Erin Noonan - Candidate for Select Board
Marblehead Beacon is presenting these candidate profiles in advance of our June 21 town elections with the goal of helping the community learn more about all of the individuals volunteering their time to run for public office. Please note that the answers included here are printed exactly as provided by each candidate, with only minor typographical edits. Marblehead Beacon does not endorse any candidate or validate any responses. All candidates for the Select Board, Town Moderator, Board of Health, Light Department, and School Committee who had available contact information were given the opportunity to respond to a set of questions specific to the office for which they are running.
What is your professional experience, including handling budgets, and how has your background prepared you to serve on the Select Board?
I am an attorney, with a background in civil litigation and child welfare law. Since 2012, I have been running my own practice, which includes both trial and appellate cases. As a sole practitioner, I am responsible for all financial aspects of owning my own law firm. I also Co-Chaired the successful Vote Yes for MHD Kids campaign in 2019 for the new Joseph and Lucretia Brown elementary school. For the past two years, I have been the Enrichment Coordinator for the Bell/Coffin/Eveleth and Brown school PTOs. My volunteerism requires networking, listening, building coalitions and other executive skills, relevant to serving on the Select Board.
I am an over-preparer with strong verbal and written communication skills, as well as critical problem solving and people skills. I research every issue thoroughly, weigh consequences of decisions, and always look to mitigate downsides. I have an ability to work under pressure and bring sides together for optimal resolutions.
If you are currently serving on the Select Board, what do you believe are your most significant accomplishments thus far? If you are not currently serving, how would you evaluate the efforts of the Select Board over the past year?
I feel strongly that elected officials should be accessible to residents and that community engagement is increasingly more important with the loss of traditional local news sources. Over the past year, I have been a visible member of the Select Board attending countless meetings of other both elected and appointed town boards and citizens groups. Networking with these groups, such as League of Women Voters, Sustainable Marblehead, Power UP, etc, allows for better communication and information sharing.
Since being elected last June, I consistently ask thoughtful questions to ensure respectful discussion that informs the community, and thoughtful debate. I bring a new perspective as a Marblehead parent raising children in our public schools. Last Summer, Alexa Singer and I both requested town email addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ensured that residents could contact us individually by going to the Select Board website. Also, we both advocated for the Town to have a social media presence to help disseminate important town information and events to a greater audience. I will push for this to resume with the arrival of our new Town Administrator in June.
Finally, I served on the search committee for the new permanent Town Administrator. The Board just approved the contract for Thatcher Kezar, who brings a career’s worth of experience in municipal government.
What are your top priorities to accomplish this year if elected or re-elected to the Select Board?
My first priority will be to ensure a smooth transition and successful onboarding of our new Town Administrator. From there, the greatest priority for FY’23 will be for the Select Board to lead a collaborative process across town government to develop and present a plan to the town that addresses the structural imbalances in our budget. This requires creating many opportunities for community education and input via surveys, forums, and publicizing public meetings through all available means. Other goals for this year’s Select Board will be to put into action the recommendations of our housing production, economic recovery, harbor and coastal resiliency plans – which set forth great vision but will need courage and leadership to bring about.
As anyone who has witnessed Select Board proceedings over the past year can attest, there have been many 3-2 divisions on pivotal issues on which I have been in the minority. On countless more informal matters (e.g., suggestions of liaisons, written policies, written goals and objectives, appointments, more joint meetings with other elected boards, etc.), I have asked that our Board explore best practices of peer towns’ select boards and Mass Select Board Association, to no avail. Accordingly, in my view, it is long past time for a change of leadership in Marblehead and the voters must elect a new majority on the Select Board that can lead Marblehead in the 21st century. To be clear, I will continue to work respectfully with whomever is elected. But the voters must appreciate that the Select Board is at an inflection point and re-electing the same people will not bring about the change that our Board and town needs.
