Residents brave stormy weather for candidates' night
March 04, 2010
FREEDOM — Despite the stormy weather last Thursday, many residents gathered to hear the candidates for town and school offices discuss the issues at a forum hosted by the Freedom Public Library.
Residents will vote for candidates on Tuesday, March 9 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Freedom Elementary School.
The sharpest contrasts between candidates appeared to be between school board candidates Heather Cunio and Anthony Cloutier. But there were some similarities. Both have children in the school district and neither are incumbents.
While Cloutier, a financial advisor and former special education teacher, emphasized controlling taxes in his speech, Cunio, a stay at home mother, focused on her pledge to maintain the quality of education. However, both professed concern about taxes and educational quality.
"I made the joke at the last school board meeting that our children are going to Harvard Elementary now," said Cloutier. "I'm not saying lets cut everything… but when times are lean and we're having trouble collecting taxes because people are losing jobs, we need to be smarter with our money."
Chief among his concern was that under the new teacher's contract, teachers still aren't paying any deductible towards their health insurance and the teachers are asking for a 3 percent raise after getting two back-to-back five percent raises. Meanwhile, many people on fixed incomes aren't getting raises. Cloutier would also examine raises provided to the school's administration.
Cunio, a former EMT with a special needs daughter, said she has extensive knowledge of the special education system, which is a large part of the school budget.
"I think our number one concern is quality education," said Cunio. "If we tell the teachers you can't have raises and we're not going to pay for your health care, we're not going to have very good teachers."
Cunio also wanted to improve the relationship between the school board and the parents. She said in the last few years, parents' voices haven't been heard. For example, Cunio said she and other people had lobbied the school board unsuccessfully to make all-day kindergarten a separate warrant article. The school board however, included all-day kindergarten into next year's operating budget.
Cloutier agreed that all-day kindergarten ought to have been a separate warrant article.
Then, Cunio said she couldn't get an answer when she asked why every employee at the school got a raise except one janitor.
"The superintendent (Jay McIntire) slammed his fist down and yelled at me," said Cunio. "As a parent I don't feel that was appropriate."
But Cloutier, who was also at the same school board meeting, said the board members couldn't address that question because it was a confidential personnel issue. Had they done so, it could have exposed the town to a lawsuit.
"As a school board member it's your job to prevent getting all of us in the town sued," said Cloutier. "You have to at times not open your mouth."
Cloutier agreed that McIntire was "short and a bit rude" to Cunio.
Neither candidate was keen on combining grades to form larger class sizes, but they did say they would be willing to study it.
In this race, incumbent Jim Brown squared off against challenger Scott Cunningham.
Brown took to the podium first. After he went though his personal history, a man hit him with a series of questions on his stance on a volunteer committee's proposal to build a new safety complex on Village Road for the police and fire departments.
"I question the fact that we need this expansion, we have to do something about the town office, my feeling on the fire department is we have equipment that can service Manchester," said the questioner.
Brown replied the fire department needs extra room because it can't store all the equipment it has now in the current building. Some of the equipment is being stored in a sub station that's falling apart, he said. By law, the current fire station needs to install $20,000 exhaust system. In addition, the roof is leaking. Further, Brown said the town of Freedom would have needed to buy two fire trucks in the last five years just to keep up with the master plan.
"You're not going to have it the same size as Manchester," said Brown who added the Police Department is also inadequate.
Cunningham agreed that the fire and police facilities are inadequate but noted the committee's proposals seem expensive. Cunningham said he'd have been happy with a smaller sized project with a lower price.
"$3.2 million to $3.8 million is a big bite for a small town," said Cunningham. "I wish we that we were able to grapple more completely with sizing the project."
While responding to questions from Rep. Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) both candidates expressed a willingness to investigate setting aside money to help the town fast track improvements to fix state roads in town, which everyone agrees are beat up.
McConkey said the state might kick in 75 percent of the cost of fixing the roads if the town contributes the rest. This has been done in Ossipee, said McConkey.
Both candidates professed to an interest in communicating with the public.
Brown said he was always in favor of improving the town's Web site.
Cunningham said he strongly believes in transparent government and promises he'll be available to any resident who wishes to speak with him.
Both candidates also identified fixing the bridge at Danforth Bay as a priority.
Josh Battles is challenging incumbent Scott Brooks who has held the office for the past 14 years. Both touted their extensive experience in operating heavy machinery.
"I started running equipment at six years old," said Battles. "By the time I was 12 years old I was running everything my father owned and he's run a business since 1980."
Currently, Battles said he helps run his father's business, which includes handling the bidding and doing the physical work. Battles said his father handles the bills.
Battles has also worked for a paving company and snow plowed for the state of New Hampshire.
As a major part of his platform, Battles said he feels that more highway work should be put out to bid as opposed to having the town road crew handle it.
Brooks said he's spent his time as road agent updating equipment and facilities some of which, were in "deplorable shape" when he arrived. Brooks also said he learned to drive excavation equipment at a young age and has been working in heavy construction since he graduated from Kennett High School.
Brooks praised his highway crew for doing good work on a variety of tasks. For example, they built the addition that on the highway garage. Doing the work in house saved the town thousands of dollars, Brooks said.
"They are skilled people, they do a multitude of different things, as I do," said Brooks.
Brooks said fixing the bridge at Danforth Bay is his top priority. He said the state's bridge aid program should reimburse much of the cost. The project will be put out for bid because the project is state and federal funded. It's also possible that federal stimulus funds may cover the entire cost of the project, he said.