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New mayor reflects and looks forward

November 11, 2009
BERLIN — When the election came to a close last Tuesday night, the city of Berlin had a new mayor. Paul Grenier served as a councilor for 16 years, but now he'll be sitting at the head of the table.

"It was a referendum on the Laidlaw project," Mr. Grenier said. He won close to 60 percent of the vote. "That tells me there's broad support within the Berlin electorate for the Laidlaw project."

This was the hardest election he'd ever been in, he said. He knocked on doors, he talked to people, and he tried to guage people's feelings on the issues.

"This was the hardest I've ever worked," he said.

He did it for two reasons: for Laidlaw and for the city seal.

The Laidlaw project has to happen, he said, "for the safety and the welfare of the community going forward."

And as for the seal, which the city council voted to change several months ago: "That was a real motivator for me."

Mr. Grenier was a critic because he thought the move was disrespectful to the city's heritage.

Soon he'll be in the driver's seat at council, with several people who had harsh words for Mr. Grenier during the campaign. He said he doesn't thing that will create difficulty, however.

"After the first two or three meetings we're all going to be fine," he said.

He even had praise for Councilor Ryan Landry, who won reelection on Tuesday, and who accused Mr. Grenier of lying to the people of Berlin at a council meeting last month.

"I think Councilman Landry is a rising star in community service," Mr. Grenier said. He is a young person looking to improve the city.

Mr. Grenier said he doesn't take the campaign rhetoric personally and he doesn't believe others do either.

He said once the council gets going he plans to change the seal as soon as possible and to address housecleaning issues. In the long term he said he's got a number of changes he will pursue.

"The city can go on record in support of Laidlaw in the EFSEC process," he said.

Unlike the current council, he said he does not plan to retain the services of an attorney for the EFSEC process. "I will not be using any city resources," he said.

When it comes to capital improvements he said he will not bond anything that doesn't have a 20 year lifespan. Any road or sidewalk repair falls under maintenance, he said, and his administration won't bond for it.

The current council, however, has already set some things in motion.

"In a large degree we are kind of boxed in," he said, refering to the council's decision to bond up to $5 million for capital improvements. "At the end of the day there's going to be some more eye-opening actions before they leave," he said.

He does agree with some of the current council's efforts. He called the 21/21 initiative "another piece of the puzzle" of the new economy for Berlin.

"We can't put all our eggs in the prison basket. We can't put all our eggs in the enery basket. We can't put all our eggs in the tourism basket," he said.

But Mr. Grenier said does not see much of a future for the man who created the 21/21 initiative.

Norman Charest's services are no longer a worth what the city pays for them, he said, since he goes Florida for a significant part of each year.

"We need to go beyond this simple contract with Tri-County CAP," he said.

Mr. Grenier did say, however, that if the person filling the Tri-County CAP position weren't Mr. Charest he would consider maintaining the arrangement.

But the future for economic development is likely regionalizatoin, he said. The city could work collaboratively with AVER, the county and other towns to fund a position covering the entire region, he said.

"It's clearly a splintered effort" right now, he said, with BEDCO, NCIC, AVER and others all working to do the same job. Integrating might help all organizations involved, he said.

Any changes Mr. Grenier hopes to make will have to wait a few more months, but he's ready.

"I'm looking forward to going to work," he said.

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