Dunstable Elects New Leadership to Tackle Festering Problems
While Groton voters were experiencing a low-energy annual election with no candidates running opposed Dunstable voters were having a very different experience. In that town the single open selectman’s seat triggered a four-way race, which included the long-serving incumbent Walter F. Alterisio. Final results were even more surprising with a first-time candidate, Jim Tully, garnering a hefty 56 percent of the vote and the incumbent coming in a very distant fourth.
Although Mr. Tully was running for the first time, he is hardly an unknown. Born and raised in town, James Tully is from of one of the oldest families in Dunstable (1872). The Tully family is best known their large dairy farm and dairy farm store, one of the largest businesses in this rural town. Candidate Tully is a cousin of the current farm owners.
Tully has two children in the Groton-Dunstable school system. One attends the local Swallow Union elementary school and the other is in middle school. He is currently employed in the real estate development and operations arm of McGovern Automotive Group, after selling his successful small business. His local government experience included serving on the town’s Parks Committee.
Listening to all the candidates on Dunstable candidates’ night, it was clear that most of those running for the Board of Selectmen seat were concerned about the ability of the current town government to cope with the town’s growing pains, as new housing is being built at a rapid pace triggering an influx of new citizens from outside the area. Lack of communication amongst the professional and many volunteer entities that make up Dunstable town government was the top concern expressed.
This concern was crystallized by an incident that happened shortly before the election. One of the Dunstable townspeople discovered that the town had approved a project potentailly to construct a large weather radio tower on a scenic vista in town. First word of the project came in the form of an NDA from the project's lawyers that they would be using an easement through private property to access the site.
For many in town, including the abutters, this landowner’s post on a local social media site was the first anyone had heard that Dunstable had agreed to utilize public land to build the tower. Subsequently, the site fueled a citizen-led investigation wherein a number of local taxpayers attempted to uncover who had actually approved the sale and why no notice was given to the public.
What evolved in the online discussion was a tale of poor documentation, lack of transparency and failure to abide by written legal processes. Many Dunstable voters went to polls seeking reform with this incident in mind. The so-called “Doppler tower” had a clear impact on both the candidates’ platforms and voter response at the polls.
In the aftermath of the election, Jim Tully does not believe there is a “mandate” implied by receiving a large majority of the vote. However, in talking to people in town, he believes that many voted for him because they do support the priorities he ran on.
There are a number of new citizens drawn to town by the good schools and the rural character of the town, so maintaining these is a clearly a priority. Mr. Tully also was vocal about using some of the growing collection of purchased public properties for senior housing in town, which has long been discussed but has never moved forward.
On top of that, there are a number of long-pending emergencies, such as the failed water system that serves Dunstable town center including the school, library and town hall. The situation has reached the point where the state has intervened and is requiring the town finally to repair the ancient system.
Jim Tully is hoping to inject some of his entrepreneurial management style into a town government that is clearly struggling to keep up with growth. Because of his deep roots in town, he appears to have the support of both his fellow townies as well as many of the new arrivals in Dunstable.