Has the Select Board done a good job communicating with and inviting feedback from the community? Would you make any changes?
I think there is always room to grow in the area of community engagement, particularly with the loss of the Marblehead Reporter. The Select Board now has the technology to conduct hybrid meetings successfully, which is great for spreading information to the community. I think it is also important we continue to appoint residents and citizen groups to ad hoc committees as issues arise to facilitate meaningful resident input on various issues.
In the past year, the Select Board has conducted several surveys and forums: Annual Town Resident Survey (Dec 2021); Marblehead Harbor Plan Survey and Forum (May 2022); Coffin Reuse Study Forum (Dec 2021); Local Rapid Recovery Forum Final Report (Oct 2021); Ice Rink Feasibility Survey & MacLaughlin Management & Design Recommendations (Feb 2021/ Dec 2021) and two community meetings on the Coastal Resiliency Project (March & April 2022). There was also a Municipal Bootcamp last Fall open to residents to hear from and engage with various department heads.
From last Summer through early January, the town started promoting meetings and events on its social media profile. I expect this will continue once the new Town Administrator begins serving in this role. There are also two electronic signs that are used to spread important events/info at locations in town. I would welcome any suggestions from the community around improving our communication outreach.
Has the Select Board done a good job with hiring and appointing members to serve our community? What needs improvement in this arena?
The appointment process to committees could be vastly improved with clearer written policy and timeline around it. Currently, reappointments to the volunteer boards are voted on the morning after the election. I think this should be changed, as there is no way for newly elected members to actually make informed votes. Appointments are automatically renewed upon request. However, reappointments should be taken into consideration alongside any new applications and not automatically made upon request. This promotes diversity of experience and background, as well as healthy transitions for boards. I also believe that there should be a list of names with boards and terms online, so it is clear which terms are ending and what vacancies are available. I believe there could be clearer descriptions of the volunteer boards’ roles and responsibilities.
Do you believe that override questions should be presented to the community as a menu of spending choices with the option to prioritize, or should all items be combined to pass or fail together?
It is my opinion that a general override should be presented as one vote. This is because the process of finalizing the increased amount should reflect the best assessment of the Town’s needs through a collaborative process across all of town government and with community input.
Do you believe the members of the Select Board should serve for one-year terms or should the terms be longer? Should there be term limits for this role?
The Select Board should follow the 3-year staggered terms just like our other elected boards in town and across the state. I am unaware of any other town in the Commonwealth with one-year terms for its chief executive body (and I have researched this and spoken with municipal experts). One-year terms pose substantial downsides to effective government and representation. First, it stifles volunteerism at our chief executive governing body. One-year terms place a large burden on volunteers to collect around 75 nomination signatures just to get on the ballot and then run a town wide campaign every 10 months. It is time-consuming and presents financial expense to run a campaign to effectively reach voters. We should want those with full-time jobs, young families, and less time in town politics to be able to volunteer and serve in the role, but instead these people are discouraged because of the systemic challenges presented by our truly unique electoral process.
Defenders of the one-year term cite accountability and the ability to “throw the bums out.” However, as we witnessed last year with 14 candidates, people are more willing to run if there is an “open seat” to fill. For many years, Board members ran unchallenged, building unusually long tenures compared to other towns’ Select Boards and other elected offices in our town. Incumbents, myself included this year, never actually have to run for their seat, the way other boards and committees in town do. All that is required is enough name recognition to reach the top 5 of vote getters, which becomes difficult to overcome the longer an incumbent seeks to serve. This idea that “we throw the bums out” is simply unsupported and the current system in fact thwarts real accountability.
Additionally, it is very difficult to set goals and objectives with only a one-year look ahead on the horizon. There is also the political fear that taking any unpopular vote any year will affect re-election chances within months of its taking. There are many unpopular votes in history that are the right decision. There is also an incentive to not reallocate sub-committee roles to newer members as every year the entire board is competing for reelection and to stand out among others.