Some open seats in Petersham Town Election see no candidates


For the Athol Daily News

Published: 01-30-2023 2:29 PM

PETERSHAM – The deadline to return nomination papers for the annual Town Election has come and gone, with no one filing to run for a seat on the Selectboard or two on the School Committee.

Selectboard Treasurer Rebecca Legare and School Committee member Tina Leslie have opted not to run for re-election. School Committee member Kelley Targett is stepping down because she was hired to fill a position at Petersham Center School. Nomination papers were returned for all of the other positions to appear on the March 6 ballot, but only one person is running for each of the available seats, meaning there will be no contested races for voters to decide.

Two years ago, with questions regarding how best to respond to the COVID pandemic and the future of the now-razed Nichewaug Inn and Academy foremost in voters minds, three people stepped forward to seek one open seat on the Selectboard. Last year, enough candidates stepped forward to fill all town offices, albeit in uncontested elections.

Asked if the lack of any issues facing Petersham could result in a lack of motivation to run, Selectboard Chair Nancy Allen said, “I would say the typical answer – if you look at both boards, which are very distinct boards – I think the connection is people’s time and personal workloads making it harder for them to be able to step forward, or think they can step forward. I do think that probably outweighs the idea of special issues.

“For the Selectboard two years ago, even those (three candidates), they all ended up being from the Nichewaug Inn area but at least two of them were coming forward for reasons not related to the Nichewaug. They just happened to live there. One was a parent concerned with the perception of where the Center School was going in that particular time frame, and the other, how ultimately won – Annette Irmini – she’s been invested in town governance for several years now, so it was kind of a natural fit for her.”

Allen said that most small towns find themselves dealing with the problem of finding qualified candidates to run for office.

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“People’s lives are just so busy, particularly for the younger people – let’s say the 40-somethings and 30-somethings – they’re still parenting,” she said. “Most of them are two-income households. There are issues of commuting taking up time. So I think therefore it’s much harder for them run and commit, as much as they might want to in their hearts. They get it, the Millennials definitely get that they’re needed and that we want them…but I also see how hard it is for them.”

Allen pointed to service on the School Committee as appearing to be particularly daunting for those who may want to serve.

“School Committee is one of the biggest lifts,” she explained. “Everyone kind of senses that. It’s a real mix of a committee, if you will, because it’s one that brings some of the most intense passion and interest, but that’s combined with having one of the biggest workloads for the committee members – if they truly want to do the job well – and we always assume a good candidate wants to do the job well.

“School Committees come with subcommittees, they come with a fair number of committee meetings. It’s all doable – it’s just a real balancing act.”

Allen also pointed out that for Petersham and most communities, education spending takes the biggest bite of municipal budgets. That, she said, can be tough for some people to deal with given the responsibility of helping to craft a budget that meets the needs of the schools as well as the taxpayers as a whole.

As for the near future, Allen said she doesn’t foresee either the Selectboard or the School Committee having to wrestle with any divisive or controversial issues.

“I think the Center School is a spot where someone could, if they can carve out a little time, a new committee member could have a terrific role without any known burden of controversy or difficulty,” she said.

Regarding the Selectboard, Allen said any potential write-in candidate for the board, “would be really well-served, actually any candidate, if they start attending the meetings prior to the election date. If they can start carving out their weekly attendance, just sitting and listening in, that goes a long way toward being able to hit the ground running when they’re elected, if they’re elected.

“In terms of what’s coming up, March is when we start in deep on our annual budget process,” Allen said. “If they try to sit in on prior meetings (the new member) will have some sense of what’s going on, which is really helpful. But the budget is the biggest initial lift.”

Allen did say that, so far, one Petersham resident, Susan Dougherty of West Street, has announced her intention to seek election to the Selectboard as a write-in candidate. Allen said that, as of the time of her interview, she was unaware of anyone else running, nor has she heard of anyone stepping forward to seek either of the two seats on the School Committee.

All of the candidates whose names will appear on the March 6 ballot are incumbents seeking reelection.

Greg Vine can be reached at