From Pierce building to public behavior, select board hopefuls have their say

Mar 17, 2023

MIDDLEBORO — The fate of the controversial Peirce Building, the state mandate for more housing near MBTA stations and the behavior of elected officials were among the topics discussed by Select Board candidates Thursday, March 16 during a candidates night held at the Middleboro Senior Center.

Select board incumbent candidates Nathan Demers, Mark Germain and challenger Thomas White, who are running for two seats, answered questions that were posed from the audience and from the staff at Nemasket Week, which co-sponsored the event with the Middleboro Rotary Club.

Middleboro Rotary Club member Bob Saquet served as moderator. 

Demers, who serves as vice chair of the board and is seeking a second term, said he has been “accessible’’ and “available,’’with his phone number prominently displayed in his campaign materials. Since being elected to the select board, “I’ve matured as a person,’’ being “surrounded by so many knowledgeable people.’’

Germain, who serves as chair of the board, said he provides “dedicated, respectful leadership.’’ The role as chair takes up about 15 hours a week, he said, and “I love every minute of it.’’

White, who has served on the Housing Authority and is on the Council on Aging, said he brings “a history of helping people in this town.’’ He said he values “truth, integrity and communication’’ and will bring those qualities to his role as select board member.

All three candidates disagreed with the state mandate to force zoning to allow more housing near the MBTA station. Middleboro has drawn statewide attention for its refusal to submit an action plan to the state on how the town will make this happen. 

Middleboro lacks the infrastructure for significant additional housing, Germain said, which cannot happen “until the state steps up and offers some funding sources.’’

White said the town needs to negotiate with the state. “I’m not a fan of things being forced down our throat,’’ he said.

Demers said the mandate would “change the identity of the town as we know it’’ and could force the closing of businesses near the station to accommodate housing. 

Opinions were more varied on the fate of the Peirce Building, which has been the subject of several controversial discussions in the past few months. The structure dates back to 1808, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been vacant since 2018, when the police department relocated to its current Wood Street site.

Demers, who chaired the former Peirce Building Reuse Committee, said the building could serve as a location for small businesses and nonprofits in town. The committee, which has since been disbanded, estimated the cost to renovate the building at about $5 million.

Germain supported bringing the issue to Town Meeting voters. “The will of the people will be the end result,’’ he said.

White said he would like to see someone buy the building and convert it into a dinner theater. “I support the Peirce Building,’’ he said. “I don’t support putting it on the backs of the taxpayers.’’

A question was raised on what the acceptable behavior should be for an elected official. Emotions have run high at times at select board meetings during interactions among board members and with audience members.

Demers said that he is always willing to listen if the discussion is about politics but “I draw the line when people attack officials and community people who serve on town committees.’’

Germain said he does not “conduct myself that way and I don’t condone that behavior.’’

White said that officials are “here to serve everyone and treat them with respect.’’

On the issue of how the town should cope with change, Demers said the town “can’t stop buildout.’’ The issue, he said, is to “put it where it makes sense.’’

He stressed the importance of “try[ing] to preserve those things that make the town unique.’’ If a development is planned, the project should be “put in places that work well for the town.’’ 

White acknowledged that “change is difficult for us humans,’’ but that the issue should be approached with “honesty, integrity, respect and communication. 

Germain said that things are “not going to stay the same’’ but solutions should be reached “in a creative way’’ that allows people to “work together and come to a compromise.’’

The candidate’s night can be viewed via the MCCAM Facebook page and on the MCCAM website _ _ under Public Access on Demand. The event will also air on Comcast Channel 95 and Verizon channel 35 on the following times and dates: Sunday, March 19, 5 a.m., 8 a.m. 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.; Monday, March 20, 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Tuesday, March 21, 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.; Wednesday, March 22, 1 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; Thursday, March 23, 3 a.m., 6 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Friday, March 24, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.