By Lorna Garey, Donna Gill and Julie Naughton
The Tewksbury Teachers Association stirred controversy at the Town Crier Candidate Forum this week with its endorsement of a Board of Health candidate.
If you didn’t know that the TTA endorsed in races other than School Committee, you’re not alone. But the local teachers union gave Board of Health candidate Nicole Burgett-Yandow its stamp of approval, along with School Committee candidates Kayla Biagioni-Smith and Richard Russo.
The difference between these endorsements is that all three School Committee candidates, including Christine Chesbrough, took part in an in-depth interview with the union’s Governmental Relations Committee. In contrast, the other two BoH candidates, Susan Amato and Melissa Braga, confirmed that the TTA did not reach out to them to offer an interview.
TTA president Conner Bourgoin responded to an inquiry about that omission, saying that Burgett-Yandow requested to speak with the union back in January and that the GRC chose to endorse her based on the resulting conversation. He added that the TTA may branch out to regularly endorse in other races, including Select Board.
“[Burgett-Yandow’s] proactivity was what got her the interview, and not rather a proactive reach-out to one candidate from the TTA,” said Bourgoin.
On the group’s Facebook page, a TTA member who volunteered on the interviewing committee stated that the decision to endorse was based on a discussion that “focused on mental health support both in the schools and providing supports to families outside of school. We also discussed supporting families in need of housing and with food insecurity. Nicole shared great ideas that would impact our community in a positive way” and added that had other candidates reached out, and she was asked to interview them, she would have gladly done so.
The problem is, neither of the other candidates knew that a formal endorsement was on the table. And residents seeing the announcement about Burgett-Yandow may reasonably have expected that the TTA had spoken to all BoH candidates, as is its established practice.
“When I see an endorsement, I assume all candidates for the position were interviewed and considered,” said one commenter.
No one is faulting Burgett-Yandow for taking initiative; as the saying goes, “you don’t ask, you don’t get.” And it’s not the job of any individual candidate to police an endorsing body. However, Amato and Braga have a legitimate beef with TTA leadership. The union’s practice is to speak with all candidates before making an endorsement, and as a community it’s reasonable to expect any individual or organization that makes an endorsement to do proper due diligence and treat all candidates equitably.
In the future — and especially if the TTA does branch out to weigh in on other local races — a uniform endorsement policy would benefit both its credibility and that of any candidates it chooses to support.
The above is the opinion of the authors. The Tewksbury Carnation welcomes letters and discussions on this and other events of interest to the community.