By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Stuart Schulman set a term limit for himself when he first ran for selectman in 2007, figuring he would have done his part in giving back to the community in two terms, or six years.
The time has come. After three weeks of pondering, however, Schulman has decided to go for one more term. He said he had a simple reason for it: No one else is stepping up to run.
"Somebody's got to do it," Schulman said.
The town is again struggling to fill the slate for the annual town election. With 11 days left to the March 8 deadline for pulling nomination papers, 13 people have taken out papers for the 17 open seats as of Monday afternoon. The deadline for returning the papers is March 12. Only three candidates have brought back their papers so far.
The Park Commission has no candidates for its two, three-year seats. The Housing Authority also has no one running for its five-year open slot, which Ronald Peck of Wharton Row serves.
The 2012 election season had a slow start, too. But with no contested race in sight, 2013 is looking like the worst year yet for elected offices, said Town Clerk Michael Bouchard. An open slot on the Board of Selectmen attracted three candidates initially last year, though one of them dropped out later. All boards had at least one candidate for each opening except for the Park Commission, for which no one ran.
What complicates matters more this year is that the election is April 30, three weeks earlier than the original date of May 21, after selectmen decided to merge the local election and the U.S. Senate primaries to save on cost. The deadline for returning of nomination papers also moved up by three weeks, from April 2 to March 12, leaving much less time for candidates to campaign. Those familiar with the town election process say serious candidates would have at least pulled nomination papers by now to allow themselves enough time to collect signatures.
All open seats, with the exception of the Housing Authority position, carry a three-year term.
The town also has fewer incumbents seeking re-election than usual. Park Commissioners Don Black and Jeffrey Ohringer, who have served 19 years and 18 years on the board respectively, are stepping aside when their terms are up on April 30.
Black, a Raddin Road resident who has been the face of various ceremonial activities in town over the years, said he wants to retire from the position and let others receive the recognition they deserve. Black intends to continue his involvement with the Fourth of July and Memorial Day activities after April 30.
Ohringer also said "it's time" to step down. But if no one steps up to fill either his or Black's seat, he said he would consider running as a write-in candidate. The Whitman Road resident is concerned that not having enough members on the board would put pressure on the incumbents left behind because the five-member commission needs to three people to form the quorum.
Black speculated that the time commitment required to serve on boards and commissions is a major factor behind the lack of candidates. In the case of the Park Commission, preparing fields for the new season in spring involves a range of work, from cutting and edging grassed areas to fertilization. Commissioners do some of the work themselves and also coordinate with town workers to have the job done. Being on the commission requires members to devote 40 hours a week when it's the busiest, Black said.
In the meantime, School Committee member Berta Erickson of Boston Road has announced her resignation for health reasons.
Thomas Steinfeld of Hawtree Way has taken out nomination papers for Erickson's seat Monday afternoon, according to Bouchard. If elected, Steinfeld's term will last through May 2015.
Schulman, of Chicopee Row, and fellow Selectman Joshua Degen of Martin Pond Road are both seeking re-election. John Giger of Whiley Road, who serves on the School Committee and the Planning board, also seeking reelection to both seats while School Committee member Leslie Lathrop of Sunset Road has pulled the nomination papers to seek reelection.
Other incumbents seeking reelection are: Planning Board member George Barringer of Fox Run; Sewer Commissioner James Gmeiner of Longley Road; Electric Light Commissioner Rodney Hersh of Bridge Street; Assessor Rena Swezey of Island Road; Library Trustees Nancy Wilder of Westford Road and Mark Gerath of West Street; Board of Health member Robert Fleischer of Nashua Road.
Non-incumbents seeking elected offices are: Leslie Wickfield of Jenkins Road for Commission of Trust Funds; and Mark Deuger of Skyfields Drive for the Water Commission.
Except for the Park Commission and the Housing Authority, all boards have at least a prospective candidate for each opening.