Select Board election headed to recount

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A RECOUNT will decide whether Erin Drew rightfully won her seat on the Chelmsford Select Board April 4 or if two-term incumbent Ken Lefebvre will reclaim his position.

Lefebvre, who lost by six votes in the town election, picked up blank recount forms April 6, according to Town Clerk Tricia Dzuris. After he returned the forms April 13, a day before the deadline, the recount was scheduled for next Tuesday, April 18, at 10 a.m. at the Town Hall gym.

Several sources state Lefebvre requested a recount for all precincts besides Precinct 10, Drew’s home precinct in which she won by 107 votes. Drew also represents Precinct 10 as a Town Meeting representative.

In an emailed statement, Drew said she heard about the incomplete recount Thursday, spurring her to petition the town clerk for a recount on Friday. She gathered the necessary 10 precinct signatures prior to the 5 p.m. deadline that day.

“After careful consideration, I acquired signatures this morning and filed a petition today to add this one missing precinct to the recount,” Drew wrote on Friday. “I feel that if we are obligated to go down this road, we need to protect our election integrity and we owe it to the voters to go through the process correctly and with full transparency.”

It’s “in the interest of fairness” that she did so, one resident shared with The Sun.

“Lefebvre will now have to be content with a full and fair recount,” the source wrote in an email, “not the partial one he evidently thinks will overturn the election results and return him to the (Select Board).”

Recount petitioners are able to choose whether they want a hand count or to run the ballots through the tabulators, Dzuris said. Either way, they have to justify the reason for the recount in order to trigger one.

And while six votes is a very tight margin of victory, Dzuris said there were just 45 hand-counted ballots (which sometimes happens when the machines are somehow unable to read them). Out of the 3,312 voters last Tuesday, Dzuris cast doubt on any possible inaccuracy with the final tally.

“With the tabulators, they’re so accurate that I don’t expect that to change,” she said. “We only had 45 hand-counted ballots, so that’s really clear.”

For each precinct, petitioners must acquire 10 signatures, and the clerk’s office provides a recount guide from the secretary of the commonwealth, Dzuris said. They may also contact the secretary’s Elections Division for questions.

Drew has already begun meeting with the Select Board, who recently appointed Mark Carota to chair, Pat Wojtas to vice chair and Virginia Crocker Timmins, the former chair, to clerk. Carota did not respond to a request for comment.

Unrelated — Carota nominated Wojtas for chair, a position she’s coveted since prior to her re-election last year. Wojtas accepted, but only she and Carota voted in her favor. Carota and member George Dixon will be up for re-election next year.

Lefebvre could not be reached for comment by phone Friday. The extent of the recount — whether it will just be hand-counted ballots or all votes cast — is unclear, though it’s likely the latter.

Trahan report card

BOTH THE Lowell city manager and school superintendent are up for annual performance reviews. Their performance is evaluated by the members of the elected bodies that appoint them — the City Council and the School Committee, respectively.

Last week, The Column took a fly-over look at City Manager Tom Golden’s responsibilities and actions since he took over the position last April, promising to do the same for Superintendent of Schools Joel Boyd this week.

Alas, those plans were derailed by Boyd’s surprise announcement that he was leaving the district for a position as CEO of Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia. He’ll hand out diplomas to graduating Lowell High seniors before wrapping things up and moving on.

There’s more reporting to Boyd’s leaving, including how the School Committee will negotiate his exit since he is leaving before his contract’s end, but today will not be that day.

Instead, we’ll pivot to U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, whose “contract” was resoundingly renewed by voters last November. She has two more years before she’s up again for review.

So, how is she doing?

The congresswoman, like many high-level politicians, seems to have enormous reserves of energy and stamina, both of which were on full display over the last two weeks while she was home touring the district.

Trahan doesn’t release a daily calendar to the press like Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan or Gov. Maura Healey, but one can track her movements through the statements released by her office, and they show an engaged and hardworking public servant.

She ended the month of March by pushing Tik Tok CEO Shou Zi Chew to commit to increasing transparency and extending many of the protections currently afforded to children in the United Kingdom to younger users in the U.S., as well.

In a move that melds her personal to her political agenda, Trahan was named co-chair of the Multiple Sclerosis Caucus. Her father was diagnosed with secondary progressive MS 30 years ago.

In a statement, Trahan said, “It’s a privilege to now serve as co-chair of the MS Caucus and fight for MS patients like my dad every day. I’m committed to working closely with the National MS Society to invest in research for a cure and to advance meaningful, federal change to support those living with MS.”

She also issued statements on school shootings, the indictment of Donald Trump, continued efforts to stop sewage overflow into the Merrimack River and helped reintroduce legislation to restore and protect abortion rights.

Statements are the easy part of the job; actually governing by passing bills and securing funding for her constituents is where real leadership lies.

And in that area, Trahan’s idea of April showers was raining federal dollars down on 3rd Congressional District projects.

