Vernon mayoral candidates meet for debate
By Erin Connolly - ReminderNews
Vernon - posted Fri., Oct. 18, 2013
Vernon’s mayoral candidates, Republican Daniel Champagne and Democrat Thomas DiDio, met in their first debate on Thursday, Oct. 17, in the Rockville High School auditorium.
Champagne is a former Town Council member and retired Vernon police officer. DiDio is part of the Rockville Community Alliance and a Town Council member.
The debate, sponsored by the Vernon Education Association, included questions organized by a committee of local public school teachers. The topics addressed ways to improve the school system, refresh the economy, and allow the public access to information. Steve Smith, local staff writer and photographer for ReminderNews, moderated the debate.
The first question asked the candidates how they would support the Vernon public schools if elected mayor.
“We need to bring ourselves from the lower-echelon schools to a higher level,” said DiDio. “First and foremost, helping the teachers, provide them with the tools, materials and training necessary, especially as we’re getting into the common core standards that are being worked on.” DiDio said he wants each school to have a computer lab so they are prepared for the standardized testing transition to a computer format.
Champagne said one of the biggest ways to help schools is by making sure the budget is funded properly. “A lot of communication needs to happen between the Board of Education and the mayor’s office,” he said. “If money needs to be increased, just explain why. If I know what the money is going toward and I know it can help the children, then I’m going to help support that.”
Smith’s own question to the candidates asked about which challenge they would address first as mayor of Vernon.
“Improving our schools, stimulating our economic development and bringing in stable jobs to town,” said DiDio.
He suggested one place to start is through Vernon’s energy improvement commission. “In Stafford Springs they have a commission similar to ours and they bring millions of dollars every single year to help the businesses and the town itself save money through energy,” DiDio said. “By having this commission work very closely with our economic coordinator, we can bring more businesses to town.”
Champagne said his first challenge would be saving Rockville Hospital. “I think the downfall started many years ago when ECHN combined with Rockville Hospital,” he said. “Rockville was making money, Manchester was not. Then they combined the two and they started taking services.”
Champagne said the hospital is one of the biggest employers in the town, and by saving it, he hopes to reshape the downtown area.
Another question facing Vernon is how to attract and retain young families.
Champagne said he would start with improving housing. “When you move into a place that’s a lot cheaper, it attracts people. That’s nice until you actually get in there and there are cockroaches and you step on the floors and you start sinking,” he said. “By cleaning up those housing units, I think we can attract people to stay longer.”
DiDio said the emphasis should be on improving schools. “It’s no secret that strong schools attract the families. Families are able to purchase the homes that are available on the marketplace, and they pay taxes,” he said. “When businesses see property being sold and people occupying those homes, they want to come to that town - they want to establish those businesses.”
Both candidates agreed on the importance of being available to the public if elected mayor.
DiDio said he would speak directly to the people through PTO meetings or community forum nights. “We have many issues in town, and by talking them out, by dealing with them, and by getting information from the public, that is a very important resource.”
As a police officer in Vernon, Champagne said he worked with the media and believes in an open government. “If somebody has a question for me, I expect that they would ask and I would be available to answer,” he said.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 5.