Putnam mayoral candidates spar at debate

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Wed., Oct. 19, 2011
(l to r) Ed Partlow, Cedar Hayes and Liz Paglione asked the candidates questions.
(l to r) Ed Partlow, Cedar Hayes and Liz Paglione asked the candidates questions.

Democrat Deputy Mayor Peter Place and Independent candidate Doug Cutler, Jr. squared off in the Putnam Middle School auditorium during a debate on Oct. 10. Three Putnam High School students in teacher Brian Germain's history class were among the questioners, who took turns asking a total of 12 questions.

In their opening statements, both candidates promised to show the audience the differences in their philosophies and approaches to the issues facing Putnam, both now and in the future. Place, who has been deputy mayor for 10 years and a selectman for 16, stressed his political experience. Cutler, president of the East Putnam Fire District, stressed his success with saving and raising enough money to purchase needed equipment for the fire department. According to Cutler, the strategy stressed “old fashioned principles.”

The candidates were asked about the proposed transparency of their administrations, should they be elected. Both men said they would have an open door policy.

Cutler took exception to the inability of residents to follow meetings on the web. “I was told it was too costly,” Cutler said, adding that he would push to make town meetings available on the Internet. He also pointed out that he has added a second public participation portion in the fire district meetings. The public was allowed to speak at the beginning of meetings, but not after the discussions held during the meeting itself. “People wanted an opportunity to speak, but they had to wait a month,” he said, of his decision to add another public participation opportunity.

Place offered no objection to televised meetings or to adding second public participation portions to meetings. The decision not to televise meetings earlier, he said, was purely financial. With technology changes, he admitted the costs might have gone down. “We're not trying to hide anything,” he said.

Development was a key concern for the candidates and an issue around which the two sparred throughout the debate. Place said the strategy of cutting the budget for the Economic Development office was a crippling blow to the town. “It's one of the worst things I've ever seen,” Place said. He said the $110,000 increase was necessary to pay for a town planner and cover the loss of state funding for a town administrator's position. Place claims the city lost money because they had no one to administer grants. "By eliminating that position you've taken us back two to three years," he told Cutler.

Cutler claimed he was looking for a compromise on the significant increase in the city's budget. A compromise wasn't considered. The townspeople voted against the entire increase at the annual town meeting. “That is what the people wanted,” Cutler said.

Student Ed Partlow said that Connecticut leads the nation in young people abandoning the state. He asked how both candidates would work to keep young people after graduation.

Place touted the technology park and a proposed bridge to help grow Putnam's future. “We are preparing for the future,” he said, pointing out the seven new town wells, $20 million on a waste water treatment plant, and a flat tax rate for four years.

Cutler said Connecticut's status as the number one taxed state in American doesn't make it easy for businesses. He said he'd like to see more economic development in the city, but believes the state has set up a bad system for making that happen. “We can't endure a shrinking grand list,” he said.

Student Liz Paglione asked how serious the issue of the ash landfill was to the candidates.

Place said that the town had asked Wheelabrator to extend the contract, which is due to run out in seven years. “I believe it can be met,” he said. “I believe a deal is close to being done.”

Cutler insisted the town look at alternatives. “We're in year 13 of a 20-year contract,” he said. “We need to prepare now for the reduction in that funding. We can't trust that it will be done.”

Student Cedar Hayes asked how the candidates would make Putnam more affordable.

Place assured her that the town scrutinizes the budgets. “We don't overspend on any of them.” He said that Putnam is the lowest tax rate town in the state. “It hasn't gone up in 16 years.”

Cutler pointed to his experience with the fire district. “We know costs are down the road.,” he said. “Bonding is borrowing, and that means paying with interest. We saved tens of thousands of dollars by saving beforehand. We did it the old-fashioned way.”

Place took the opportunity to say that a town couldn't always wait for things to happen.

Both candidates wanted to see the old armory as a mixed-use site.It would have pleased audience member Katherine Picciarelli-Small to hear that a senior center would be part of that mixed use plan, but neither candidate offered specifics.

Alice Smith didn't hear one word about the thing that bothered her: the fact that East Putnam has no sidewalks. “I've seen women pushing strollers and kids walking streets,” she said. “I hear it's a state thing, but I don't know why we can't do something about it.”

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