She kicked off the month by bringing nearly $6 million in federal funding for Making Opportunity Count Head Start education initiatives in Fitchburg.

The very next day, she announced $2.77 million for Lowell Community Health Center’s Metta Health Center to expand its Afghan refugee outreach work.

Since she was sworn in for her third term on Jan. 7, Trahan has secured $1.3 million for Ayer to tackle PFAS contaminants in the town’s drinking water; $300,000 for the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council to expand the organization’s range of citizenship preparation; $4.5 million for Community Teamwork Head Start programs; more than $1 million for the city of Lawrence’s COVID food pantry; and just over $1 million for research projects at UMass Lowell.

During the last two weeks, Trahan’s meet-and-greet district tour included visiting Lowell Day Nursery, speaking at the inauguration ceremony for UMass Lowell Chancellor Julie Chen and visiting the university’s Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren to meet with local technology leaders on improving scientific investment in the state.

Overall, Trahan’s marking period is looking strong and the 3rd District is better for her effort. #BossLady.

Fund allocation continues to ruffle feathers

COMMUNITY FUNDS were once again the most contentious conversation by the Billerica Select Board this past week after the board convened a meeting at noon Wednesday to reallocate $38,000 in funds that had previously been rescinded from Community Caregivers.

The funds were reallocated to some of the applicants who did not receive any in the first iteration of this year’s funds on March 6. Those included the Friends of the Billerica Dog Park, Wreaths Across America, the Billerica Historical Society, Billerica Memorial High School’s Performing Arts Department, Billerica Veterans Services, the Billerica Community Garden, the Shawsheen Valley Tech PAC and the Hajjar School Parents Association.

These new allocations of the funds, provided by EMD Serono and E Ink from existing and past tax increment financing agreements with the town, were approved 4-0, with Select Board member John Burrows abstaining.

The near-unanimous decision was a little less unanimous than it would first appear. Before the vote took place, board member Michael Rosa went through each of the new allocations and criticized how the $38,000 was spread around. Rosa was the most vocal about Community Caregivers receiving such a large share of the $65,000 in total funds for this year, and had voted against it along with Burrows.

Two applicants, the Billerica Recreation Department and the VFW Solomon Post 8819, still did not receive any funds, with which Rosa took issue. Chair Michael Riley said that he and board member Andrew Deslaurier as a subcommittee left those two out because their funding requests were for buildings and grounds upgrades.

“We wanted to help out everyone, but the reasoning was that it was a bit of a different ask,” said Riley.

Rosa noted that they did approve $6,000 in funds for the Billerica Playground Project for playground maintenance.

Rosa also took issue with giving $8,000 to the BMHS Performing Arts Department for theater lights when a used light costs $5,895. Their application had asked for $12,000, but Riley said they gave them $8,000 for the light and the shipping and handling costs, and because this was something EMD Serono felt strongly about.

“Not only does this go to students and faculty, but it goes to us, the residents that buy tickets to watch these performances,” said Riley.

This became the hook for another debate about how these funds were handled this year. Rosa said that EMD Serono and E Ink are not “stakeholders” in how these funds are distributed in the sense that it really is the town’s money. As part of the TIF agreement EMD Serono has with the town, the company saves millions of dollars in local taxes over the life of the agreement in exchange for contributing to the annual community funds allocations, to which this year they contributed $50,000.

“EMD Serono is not a stakeholder,” said Rosa. “It is the town’s money to be distributed by us with their input.”

Riley said that he felt the two companies should have a little more say in where the funds go, considering that they chose to enter the agreement with Billerica, and without that agreement none of the funds would have been distributed at all in the first place.

“If not for their agreement with the town, none of these applications would be in front of us,” said Riley. “So I think it is important to involve them in the conversation.”

Rosa also took issue with the allocation of $6,659 to the Hajjar School to put in a studio for a morning announcement system for teachers and students. His issue wasn’t necessarily that they are receiving the allocation itself, but that the Hajjar School would see this benefit while other schools in Billerica would not.

“I don’t feel we should be taking an individual group advocating for an individual school and creating disparities between that school and what those students get, versus our other elementary schools that would not see the benefit of this technology,” said Rosa, adding that if this is that important, the School Department itself should ask for community funds or fund such projects across all Billerica schools.

When the original allocations of community funds were passed 3-2 by the board last month, Rosa had taken issue with Deslaurier, at the time the chair of the board, acting mostly on his own in the process of determining the allocations the board would vote on. Instead, Rosa said he needed at least one other member of the board for it to be a proper subcommittee, but not everyone agreed.

“It does not say how big the subcommittee can be, and it doesn’t say it can’t just be the chair,” said board member Kim Conway.

“You could have a subcommittee of one Select Board member and one member from E Ink and EMD Serono,” she later added.

This week’s Column was prepared by reporters Cameron Morsberger in Chelmsford, Melanie Gilbert in the 3rd Congressional District and Peter Currier in Billerica.

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