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VIDEOS: Dracut Candidates Share Positions,Trade Barbs In Selectmen, School Committee Debates

May 03, 2018 02:07PM ● By Bill Gilman

Dracut School Committee Debate at Harmony Hall (Your Dracut Today Facebook Live)

Two-thirds of the candidates running for seats on the School Committee and Board of Selectmen gathered at Harmony Hall on Tuesday for the final public debates before the May 7 Dracut Municipal Election.
The debates were sponsored by the Lowell Sun newspaper and moderated by Lowell Sun Enterprise Editor Chris Scott. Both debates were streamed live on Facebook by Your Dracut Today and were broadcast by DATV.
Incumbent School Committee member Joe Wilkie took part in the event, as did challenger Susan Koufagazos, Incumbent Dan O'Connell opted not to participate. There are two 3-year terms up for grabs on the ballot.
Of the three candidates vying for one seat on the Board of Selectmen, incumbent Joe DiRocco was on hand, as was challenger Phil Thibault. However, challenger John Joyce opted not to participate, telling organizers it was due to the death of someone close to him.
Neither Joyce nor O'Connell participated in the Candidates Night at Town Hall on April 30, sponsored by the Greater Lowell League of Women Voters, either. Despite their absences, neither candidate has indicated they have withdrawn from their respective race.
The School Committee debate was rather, with Koufagazos and Wilkie agreeing with each other more often than not. Both feel Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone is doing a solid job leading the district and neither is fan of standardized testing as a dominant, driving force to the education curriculum. 
Both candidates also feel the Dracut Public Schools need to do a better job with public relations and marketing the positing programs the district offers and the achievements of its students.
Wilkie, seeking his third term, stood on his record as a member of the committee, both in terms of advocacy and fiscal responsibility.
Koufagazos shined a spotlight on her commitment to special education and advocating for special education families.
The Board of Selectmen debate proved to be a bit more testy, especially toward the conclusion, when the candidates were given the chance to ask one question of each other. DiRocco, seeing his  brought up the fact that Thibault, a professional architect, had stepped down from the Planning Board due to potential conflict of interests. He asked how Thibault could serve on the Board of Selectmen without conflicts, when the board handled issuing special permits on development projects.
Thibault said he sees no overriding problem with being a local architect and serving on the board but said that if a particular project with a conflict came before the board, he would recuse himself.
""If Mr. DiRocco's definition of 'conflict of interest' is my interest within the community, I can see why he is disinterested in this community and he has no conflicts," Thibault shot back.
Both candidates said they were satisfied that the issues with the Police Department evidence handling have been settled and that it is time to move on. DiRocco indicated too much had been made of the controversy as relates to the officers involved and the main problem was with the procedures in place and the technology used.
Thibault touted his strong support for economic development in the community and said he supports new growth in specific districts, which would grow the tax base while allowing certain areas of town to retain their rural nature.
Both candidates are anxious to see a new fire station in Collinsville built and operational. Thibault said he was at the forefront of efforts to build a new station and had, in fact, identified a potential location for the facility and had put together some preliminary sketches for a two-story structure. Ultimately, a single-story structure was accepted and planned for a site on Nashua Road.
DiRocco, the former fire chief, downplayed any role Thibault may have played in plans for a new station.
The candidates also clashed on the issue of senior housing. Thibault, a representative for Dracut on the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, said he has been assured that there is state money available to help develop at 144 Greenmont Ave., as part of a state initiative to built 135,000 new senior housing units in the next seven years.
DiRocco said he doubted that such money was available and he blamed a local "political group" for killing a previous senior housing proposal and costing Dracut more than $3 million in state money for the project.
Videos of the two debates can be seen below.

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Dracut Selectmen Debate at Harmony Hall (Your Dracut Today Facebook Live)

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