October 25, 2012COUNTY — District One county commissioner candidates David Sorensen (R-Eaton) and Erik Corbett (D-Bartlett) gave voters a chance to get to know them during a debate held Oct. 15 in Wakefield.
Sponsored by CROW (Concerned Residents of Wakefield), the debate was also filmed to air on local public access television channels and can be seen in its entirety at www.governmentoversite.com.
Sorensen, the incumbent, has been a county commissioner for 12 years and has spent many of those years as the chairman. He currently serves as president of N.H. Association of Counties and was chosen for the second year in a row as County Commissioner of the Year during the Association's annual awards banquet Oct. 22. He is counting on his experience as the reason voters should choose him when they go to the polls Nov. 6. "I have the experience. I've been there 12 years. I know the department heads. I know the people there," he said.
When asked why he is running for commissioner, Corbett, a small business owner in Bartlett and a newcomer to the political arena, said it's time for new ideas, "It's time for the next generation of leaders to step up in Carroll County and in New Hampshire in general," he said. This year voters will elect a new county attorney, sheriff, several new state representatives, and could choose two new commissioners. While Corbett and Sorensen vie for the District One seat, incumbent Dorothy Solomon (D-Albany) is being challenged by David Babson (R-Ossipee) for the District Two seat. Additionally, there is a new nursing home administrator and a new county human resources director. Asked about their view on the major "changing of the guard" this year, Sorensen said the last two years have been overshadowed by controversy, but he has tried to remain fair in all respects, while Corbett said this is a good opportunity for a "fresh start and a bit of a reset of some of the animosity that has developed over the past few years."
While neither candidate came right out and said her name, an audience member did and submitted a question asking simply if the two candidates could get along with Commissioner Asha Kenney. Corbett said he doesn't know her and will certainly try. If elected, he said, he plans to leave partisan politics at the door and "work together to get things done." Sorensen said the commissioners need to act together as a team and not as individuals. "I have done that throughout my working life," he said. He acknowledged that the commissioner's meetings "have gotten out of control and we are getting them under control." Some are wondering what took so long. Sorensen said while out campaigning during the September Primary he was approached in both Wolfeboro and Conway by citizens who told him, "You've got to do something about the running of the meetings. It is out of control." Outbursts from the public in attendance caused Sorensen to call for a sheriff's deputy to sit in on a number of meetings. Last month Sorensen announced his plans to take charge of the meetings, including no more public outbursts allowed and no more accusations against current and former employees, contractors or vendors allowed by Kenney without proof in writing to support her claims.
"I'm glad David is cleaning up the meetings. But why did it take until September to make that decision," asked Corbett. The commissioners recently also reversed their decision and will once again be including the public's comments in the meeting minutes. Corbett said he would additionally be in favor of keeping an audio or video recording for the record if there were meetings with a large number of citizens attending. The commissioners had previously said that if people want to know what the public had to say at the meetings, they could watch the videotape. The trouble with that, eluded Corbett, is that the taping of the meetings is done by a private company and the tapes are not owned or kept by the County and are, therefore, not a matter of the public record.
Though touted as a debate, the evening was more of a discussion as the candidates had similar answers to many of the questions.
Neither favor increasing the Board of Commissioners from its current three members to five but both would consider the hiring of a county administrator to oversee the day-to-day operations of county business. Additionally, Corbett wants to see a change in the law that determines how county commissioners are elected. District One candidates must live in one of that district's towns – Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Freedom, Hart's Location, or Jackson to get their name on the ballot. Then all voters in Carroll County get to vote on which candidate should get the job. Corbett said only the voters that live in the district's towns should get to vote for that district's commissioner. Corbett also would like to see commissioner terms shortened. Currently, two commission seats are a two-year term and one is a four-year. Shortening that four-year-term would make commissioners more accountable, said Corbett. Kenney currently holds the four-year seat and will until the 2014 election.
On giving a tax break to Wolfeboro, Moultonborough, and Conway because those towns have their own emergency dispatching centers and choose not to use the county's dispatch, neither candidate is in favor. Corbett said he would be "leery" of giving those towns a break and Sorensen said giving those towns a break on the dispatching services would open a "can of worms". Sorensen said all three of those towns were given the option to join county dispatch but opted out and ultimately, because it is a money issue, the county delegation will have to decide what to do.
• Both candidates agreed that a "county list" should be part of the admission process at the nursing home but admission should not be based solely on if or how long a person has been a resident of Carroll County.
• When asked to make the case for keeping county government since some say it should be abolished altogether, both candidates agreed county government is necessary and that towns could not afford to provide the services the county provides.
• On accusations that the county budget is "out of control," Corbett said recent commissioners have done good work getting things under control. Sorensen said it is true the budget is up 2.68 percent but that is due to two big tickets items including a shortfall in revenue that was expected from the State and the cost of interest on the new nursing home loan. He invited voters to tour the new home. "Go for a tour, have lunch…see if you got bang for your dollar," said Sorensen, "I helped save $2.5 million on that project….Am I a conservative? When we need to spend money we spend it. When we don't, we don't."
• Regarding the salaries of corrections officers and assistant county attorneys and claims their low pay is major reason those employees leave their work in Carroll County to pursue a better salary elsewhere, Corbett said Carroll County workers don't need to be the highest paid in the state. Something needs to be done though, he said, to keep them here instead of training them for other counties. About the corrections officers, Sorensen said, "Probably none of us here would really like to have their job – if an inmate spits on you or defecates all over the wall you have to clean it up. I ran because the people who were the lowest paid were the ones doing the dirty work at the nursing home. We got those salaries up."
• On what to do with the old nursing home, both candidates favor bringing UNH Cooperative Extension to the county complex in Ossipee from its current location in Conway Village.
• Both candidates favor a central purchasing department to consolidate purchases by all county-run departments
• Sorensen pointed out that 42 percent, the national average, of county jail inmates return at least a second time and this recidivism is costly. Both candidates favor programs and initiatives to try to reduce this problem. But ultimately, said Sorensen, what can be offered all costs money.
What will the next two years bring? Sorensen said there are no new utilities or facilities needed that would cost any great capital expense. "We've done it all," he said, adding that the focus will move to maintaining the new nursing home, jail, heating system, and water/sewer system so they stay in as good of shape as they are now.
"I may not have as much experience but have experience as a small business owner. I'm a taxpayer as well. I will do anything I can to keep the tax rate as low as possible. I will work to maintain the great facilities the past commissioners have provided us. It's time for fresh energy, fresh perspective, and fresh ideas," said Corbett.