Dog-leash rule gives election extra bite

By Lisa Keen
Globe Correspondent / March 1, 2009
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The dog wars of Wellesley rage unabated and will spill into the election arena on Tuesday, almost overshadowing a competitive race for the Board of Selectmen.

Four candidates are vying for two seats on the Natural Resources Commission, an agency charged with watching over the town's parks and trails.

The seats are rarely contested, but this year two incumbents face challenges from two newcomers who are unhappy with the commission's strict leash regulations at Perrin Park.

The park, nestled in a neighborhood off Weston Road, has been the subject of an increasing number of complaints in recent years that dog owners have been letting their pets run off-leash, disturbing children and others using the park. The commission created a new, stronger regulation last fall, but agreed to review the rule after dog owners organized to protest. Following a public hearing Feb. 7, the commission adopted a compromise, setting specific hours that owners can bring their dogs to the park, but agreed to reconsider this policy at the end of this month.

Mary Elizabeth Levy, a member of the Wellesley Dog Owners Group, is one of the challengers running for a seat on the commission. She was part of a group that searched for a compromise, but says she wasn't happy with the result. Levy says the commission could benefit from a new and fresh perspective.

The second challenger, Vernon P. Ellinger, said he's running because the commission "has morphed into a small club that is so far removed from Wellesley's mainstream." Both agree that the Perrin Park dog fight prompted them to run.

"It's no secret: The Perrin Park dog issue really exposed the heavy-handedness" of the commission, said Ellinger, who is a dog owner. But the real issue, he said, is that the commission has become insular. "It's time to add some diversity and break up the club."

Commission member Heidi Gross, who is up for reelection, said the two challengers finalized their papers to run for office only after the public hearing Feb. 7 that adopted the compromise regulation at Perrin Park.

"We usually have to beat the bushes" to find candidates for the commission seats, Gross said in an interview, but she does not welcome this particular influx of potential commissioners.

"We need people with expertise in particular fields," said Gross, who is a certified landscape planner, designer, historian, and a dog owner. "We don't get on-the-job training, and it's not just if you're green, you fit. You need some skills."

Gross said she and member Paul Cramer, who has been on the board for one term, are being challenged because of "this spiteful controversy" over the requirement for leashing dogs in the park.

Ellinger disagreed about the requirements to serve on the volunteer board. "It's not rocket science," he said. "It just takes some dedication, some willingness to learn, and willingness to see both sides of any issue without bias."

Another contested race on Tuesday's ballot features three candidates vying for two seats on the Board of Selectmen.

Selectman Owen Dugan is running for a second full term. The other position on the ballot had been held by Harriet Warshaw, who is not seeking reelection to the board.

Dugan, who has been a Town Meeting member for many years and served previously on the Board of Public Works, said his proudest achievement was helping to centralize the maintenance of town buildings, as an efficiency and cost-saving measure. He also points to his work to reduce the town's costs on healthcare benefits and balance its budgets.

Lewes Zafferes, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in 2007, said the board needs members who are able to recognize waste and hold the line on six-figure salaries. Zafferes, a retired store owner, has worked for the town in a number of capacities, including stints as a snow plow operator and parking meter attendant.

The third candidate is Teri Tsagaris, a securities lawyer and Town Meeting member who has been active in parent-teacher groups, and managed state Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch's most recent reelection campaign. She said she is running to help the town "think outside the box" to find new efficiencies.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

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