Barbara Van Reed
Three years ago, during his first campaign for Webster selectman, Dan Ricci had a long conversation with then-Webster Lake Association president Dick Cazeault. Mr. Cazeault mentioned that he didn't understand why taxpayers could never find an open space at the town hall parking lot and were forced to park on the street.
Shortly after he won the election, Mr. Ricci noticed an elderly man making his way from the street to the town hall in pouring rain. Mr. Ricci’s next stop was Town Administrator John McAuliffe's office, and together they arranged to have two parking spaces designated for residents.
The person who first told me of this story was Gloria Ricker, the current WLA president. She called it an example of a campaign promise kept. She offered that it seems politicians make a lot of promises, but then find that it's not that easy to keep them after they get into office and realize the complexities of bureaucracy.
Mr. Ricci ran his campaign on three promises: “To help protect the town's greatest asset, the Lake; to revitalize the downtown district; and to support and improve the school system.”
The election was a close one with six challengers, including incumbent Irene Martel. Mr. Ricci won by just eight votes. His message this year will continue that of three years ago, but now with concrete progress to point to.
On the lake, Mr. Ricci has been a vocal opponent of the Douglas windmill project, which he says benefits only Douglas, and potentially harms Webster residents. His concern stems from the fact that the deep drilling that would be necessary for the turbines might affect the town's drinking water and the Lake. “We asked Douglas the questions, but we didn't get answers from them. Nobody could guarantee that it wouldn't affect our drinking water. There wasn’t enough information to protect us.”
He also spoke against the proposal to bring a paddle wheeler boat to the Lake for tourism. His concern centered around the length of the boat, which he feels is too large for a lake of this size, the potential rowdiness associated with wedding parties, and the inability to safely rescue a large number of people in case of an emergency.
Another of the town's controversial issues he addressed is the billboard at Exit 2 off I-395. Mr. Ricci grew up in Waltham, where he says there were billboards everywhere. The same is true in Worcester. He doesn't want Webster to be like that, with billboards at all the exits, and cites the ambiance of the Last Green Valley.
Downtown revitalization is his next key topic. Mr. Ricci is justifiably proud of the accomplishments made in the last few years. He cites the progress made on the new police station to be built on Main Street, with demolition of the building site to begin in April. Once the police department moves to the new building the existing building on Thompson Road will be renovated for the fire department. He hopes that the town can then look seriously at full-time staffing for the department.
“Downtown revitalization is critical to Webster,” he said. “We had to make some tough decisions, such as having the downtown area declared a slum and blighted zone. We got a lot of heat for that, but it was necessary for financial reasons.”
The project to renovate the A.J. Sitkowski School also looks like it's getting closer, he said. There are tax credits involved, and it usually takes three or four years to work through the system.
An immediately visible result of the downtown focus is the fact that the lights are back on. Mr. Ricci noted that the decision to turn them off was made in April 2009, the month before he was elected, and he had worked since then to reverse that decision.
Another noticeable improvement resulting from the downtown focus has been the demolition of nuisance properties, eleven last year, as well as the addition of properties to the surplus list, which will be sold when the real estate market improves. Mr. Ricci is quick to credit all the people involved in these projects, the other members of the board, the town administrator, the building inspector, the health agent, and the office of community development.
Schools are also close to Mr. Ricci's heart. “A town is only as good as its school system,” he said.
Mr. Ricci and his wife Barbara moved to Webster ten years ago. They chose Webster because of the lake (their son Danny “loves to swim”) and also because of the school system.
She was first to become involved in local boards, and served as chairman of the special education parents’ advisory council.
His first public position came soon after, with the Park Avenue Building Needs Committee, on which he served for two years, and then the School Building Committee, of which he was the chairman until two years ago. The Park Avenue school project will be presented to voters at a special town meeting in June. Mr. Ricci also served three years on the planning board.
He believes in the Webster school system, and is especially pleased with its special education program. He knows that program well, as his son is autistic. “The school did wonders for him.”
Mr. Ricci also talked about the financial position of the Town. “We hit bottom about two years ago,” he said. “We had to make some tough decisions, such as raising the water/sewer rates, but now that’s behind us and we don’t have to raise rates this year. Things have much improved. The budget is still bare bones, but we have free cash, the stabilization fund is up to about $1 million. We’re in pretty good shape. We don’t have to borrow money.”
Mr. Ricci hopes to continue his work as selectman to see Webster continue on the same path. “We’re working well together. None of us work alone,” he points out. “We do things as a board. Sometimes we don't agree, but that's why there are five of us, so the majority will make the decision. I vote for what I believe is best for the town, even though it may not be in my own best interest. And people who watch me in meetings know that I speak my mind, not just what’s popular.”
He wants to keep pushing on his three campaign promises, and also wants to work for getting more business into the town. Another goal is more transparency for town proceedings, such as better video of the board meetings. They’ve negotiated with Charter to improve the technology, but it will cost as much as $100,000, he said.
In his other life he is the construction project manager for Northland Investment Corporation, a Newton-based builder of multi-family housing. His job frequently takes him to projects in Florida and Connecticut. His years of managing $30-40 million construction contracts have helped him guide local projects, such as the new school and police station.
Mr. Ricci takes a politically conservative position on the issues, but declares himself neither a Republican nor Democrat, preferring to look at the issues on their merits. He said he’s enjoyed being part of the Board of Selectmen and has no further political ambitions. His goal is simply to promote progress in his community.
- Wednesday, 04 April 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor