2009-10-01 / Front Page

Candidates face questions at forum

By Phil Zahodiakin

Town Council and School Committee hopefuls last week fielded questions at a “Candidates Night” hosted by the Jamestown Shores Association. The Sept. 23 event at the packed Senior Center featured council candidates Robert Bowen, William Murphy, Michael Schnack, Michael Smith, Robert Sutton, Michael White and Ellen Winsor. Some selected questions to, and responses from, the council candidates included the following:

Q: Would you favor preserving the foreclosed tax lots in the Shores area or allowing their sale?

A: Winsor said, “I know those lots and all the ground water issues in the Shores very well, and I’m in favor of conserving them. One [lot] is questionable, and we need to have a conversation about that lot because if it’s not a wetland, it could be held for future sale to address an environmental problem [in the Shores].”

Schnack said he has identified “only three lots remotely worth considering” for a sale.

Bowen said all the lots should be preserved, and then “the questionable ones should be reviewed.”

Smith declined to respond with a “blanket statement,” explaining that he felt each lot “should be reviewed separately” and “placed into a trust if it’s part of a wetland.”

Sutton observed that he had spent “a good part of [his] career” protecting sensitive land, adding, “We should continue identifying wetland resources and purchase them as they become available.”

Murphy also felt that all the lots should “remain in the public domain.”

White said all the lots should be protected instead of “selling one here and another one there.”

Q: How do you view the idea of distributing debt service costs for our water and sewer bonds among all island residents?

A: Bowen, who lives in the Shores, opposes the idea because “the town doesn’t help me pay for water tests or septic system repairs. I help pay [the debt service] when I buy a coffee in town or I pay my taxes, which goes, in part, to water bills. I would like to see an advisory committee set up to discuss this issue.”

Murphy, who lives in the Village, noted that the town didn’t help him with his $25,000 bill for septic system repairs, adding that he wouldn’t ask North End residents to help him pay his town water bills.

Sutton, who lives in the North End, said, “I have to say I favor the idea of community participation in these costs because the benefits of preventing untreated sewage from running into the Bay accrues to everyone on the island.”

Winsor said she “doesn’t want to see public and private water users pitted against each other,” adding that she “leans towards not having people with septic systems” paying into the debt service.

Similarly, Schnack said, “I don’t have an answer tonight, but this issue should not be allowed to become a divisive issue like the highway barn.”

Smith said he favored finding a ratio for sharing the costs because, he argued, a succession of water-well failures would be an emergency that the town would have to address as a whole.

White said this was “a complicated issue that deserves a close look by the next council” because residents of the village are bearing 10% hikes in their water bills, “and those increases hurt.”

Q: Would you support or oppose a requirement for sponsors of local fundraising events to pay for security or traffic control?

Sutton and Bowen both said they oppose passing on police costs to fund-raising groups.

White said “it behooves us to help our local groups with their security needs,” while Schnack said he recalled discussing this issue during his time on the council, which “concluded that local groups shouldn’t have to pay because they contributed back to the community.” However, he added that the council also discussed the possibility of charging out-oftown groups.

Murphy, also a former council member, echoed the response from Schnack.

Smith said that he would “review those costs” and weigh them against their “social benefits.”

Q: How would the candidates who are not council members, if elected, bring themselves up to speed on the issues?

Murphy said he was able to acquaint himself with the issues expeditiously the last time he was elected.

Smith joked that he would devote the time he now spends singing in the community chorus to the council.

Schnack said he would engage the town administrator and department heads in focused discussions, while Bowen, who serves on the Wind Energy Committee, noted that he is already peripherally involved in some of the issues that come before the council.

Winsor said that she has attended “99.9% of the council meetings during the last five years,” and that she supports opening more of those meetings – at least two a year – to public participation.

Q: What initiatives have candidates currently on the council brought forward – or will they bring forward? And what initiatives would the others bring forward?

White said he has “worked with the town planner and the town administrator on a number of things that might not have made it to council meeting agendas.”

Sutton said he would like to see less public exclusion from executive sessions, and that he remains focused on “creating a safe bike path” from the North End to the southern half of the island.

Murphy said he would support an ordinance facilitating “in-law” apartments for people to house elderly family members, while Bowen said he would promote the formation of additional advisory committees.

Winsor said she would promote greater recycling, protect public rights of way, and open discussions on Ft. Wetherill re-use.

Schnack said he “would not come in with a bag of initiatives because I would like to resolve the issues already facing us.”

School Committee candidates

The following are summaries of selected responses from School Committee candidates Julia Held, Catherine Kaiser, Dana Long and Sav Rebecchi:

• Kaiser, who currently chairs the School Committee, said the mission of the panel should include an advocacy for Jamestown schools at the state level. “But we should not lose sight of the pressing issue of meeting R.I. standards [for academic performance]. We are not doing enough.” Regarding the issue of budget transparency, she said, “We would gladly publish [a line-item breakout],” adding that the lack of detail in current budget documents “is not our choice.”

• Held, who currently serves on the committee, said, “Funding is a thread that runs throughout all the issues.” Regarding the issue of surplus classroom space, she said, “Declining enrollment [which raises the possibility of a school closing] is not the case in our lower grades anymore.”

• Long said she viewed the role of the committee as, among other things, “an advocate for solutions that offer the highest-quality solutions for our next adults.” She added that “there is a wealth of opportunities to bring technologies and process improvements from the business community to our schools.”

• Rebecchi said his “business background” qualifies him to address the “potentially huge fi- nancial burden we will face if we don’t decide how to allocate resources to our aging school buildings,” while his “involvement with boards, commissions and committees over the past eight years has provided [him] with the background to understand how the system works.” He also favors “educating the community on what they’re getting for their tax dollars [60% of which support the school system].”

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