Difficult choice for voters in Orleans Selectman race [Editorial]

Has Margie stayed too long at the party?

Clear differences between Margie Fulcher and John Hodgson

Walter Brooks

This Tuesday, May 15th Orleans voters are facing a very difficult choice in the election for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.  The contest pits incumbent Margie Fulcher versus banker and finance committee m member John Hodgson.

In many ways you won’t find two different candidates. 

  • Margie Fulcher, 62, is a high school graduate who has served Orleans in various capacities for over three decades, including the past nine years as selectman. 
  • John Hodgson, 41, holds a bachelor’s degree in business from California Coast University and has worked as a banker in Orleans for 12 years, moving to town six years ago.  Both candidates answered twelve questions for Cape Cod Today back on April 22nd.

The differences between the two are clear.  Fulcher supports a traditional sewer system for the town, while Hodgson seeks further study of a “small pipes” solution.  Fulcher is satisfied with the way town government operates, as evidenced by the recent auditor’s report.  Hodgson points out that an audit is a financial benchmark and doesn’t reflect the way town government functions.

On school issues

Hodgson supports long range planning, Fulcher appears happy with the status quo. Both candidates support the outrageous cost of operating Orleans Elementary School as a stand-alone school district (either $23,905 per student or $22,205, depending on whose math you believe). Neither candidate understands the mathematics of accepting school choice students which, in the words of Monomoy Superintendent Carolyn Cragin, amounts to “an empty desk with dust on it or a $5,000 check sitting there.” Hodgson is willing to consider a regional approach to elementary education while Fulcher is dead-set on keeping OES open regardless of the cost.

On town administrator John Kelly

Fulcher is a strong supporter of town administrator John Kelly, as evidenced by the selectmen’s recent decision to extend Kelly’s contract for an additional five years.  Hodgson has questions about a “road block” between town committee members and town department heads during the financial planning process.  In the past year John Kelley’s continued employment with the town has become more of a concern to many voters, especially those who accuse him of imperious, arrogant interactions with taxpayers.  Others have concerns over perceived laxness in the way town government operates, such as the disgracefully managed town hall website.

On technology, the internet and the Orleans website

Selectman Fulcher was “unaware” of the debacle with the town website last month as our investigation uncovered one problem after another with accuracy and timeliness of data available on the Orleans town site.  Mr. Hodgson recognizes “many people don’t go to Town Hall anymore” and that the website is “the face of Orleans for many people”.

Hodgson has pledged to make his email address and phone number available on the town hall website.  Fulcher said she was “not averse” to having her information posted there, but reminded us that her name and number is “published in the phone book”.  The only problem with her assertion is that Verizon’s white pages “phone book” is no longer published.

What their supporters and detractors say

Reading letters to the editor by voters supporting each candidate yields a few common themes.  First, Hodgson’s supporters feel it is time for a change in town leadership to bring new ideas and a fresh set of eyes to the table.  Fulcher’s supporters believe that Margie’s long service and encyclopedic knowledge of town government are indispensible.

Fulcher’s supporters whisper about the “wash-ashore” who “wants to tell us how to run our town”.  Fulcher herself graciously points out that one of the finest public servants Orleans ever new, Robert Peno, was a native of Greenfield, Massachusetts. We also observe that Selectman Sims McGrath isn’t a native, either – and ended up sending both of his kids to Chatham under school choice.

Hodgson’s supporters accuse Fulcher of bias in that her husband serves as the town’s director of parks and recreation. Our view is that Orleans is like any other small town in New England.  There is bound to be some cross-pollination of families in town service.  So long as this is managed within the bounds of ethics laws, we see no problem here.  We do not question Margie Fulcher’s ethics or integrity for a nanosecond.  To our personal knowledge, she’s as close to “beyond reproach” as any elected official in the county.

Fulcher’s supporters appear very much about the status quo and not sacrificing experience over youth and promises of “change”.  Hodgson’s supporters criticize Fulcher and the rest of the selectmen’s culture of doing business.  Where a Fulcher supporter sees “common sense” one Hodgson supporter sees “arrogance and negativity” in Fulcher’s conduct as select-board chair.

Hodgson’s supporters see in him a fiscal steward and professional in demeanor.  Fulcher’s people see him as lacking experience in town affairs and “dead wrong” on the sewer issue.  Those who support Hodgson see Fulcher as not shy about spending the taxpayer’s money and tied to old thinking.  Fulcher’s people see Margie as someone with a selfless devotion to her town and Hodgson as a “hope and change” candidate of little substance.

Conclusions

It doesn’t get much more polarized than this.  Both candidates have strong positions and are sincere in the belief that theirs is the correct view.  Indeed, it is a shame the town can’t elect both candidates, as that would make for some interesting theatre on the selectmen’s video channel.

Do you agree or disagree with this Editorial? To answer write a
Letter to the Editor here.
So this Tuesday Orleans’ citizens must search the candidates’ positions on a wealth of issues:  earnest youth versus experience, “small pipes” versus “big pipes”, culture in town government, “native” versus “wash-ashore”,  status quo versus “change”.

In the end, it may come down to one visceral question:  Has Margie stayed too long at the party?

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