DRACUT -- Free of the rancor that accompanied their first debate, the four candidates for two three-year seats on the Board of Selectmen stuck to the issues at Thursday night's debate.

Sponsored by The Sun and moderated by Managing Editor/Days Tom Zuppa, the one-hour debate touched upon what candidates will do to increase revenue and foster economic development, heal perceived divisions with the School Committee, boost public-safety spending, increase state aid to public-school students in town and advocate for transparency in town government.

Dracut selectmen candidates participate in a Sun-sponsored debate at Harmony Hall in Dracut Thursday night. They are, from left, incumbent Robert Cox, and
Dracut selectmen candidates participate in a Sun-sponsored debate at Harmony Hall in Dracut Thursday night. They are, from left, incumbent Robert Cox, and challengers Ted Kosiavelon, Alison Hughes and Tami Dristiliaris. SUN/Julia Malakie

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

The four candidates -- incumbent Bob Cox and challengers Ted Kosiavelon, Alison Hughes and Tami Dristiliaris -- gave straightforward answers and avoided going at one another as they did in the first debate last week, when Kosiavelon challenged Cox for admitting that he planned to accept his grandfathered town health-insurance benefit "for life," if Cox is elected to a fourth term.

This time around, the candidates stressed their reasons for running for two seats in the May 5 election. (Incumbent John Zimini is not running for re-election).

Cox said he wants to help navigate the town through the transition to incoming Town Manager Jim Duggan, who starts in a couple of weeks, and its new Town Hall.

Kosiavelon is running for selectman for a third time after championing the opposition to the override last year to increase school spending.

Hughes stressed her experience as a former six-year Finance Committee member

Dristiliaris said she will use her work as an attorney in town to benefit residents.

The debate started with candidates answering the question of what makes them the best candidate.

Cox said he's a small-business owner who understands the trials and tribulations of other business owners.

Tami Dristiliaris: Experience as nurse, attorney a plus.Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Tami Dristiliaris: Experience as nurse, attorney a plus.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

"We live it every day. It's a matter of caring about business owners and having compassion for them having lived through, and still living through it. More than that, it's my experience. With a new town manager coming on board, it's important to have some experience on the board. That's what I bring."

Kosiavelon emphasized that he owns his own business and is semi-retired.

"I can bring my business experience to the town. We talk a lot about economic development in the town," he said. "We talk about somebody who can get up and do something. I spearheaded the no override. That took a lot of time. I would do it again because of the way it went down.

Alison Hughes: Finance Committee experience valuable.Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Alison Hughes: Finance Committee experience valuable.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
"

Hughes said that along with her Finance Committee experience, she has 20 years of managing her company's department budget and making decisions on financing and other business matters.

Dristiliaris talked about her 30 years of experience as a registered nurse and the fact she's an attorney who raised her children in Dracut and has spent time as president of the Dracut Library Foundation and as a board member with the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, Salvation Army advisory board, and the town's Conservation Commission.

When it comes to increasing revenue and fostering economic development, Kosiavelon mentioned expanding the business corridor beyond Route 113. "We have 100,000 people in Lowell, 40,000 people in Methuen and people in Pelham and Tyngsboro.

Ted Kosiavelon: Brings business experience to table.Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Ted Kosiavelon: Brings business experience to table.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
There's enough people to sustain business in this town."

Hughes said she's spoken with the Merrimack Valley Economic Development Commission and would like to see the east side of Dracut built up with more businesses. "We can become a viable destination for economic development," she said.

Dristiliaris suggested privatizing services in the School Department budget to save money and increase revenues. "We have to look at all aspects to save money and increase revenues however we can without looking to the taxpayer," she said.

Cox recalled his work with state Rep. Colleen Garry, former state Sen. Susan Tucker, the Environmental Protection Agency and property owners in getting the Exxon property cleaned up and sold.

Robert Cox: Small-business and board experience.Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Robert Cox: Small-business and board experience.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
 

Hughes then mentioned Duggan's experience in Gloucester developing a social lifestyle center that combined residential and retail developments. "People are willing to invest in business. Having a new town manager who is pro- economic development will help our town."

Dristiliaris said that renewable energy is another way to increase revenue through solar-panel installations, which Duggan also instituted in Gloucester.

"A lot of people come to town and it takes them forever to get in business," Cox said. "We need to make it easier for people to do business here."

All of the candidates stressed the need for increased communication among town boards as a way to heal divisions that developed last year among selectmen and School Committee members during the controversial override vote.

However, Cox said some of that dissent was overstated.

"The conflict was either imagined or blown up by certain individuals. I have two close friends on the School Committee. To them, this just isn't an issue. Mike McNamara is one of my friends I just spoke about and he's very passionate about the override. He wanted it done. I understand that. He advocates for schools and children. I get that, but selectmen have to look at the bigger picture. We have to look at everyone impacted by the override."

Dristiliaris made it clear that residents voted against an override so that's off the table.

"I see people struggling every day. People cannot afford more on taxes. We need more revenue."