CHELMSFORD -- Town Moderator Richard DeFreitas and challenger Jon Kurland briefly agreed on one thing: an analogy could be made for the moderator's role at Town Meeting.
"A good town moderator is like an offensive lineman in football," Kurland said Tuesday night at a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters. "If the offensive lineman is doing his job, no one knows who he is. It's only when they make mistakes that the spotlight shines on him."
But DeFreitas called the analogy flawed.
"You see, the lineman has a vested interest in winning the game," DeFreitas said. "I think the moderator is more like the referee, who doesn't care who wins the game. He just wants to make sure the rules are followed and the game is played fairly."
The two have had a sometimes contentious campaign, with Kurland, a former selectman, criticizing the way DeFreitas has run Town Meeting during his term. DeFreitas has cited what he calls a learning curve for the job and said he's been open to changes.
DeFreitas has formed a committee that will recommend changes for the meeting, including some that have been unpopular with meeting representatives, like having separate microphones for supporters and opponents on an issue. Kurland has said he agrees with the likely changes.
"I think it would have been advantageous to have it three years ago when we had a transition" in moderator, Kurland said.
The town moderator race is one of only two contested races for the April 1 election, along with two seeking an open Board of Selectmen seat. Bob Joyce, a Planning Board member, and Joe Ready of the Economic Development Commission are battling for the seat.
Both have made tax relief a central component of their platforms, but they approach it from different directions.
Joyce has called for reducing the capital budget, returning to taxpayers a certain amount of free cash each year, and pushing for filling business vacancies to bring in additional tax revenue.
Free cash, Joyce said "doesn't belong to the (town) manager. It doesn't belong to the selectmen. It belongs to the taxpayers."
Ready has advocated for encouraging blighted or underused properties to be fixed up to increase their taxable value. He has also called for regionalizing services like 911, but said spending shouldn't be curbed so much that the town isn't making investments in services.
"If we don't put money into our education system, no one's going to want to live here," Ready said. "It will become very affordable because people won't want to buy property in Chelmsford."
Joyce had earlier criticized Ready when the candidates were asked about tax relief, saying Ready wouldn't institute any spending reductions.
"Joe's platform has been a spend-spend-spend platform," Joyce said.
The next debate is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. at the police station. It is sponsored by the Republican Town Committee.
Follow Grant Welker on Twitter and Tout @SunGrantWelker.