Alton's candidates have their say
February 23, 2011ALTON — Alton's annual Candidates' Night was held at Alton Central School on Thursday, Feb. 17, and the most competitive race is for two open spots on the Alton Board of Selectmen.
Current chairperson David Hussey, current vice chairperson Pat Fuller, Rachael Strickland, Marc DeCoff, Jeffrey Clay and Steve Miller are running for the two open spots on the board.
Fuller highlighted the 20 years that she has dedicated to serving the town as an assistant librarian, her time on the zoning board of adjustments and her nine years on the board of selectmen. Fuller's biggest commitment is keeping Alton away from becoming a donor town and keeping the tax rate as low as possible.
Strickland, who has been a resident of Alton since 1991, is a member of the fire department as a medical assistant. She believes department heads should have the power to run their own departments and that the town needs bring back fun events that will encourage tourism. She also wants to help support local businesses, for example supporting a local garage over a Wal-Mart.
Clay has been a resident of Alton for eight years, has 20 years of service in the Air Force and worked for 10 years as a public education teacher and administrator. Clay believes in transparency and openness in government and is himself a conservative Republican. He believes there are areas of the town budget that can be reduced and that town administrator should scrutinize the town resources.
Hussey came from the planning board and became a board of selectmen member a couple of years ago. Hussey was previously a vice president of a Fortune 500 company and worked with importing machinery into the United States. Through his time on the board he has found how much hard work and effort it takes to run a small town. He is privileged to serve Alton and believes in transparency.
Miller pointed out his education, as he has earned an MBA and is working towards a doctorate. Miller has been the chairman of the budget committee for five years and has spent time on the Zoning Board of Adjustment and is a member of the SAU Study Committee.
Miller believes that Alton is facing very difficult challenges with the current economy and a shrinking tax revenue and wants protect town resources. He believes that non-public sessions should be very limited.
DeCoff has been a firefighter with the town since 2002, is a retired officer of the NH Army National Guard after serving for 21 years, is the vice chairman of the Budget Committee and is the owner of a machine shop in Epsom.
DeCoff has a B.A. in Business Administration from Southern NH University and wants to invest the tax dollars to help the town grow.
Shirley Lane, who is running unopposed for school treasurer and has been doing it since 2003, questioned the candidates on the town's cemeteries and asked if they would treat it like a town department.
The department of cemeteries is currently supported by a trust fund, which is running low, and is not run by the town.
Strickland said that it should be considered a department of the town and Clay would like to see more about the cost to the town.
The department currently has three trustees, a full-time year round caretaker and a part-time caretaker that is used during the summer months for mowing the lawns.
Hussey understands that the trust fund is running low, but that the trustees, which are an elected position, haven't come to the town asking for money.
Miller believes that it should be part of the town one day and that it would more efficiently run through a separate department through a department manager. Miller believes that the board of selectmen is certainly capable of running the small cemetery department.
DeCoff believes that it is up to the town of Alton to take on the cemetery when the trust fund runs out of money, but for right now the board of selectmen has nothing to do with it.
Fuller said that no official request has been made to the selectmen and for right now, the cemetery trustees are in total control of the trust fund. She did point out that every town is required to maintain the cemeteries.
Barbara Howard is running unopposed for one of two open spots on the budget committee. Howard joined the committee because she wanted a fiscally responsible and conservative person on the committee. Howard is looking forward to serving the taxpayers.
Howard brought forward a question to the candidates about including a police blotter in the newspaper.
Clay is in support of having a blotter in the paper and suggested the department have a "Get to Know Your Police Department" evening.
Miller thinks a blotter is mostly town gossip but does support including first and second degree felonies. He also said that incident reports are available at the police station.
Hussey has spoken in favor of a blotter in the past but nothing has come of it.
DeCoff supports a blotter in the paper, maybe monthly, and thinks the board of selectmen should tell the police department that they should do it.
Fuller said she has changed her opinion on this issue over time. She originally didn't support it, but now thinks the board of selectmen should put more pressure on the police department to do a blotter.
Strickland believes that there should be a log in the paper. Burglaries and breaking and entering in cars are happening and that information needs to get out to the public. They need to know this information for their safety.
Bob Longabaugh asked the candidates what was one thing they would concentrate on during their three-year term.
