In Pelham, a seat nobody wants

Staff Writer
Saturday, January 11, 2020

PELHAM — Despite an opportunity to walk on to the Select Board with no opposition in a special election Saturday, a seat vacant since mid-September is expected to remain unoccupied for at least the next five months.

The Select Board will continue to operate with just two members after Saturday’s winner, Abbie Jenks, told the Gazette she will not take the post after receiving 38 write-in votes. Voters cast 83 votes — including one for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is not a registered voter in Pelham. Warren was among 17 individuals who received at least one vote in the election.

Jenks, a professor emerita at Greenfield Community College and member of the town’s Community Garden Committee, was not actively campaigning for the seat and wrote in an email Monday that she would decline the opportunity to serve in the role. Meantime, the town is scheduling another annual town election in May.

Chairwoman Karen Willard-Ribeiro and Vice Chairman Robert Agoglia have been holding down the fort on the Select Board since the resignation of Alisa Pearson in September 2019. Pearson was only a few months into her second, three-year term when she left.

Pearson said this week that she enjoyed being on the board and had hoped that someone would step up to replace her.

“I think such turnover helps to keep things fresh and increases mutual respect for all that goes into running a small town,” Pearson said. “Many hands make light work, and in small communities, we rely a lot on high-quality volunteers.”

Pearson said that she and her former colleagues approached around 30 residents in an effort to convince at least one to take out nomination forms after the election date was set last fall. But everyone they talked to said they either didn’t have time to commit or were reluctant to leave another board on which they were already serving, even though serving on multiple panels at once is possible.

In fact, Pearson said she discovered during her tenure that being on the Energy Committee at the same time as the Select Board allowed her to push for green energy projects and seek climate change resiliency grants.

Town Clerk Kathleen Martell said Jenks’ decision not to serve after winning with the most write-in votes means that the seat will remain open through the winter.

Pearson speculates that people interested in elective office, even in Pelham, may often be representative of more conservative viewpoints, and want to participate as a way to keep an eye on town affairs. She added that the election may be “a missed opportunity if you have liberal views and also believe in improving our collective experience and in leaving the world a better place.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.