Candidates for Board of Directors discuss the issues

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
- posted Fri., Oct. 21, 2011
The candidates were read questions, which they had not heard prior to the debate, by Jan Tarr, Editor of Manchester Life; Joan Hunt, editor of ReminderNews; Kym Soper, reporter for the Journal Inquirer; and Jesse Leavenworth, reporter for the Hartford Courant. Photo by Martha Marteney.
The candidates were read questions, which they had not heard prior to the debate, by Jan Tarr, Editor of Manchester Life; Joan Hunt, editor of ReminderNews; Kym Soper, reporter for the Journal Inquirer; and Jesse Leavenworth, reporter for the Hartford Courant. Photo by Martha Marteney.

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce held a debate of the candidates running for the town's Board of Directors. The event was recorded and will be replayed in its entirety several times on public access Channel 16 before the Nov. 8 elections.

Incumbent candidates include Democrats Leo Vincent Diana, Rudy C. Kissmann, Jay Moran and Lisa Paggioli O’Neill, and Republicans Dennis Brenner, Cheri Ann Pelletier and Mark Tweedie. Additional candidates include Republicans Bill Johnson, Susan Holmes and Kimberly Mencarini, and Democrats Steve Gates and John D. Topping. Each party had two candidates absent from the debate: Republican incumbents Brenner and Tweedie, and Democratic hopefuls Gates and Topping.

In responding to their opening question to rank the current Board of Directors, the incumbent candidates generally agreed that the Directors had served the town well by working in a bipartisan nature to move certain projects forward while keeping the taxes down. Both parties cited the Broad Street redevelopment as an accomplishment. “We proved that government works best when those governing work together,” said Moran. The responses by the absent candidates were read by another member of their party.

The candidates not currently serving on the Board of Directors were asked what changes needed to be made. There was again a sense of agreement that the town needs to become more business-friendly. Johnson specifically cited repealing of the Living Wage Bill passed by the current Board of Directors.

There were 18 debate questions, dealing with issues such as the Broad Street revitalization project, the Library renovations, neighborhood blight, educational mandates and the Buckland Street traffic study. The evening progressed very civilly, even with some levity as the more challenging questions were posed. The candidates maintained the sense of camaraderie for which they had praised the current Board of Directors.

The candidates agreed that the budget decisions will be very difficult. With their past experience on the Board of Education, both Holmes and O'Neill addressed the issue of unfunded school mandates as well as the possibility of consolidating certain functions in order to gain cost savings.

Responding to a question about switching from standard pensions to alternative retirement funds, such as 401(k)s, both Kissmann and Holmes supported plans that would be fair to both the employee and the town. Holmes also voiced frustration of retirees receiving pension benefits while working another job.

Both Johnson and Diana seemed in favor of phasing in the tax increases that may result from the current property revaluation. “A large tax increase in this economy wouldn't sit well with any family,” said Diana.

All of the candidates, whether life-long residents or community members of 20 years or more, repeatedly expressed the potential they saw in the town of Manchester. “We do have good assets and we should be promoting them,” said Pelletier about the need to effectively market the town to both families and businesses. The candidates recognized the need to continue to maintain and improve the town's infrastructure, from roads and sidewalks to schools and other town buildings.

The incumbent candidates expressed their appreciation to the members of the Redevelopment Agency for the Broad Street project. Once that project is nearing completion, Mencarini said the next areas needing focus should be Main Street and the industrial parks.

Responding to a question about residents at a State Department of Children and Family home with criminal records, Moran, who lives near one of the homes, said the issue was a good example of neighbors and community stakeholders coming together to find a solution. Pelltier concurred that the partnership developed among the DCF, police and community was beneficial.

On the issue of the Buckland Street traffic study and possible new ramp construction, Mencarini and Moran did not agree. “The traffic is not unbearable,” said Mencarini, adding that the area has already received much attention. Moran, however, felt the implementation of the plan would be worthwhile for both consumer and commuters, and would increase safety in the area.

There was also some dissension regarding the expansion of Mary Cheney Library. O'Neill explained that the current Board could not support the cost of a new facility in this economic climate, but she did support a minimum expansion and interior upgrades to the main library, while at the same time endorsing needed improvements to the Whiten branch. Holmes would support only interior renovations, but no addition to the main library. She also suggested opening school libraries in the evenings.

The ReminderNews asked those candidates not present at the debate to explain why they decided to run for office and what they would bring to the position, if elected.

Brenner said he wanted to continue being a voice for the under-represented citizens of Manchester, including seniors and the unemployed. He referenced his history of fiscal responsibility, years of leadership and management, and an understanding of Manchester's needs as his strong qualities.

Gates' decision to run was based on a strong desire to give back to the community, and to continue the success of the Democratic team. He cited his business experience, including the current leadership of a team accountable for integrating a recent $290 million business acquisition, as his qualifications, along with his volunteerism in town as the past President of the PTSA at Manchester High School, and membership on several town commissions.

Topping,who previously served as a Director in 2005, but had to resign due to health issues, said he is ready to continue on the Board, bringing a no nonsense attitude and approach. He cited his work as a police officer as teaching him how to talk to and listen to people.

For Tweedie, it is important to retain young people in town by reducing the tax burden on homeowners and creating jobs. During the past four years as a Director, Tweedie said he has advocated for fiscal responsibility, which was done by bringing both parties together. He cited the Broad Street project as a one of the economic plans that will add to the tax base.

For more information about the candidates, visit the Democratic Town Committee's website at www.manchester.dems.info and the Republic Town Committee's website at www.manchesterctgop.com.


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