Challenger Keith M. Saxon tried to portray Andover Moderator Sheila M. Doherty as a member of “a clique” that doesn’t give equal treatment to all Town Meeting members in the final candidates’ forum before Tuesday’s annual town election.

“It’s 2023, not 1923. This is not the Doherty seat,” Saxon said. “It’s time for a new Moderator…It’s time for change. It’s time for rules. It’s time for fairness.”

About 15 people attended Tuesday’s forum at the Andover Public Safety Center. The event was sponsored by the Service Club of Andover and the second forum in as many weeks for the candidates. Saxon was sick and did not attend last week’s Andover/North Andover League of Women Voters’ forum. Unlike last week’s forum, the Service Club’s forum allowed for one-minute rebuttals, allowing the candidates to essentially debate one another.

“I truly take offense that this is an inside job,” Doherty said after Saxon accused her of playing favorites when appointing members to the Andover Finance Committee for a second time. “That’s simply not true…you’re being told things happen through a lens that does not exist, and I would caution voters to take notice of that.”

Andover Election 2023: Voters’ Guide

Doherty has been town moderator since first being elected in 2007. It’s the third time Saxon has challenged Doherty since 2018, not counting 2021, when he received seven write-in votes. Last year, he received 39.9 percent of the vote. His best finish was in 2018, when he received 41.9 percent of the vote.

Over 45 minutes, Saxon and Doherty drew stark differences between themselves. Saxon said town meeting rules have been vague and inconsistently enforced under Doherty. “The era of inconsistency, folklore, and ‘Whatever I say goes’ is over,” Saxon said. “We need fairness and real accessibility for every citizen.”

“I can say to every single person listening here I try very hard to stay as objective and out of the opinion [and] advocacy process as I can,” Doherty said.

Saxon also went after Doherty has handled the moderator’s other key responsibility, appointing members to the Andover Finance Committee. He accused Doherty of not contacting residents who had expressed an interest in serving on the committee, which makes recommendations on town spending to Town Meeting. He said he would form a committee to vet candidates and “unlike my opponent, [conduct the appointment process] openly and transparently.”

Doherty said if voters are unhappy with the finance committee’s composition, they have a chance to vote the moderator out of office each year. She said while there have been finance committee members she has not reappointed in her 15 years in the post, she sees “value in continuity.”

“The moderator owns this decision. The moderator owns this appointment,” Doherty said. “My opponent may not want this responsibility, but I embrace it.”

All Andover News coverage of the town election on March 28 will be available free to non-subscribers as a service to Andover voters. Please consider supporting local news by subscribing to Andover News.

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