Nomination papers for the April 5 town election have been available at the Tewksbury Town Clerk's office for several weeks now, and two candidates have announced their candidacy for the selectman seat up for grabs in 2014.
Three-term Selectman Doug Sears will be running for reelection against Foster Road resident Bruce Panilaitis, a vocal opponent of the slots casino proposed for Ames Pond over the summer.
Panilaitis, a biomedical engineering professor at Tufts, said his involvement with the grassroots group "No Slots Tewksbury" served as his first involvement with a political campaign, and helped him decide to run for Board of Selectmen.
"I was very involved with the slots issue this past summer, it was my first exposure to a real political campaign," Panilaitis said. "I decided it was time to stop reacting to what's going when something happens that I'm concerned about or interested in, and get out in front and look at how I'd like to help others push things forward."
Sears, who has also served on School Committee, said his decision to run for reelection came from a desire to continue the progress the current board has fostered.
"We have been conservative as far as running of the town, but we still provide the services residents expect with the taxes they pay," Sears said. "That's not easy in this economy."
Both candidates expressed hope that the 2014 selectman campaign will move past the slots issue that divided Tewksbury over the summer when Penn National Gaming proposed a slots casino at 300 Ames Pond Drive.
"I would like it to move on past that issue, and I think Bruce would like to move on past it too," Sears said. "The current board united when the hard decisions came down and we're still united. Everything I've done as part of this past term has been part of what the board has done."
Panilaitis said that while the No Slots Tewksbury campaign helped him realize he wanted to pursue a campaign for selectman, he did not want to the slots issue to become a focal point of the 2014 campaign.
"That issue is done, it's over with. I'm not going to run from it, I'm very proud of the work we did as a group but at the same time my opposition to the slots is not a qualification for being a selectman," Panilaitis said. "It's an issue that got me more involved."
More than 2,500 voters turned out to an August Special Town Meeting to vote on a proposed slots parlor for Ames Pond, with 1,568 voting against the proposed slots casino and 995 in favor.
Town leaders supported the proposed slots parlor for the estimated $4 million in annual revenue the facility would have generated, while opponents argued that a casino could lead to increased crime rates as well as degraded property values.
Sears said the current Board of Selectmen has been working to find other potential business partners for the land at 300 Ames Pond, but it's a process in which any potential business partners are kept confidential.
"The Town Manager and Board of Selectmen are working hard to find a partner for that land, but it can't be a real public process because anyone that is thinking of coming to Tewksbury is thinking of leaving another town," Sears said.
Panilaitis said as a member of the Board of Selectmen, he would look to have a scaled approach to economic development, looking to fill vacancies along Route 38 as well as some of the town's larger parcels of land.
"It has to go from empty storefronts all the way to the large developments of Ames Pond or Woburn Street where we could have some larger industrial partners," Panilaitis said. "We have to approach it from an empty storefront up by Walmart to a big open development like up by Ames Pond."
The current board is looking to improve Tewksbury's permitting process by creating a more accessible interface on the town's website for potential business partners, according to Sears.
"I hope to see a streamlining of the permitting process for building homes and businesses," Sears said. "I would love to see a homepage where you just put in what you want to do and it sends you information on the permits you need, how much it costs and gives you a number to talk to an ombudsman to help you."
Panilaitis said if elected, he would like to help improve the town's permitting and inspection process to make it less confrontational, creating a more friendly atmosphere for businesses looking to set up shop in town.
"I think we should consider more of a service-focused regulatory process as opposed to just a check box, confrontational 'you did it or you didn't do it' system," Panilaitis said.
Panilaitis said he believes changes to this process can serve to improve the relationship between the town and business owners looking to set up shop in Tewksbury.
Tewksbury town officials facing expiring terms in 2014 include Sears, School Committee member Brian Dick, Library Trustees Robert Homeyer and Patrick J. Joyce, Board of Health member Charles J. Roux and Housing Authority member Louise A. Gearty.
Planning Board member Vincent Spada also faces an expiring term, but has announced he does not plan to seek reelection.
Town Moderator Keith Rauseo also faces an expiring term in 2014,but announced at an October Special Town Meeting that he would not seek reelection.
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