AP NEWS

Tewksbury BOH Candidates Talk Vaccinations, Substance Abuse

March 16, 2019

TEWKSBURY -- A Board of Health debate Thursday night ran the gamut as candidates discussed everything from vaccinations to raising awareness about the board itself.

Candidates Kylee Perrotta and Maria Zaroulis are challenging incumbents George Ferdinand and Anthony Boschetti, who are running for re-election. Voters will be asked to elect two of the four candidates in the town election on April 6.

Ferdinand, Perrotta and Zaroulis took part. Boschetti was unable to attend.

Substance abuse and mental health issues were at the top of the list when candidates spoke about what public health issues would get their attention as board members.

As a nurse, Perrotta said she has seen a lot of cuts made to mental health services.

In addition to supporting those battling substance abuse and mental health issues, Zaroulis said she also wants to work on improving access to resources in town for affected families.

“It’s not just those that are suffering with these problems, it is also their families,” she said.

Perrotta and Zaroulis spoke about the need to raise awareness about what the Board of Health does. Perrotta recommended harnessing social media to help raise awareness and education, while Zaroulis pointed to outreach programs as the answer.

Ferdinand directed voters to the board’s website as a tool for learning more about the board’s role in the community and what it does.

On a question about vaccinations, the candidates distinguished between their personal beliefs and the need to respect an individual’s right to make their own decision.

“I can’t argue that vaccinating your children for these types of diseases is not a good idea, but that’s me personally,” Zaroulis said. “It’s not right to force someone to do something they don’t want to do.”

Ferdinand and Perrotta expressed a similar sentiment. Where Ferdinand pointed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a great resource for learning more, Perrotta also said it was important to provide everyone with information to enable researched-based decisions.

The candidates all had high praise for the Health Department when asked if they saw any areas for improvement. Both Perrotta and Zaroulis commended the department’s community engagement like the rabies clinic and an upcoming talk at the library about keeping chickens.

“I think they’re doing a bang up job,” Zaroulis said.

Echoing his opponents’ praise for the department, Ferdinand said complaints related to the department and the board have dwindled since he took up his seat.

Referring to himself as one of the board’s tough members, Ferdinand encouraged voters to watch Youtube videos of the board’s meetings to see board members in action.

Appealing to the voters, Ferdinand said serving on the board has been the highlight of his career.

“This is my passion,” he said.

Both Zaroulis and Perrotta spoke of their experience working in the health care industry as assets.

“I see tremendous opportunity for outreach and educational programs that could be brought to the community under the umbrella of the Board of Health,” Zaroulis said.

Perrotta said that in addition to her experience as a nurse, she would bring a female perspective to the male-dominated board.

“I do feel that I would do a very good job on the Board of Health as far as expanding what they are currently doing,” Perrotta said.

School Committee candidate John Stadtman also spoke at Thursday’s debate. He is running unopposed for one of two seats alongside candidate Shannon Demos, who was unable to attend. Former candidate Erin Knyff’s withdrawal from the School Committee race earlier this month means the race is no longer contested as Stadtman and Demos are the only candidates for two open seats.

Stadtman fielded questions from the panel on teen use of e-cigarettes, environmentally friendly practices in the schools and transparency in district leadership, among others.