FAIRHAVEN – Health board challenger John Wethington pledged to donate his stipend for scholarships while incumbent Peter DeTerra countered that Wethington has already cost the town $17,000 by pushing for a new election.
The back-and-forth came during a generally collegial Candidates Night Wednesday where wind turbines were the dominant issue leading into the Sept. 9 election.
The hour-long discussion at the Fairhaven Senior Center was moderated by Fairhaven Neighborhood News publisher Beth David and Standard-Times Fairhaven reporter Ariel Wittenberg, who gave questions pre-submitted by residents.
In the town’s disputed April election, Wethington was erroneously sworn in by Town Clerk Eileen Lowney before all of the votes were counted.
When the votes were recounted, DeTerra was declared the winner.
However, in June, Superior Court Judge Robert Kane invalidated the results of the April 1 election, calling it “a public disgrace,” and selectmen scheduled a new election.
“If I am lucky enough to be elected, I’ll be donating my salary to local scholarships,” Wethington said before a crowd of nearly 80 people, adding that he would also save the town some $8,000 by not using the town’s health insurance.
It was unclear Wednesday night as to the amount of the stipend; one health board member said it was $3,000, while DeTerra said it was $1,333.
DeTerra rebuked Wethington for pursuing the new election in court, saying it cost the town $17,000.
“I would never sue the town,” DeTerra said in opening remarks.
Wittenberg pointed out that Wethington had taken donations from Windwise, a group that advocates for the turbines to be shut off at night, asking what he wants to happen to the turbines.
“I don’t want the wind turbines taken down,” he said. “I’ve said that 100 times. There’s going to be a few people in … Fairhaven Windwise that aren’t going to be happy with what I do. I think that if you live in Fairhaven, you deserve a good night’s sleep – period.”
DeTerra defended his vote to temporarily shut down the turbines and his subsequent vote to turn them back on.
“I shut them down from (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) because of the five different” state-determined violations, he said. The state Department of Environmental Protection “is now working with Fairhaven Wind on … slowing down the turbines and feathering the blades.”
Asked if the board lost credibility over the changing votes, DeTerra said the board is a regulatory body and that it had the DEP do the testing at no cost to the town.
DeTerra was also asked if he is on the board in order to receive a town pension. He said in order to receive retirement a town employee must make more than $5,000 a year.
“I’m not eligible for any retirement,” he said. “I pay my health insurance just like police and fire.”
Wethington responded that it was “completely unethical, if you’re working three to five hours a week, to equate yourself to the same health benefits as a fireman and a police officer.”
Polls are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Board of Health election Sept. 9.
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