2009-10-22 / News

Candidates field questions from Press, public during forum

By Phil Zahodiakin

Last night, the Jamestown Press hosted a forum for Town Council and School Committee hopefuls at the Jamestown Philomenian Library. Moderated by Publisher Jeff McDonough, the two-hour Q&A included some lively give-and-take between the candidates and the public.

The seven council candidates include Robert Bowen, William Murphy, Michael Schnack, Michael Smith, Robert Sutton, Michael White and Ellen Winsor. The school committee candidates are Julia Held, Catherine Kaiser, Dana Long (who was unable to attend the forum) and Sav Rebecchi.

Instead of posing the same question to each of the candidates, McDonough mixed it up with different inquiries to candidates in the two groups. A selection of the prepared questions, along with responses from the council candidates to whom the questions were directed, follows:

What is your opinion about funding major town water projects. Who should pay? Is it an island-wide tax burden or a cost only to those in the water district?

White said, “It’s difficult to expect people who aren’t on the system to pay,” adding that he is “leaning towards not making [unconnected] people pay.” Murphy acknowledged the expenses of people maintaining their own systems, and suggested allowing the water-system users to weigh in with a vote on the issue.

Recently, some residents have questioned the need for the fire horn, given that the volunteers all carry personal pagers. Do you believe the horn is vital to the fire department’s operation or has it become obsolete?

Murphy noted that there are different safety standards for exposure to loud noise, and said he needs to see more data. He added, however, that he and his wife both have fire department and emergency medical-service pagers, and “they don’t always work – or one will and the other won’t.” He also said, “The council can’t be asked to tell the fire department to shut off the horn.” White noted that the council will hold a workshop on the horn next Thursday, adding that, “Once we have more information, we’ll be in a position to make a decision.”

How do you envision the future of Ft. Getty? Schnack said that Ft. Getty “has been neglected for years,” adding that the Master Plan “could be implemented in phases,” and that the “rates could be raised if necessary” to fund the work. Sutton said, “I am supportive of Ft. Getty as an RV campground. We should put in a new restroom and implement the Master Plan.”

Do you support the wind turbine initiative and is the location of the turbine important to you?

Smith said he is “impressed by the ability of Portsmouth to generate energy from their turbine,” adding that “we should be going in that direction as long as we’re mindful of costs,” and that he would prefer a location “closer to the grid,” like Taylor Point – although, he added, “there are other possible locations that haven’t been looked at.” Murphy also expressed his support for wind energy.

What actions should the town take to make up for the losses [from state-aid cutbacks]?

Winsor replied, “I don’t know if I would increase taxes. We could look at reducing less-important services, increasing effi- ciencies and saving some money in contract negotiations.” Smith said, “The 60% of our tax dollars that go to schools should keep going to schools. The highest cost in that other 40% is personnel, and we have to look at that. The last option would be raising taxes.”

Some of the prepared questions to the School Committee candidates included the follow- ing:

Which town – and high school – do you think would best serve Jamestown: North Kingstown or Narragansett?

Held said, “We haven’t completed our analysis and any member of the team [reviewing the high schools] could put together a list of pros and cons for each. I wouldn’t be confident saying which I prefer until the analysis is completed.” Rebecchi said, “This is a great opportunity for a competitive [bidding] situation because we have an $8 milliona year ‘carrot’ to wave in front of each school system.

If Jamestown lost state funding next year, how will that affect the school budget? Should we raise taxes or trim budget expenses?

Kaiser said, “We would still be able to function as we have without raising taxes because the budget has been built around the assumption of no state aid.” Held agreed with Kaiser’s assessment.

What is your opinion of tenure based versus performancebased teacher evaluations?

Rebecchi noted that his background “has a lot to do with timetracking systems, and there is a lot of resistance to this, but there is something to be said for [using this approach] to provide us with comparisons.” Kaiser said, “The [state] Education Department is in the process of issuing an evaluation system, and the commissioner is looking at merit pay. I would choose management rights [for evaluations] of teachers whether they’re tenured or best-qualified.”

Here are just a few of the public questions to, and responses from, the candidates:

What is the School Committee position on the North Kingstown request for its high school principal to resign? Held said she is not expecting serious problems to arise because “you expect personnel changes over the long term.” Kaiser noted that the minutes of the executive session underlying the request “are sealed – and, for the moment, we have to respect the process used by other communities.”

Why does the Town Council continue to seal the minutes of its executive sessions? Sutton pointed out that they deserved to be sealed if the discussions involved litigation, personnel, land acquisition or union negotiations.

What position should Jamestown take regarding the prospect of LNG shipments up the East Passage? Schnack said he opposes the shipments, and worries about “who will pay for ensuring public [safety].” Winsor said she also opposes the shipments, and has sought to form a local group that would actively oppose them.

Return to top