Hussey said he would like to concentrate on keeping the tax rates where they are while trying to expand the tax base. He also said there are some local laws that need to be looked at that discourage people to build in town. He brought up the example of where he is currently building. He has an apartment built, but under town statutes, he will have to tear down the apartment once the house is built.
Miller said he would like to concentrate on the ever-increasing town budget. He believes in a level funded budget, a flat school budget, that the town administrator should give more direction, town officials should be more proactive and that a marketing plan should be developed to bring new businesses in.
DeCoff would like to concentrate on the property located next to the dump. He would like to get an estimate of the cost to remove and clean up that contaminated land.
Fuller would like to prevent the return of donor towns. If the process returns, the formula could be changed and Alton could become a donor town. She would like to see a permanent statewide amendment banning donor towns.
Strickland would like to tell the citizens how it is, what is right for one is right for the other. She believes that each taxpayer should be treated fairly and equally.
Clay believes in harmony, faith, confidence and good will. He would like more people involved in the town.
A question was raised to the candidates asking about the release of non-public information.
Miller said that non-public information shouldn't be released and that any member who does that should at least be publicly censured and reminded of their obligations. If they do it again, they should be replaced.
DeCoff believes non-public should be kept non-public. An apology should be issued and the member should resign.
Fuller said a member can't be forced to resign, but a member releasing non-public information can be taken to court, which the board has done.
Strickland believes that legal matters should be kept non-public.
Clay believes that non-public minutes should be released. He said that according to RSA 91A, nonp-ublic minutes should be released within 72 hours. He also states that talking about non-public issues is a breach of ethics and if done with malice, it warrants a resignation.
Hussey said that a member can't be dismissed or forced to resign. He said that it isn't right to talk about the non-public sessions, and that he would stand with other selectmen on this issue.
Ray Howard claimed that non-public minutes haven't been released in 20 years, with minutes still sealed. He asked if the candidates are willing to look at the minutes and releasing them.
DeCoff said it is worth looking at the minutes but would refer to the town attorney.
Strickland would try to get the minutes released as long as it is legal.
Clay claimed that RSA 91A requires the release of non-public minutes. He claimed that only in egregious cases do minutes need to be sealed.
Miller said that minutes should be released and that the town should follow whatever the statute dictates.
Fuller said that the board only goes into non-public for specific reasons, usually legal or a personnel matter. She claims that many times in non-public she asked to get back into public session after realizing the issue should be discussed in a public session.
Hussey claimed that the board goes into non-public for either a legal issue or a personnel matter, and that those minutes shouldn't be unsealed.
The candidates were asked what they would do to help grow tourism in Alton.
Fuller said that Alton Bay has number events like craft fairs and the half-marathon. Parks and Recreation holds events and programs during the winter and summer months. She thinks it is important to keep the taxes down to help attract new business and improve the town, keep the sidewalks in good shape and keep milfoil from spreading in the lake.
Strickland suggested having a roller skate rink or ice skating rink in town once again. She remembers when there used to be an ice skating rink behind the fire station. She also suggested the relocation of the town beach, as the current beach is in the mouth of the bay, and there is lot of oil and gas in the water from boats that come in and out.
Clay suggested holding festivals like an apple or a strawberry festival, or a road race.
Hussey suggested forming a volunteer committee to help create activities on the lake and in different places around town.
Miller believes in creating a balance in the town. Zoning laws may limit what types of businesses come into the town, and the town needs to be tourism friendly. There may be a great impact on abutters. The town needs to a better job of ensuring new businesses that they come to town and make money.
DeCoff likes the piece and quiet of the lake. He believes that the town should look at areas like Mount Major and have business related companies come into town. He sees a problem with small cottages being torn down and multi-million dollar homes being built in their place.
The candidates were asked about milfoil and how to control it.
Strickland said funding the attack on milfoil needs to continue.
Clay said this is one issue that he believes needs continuous funding and a battle that will never end.
Hussey said that milfoil is a problem that you can't let take over the lake. He says that the town is lucky that donations have come in, but that milfoil needs to be attacked every year.
Miller said that it is an important problem and that is one that will be passed on to the children. He would like to see Fish and Game be more proactive in fighting milfoil, closely monitoring boats coming in and out of the lake.
DeCoff believes the town should invest in attacking this problem and has always approved milfoil funding while on the budget committee.
Fuller said that the town has started to clean up the milfoil on the lake through the warrant article that the board supported. Donations have come in, and now they need people to dive in and clean it up.
A question was raised to the candidates about reviewing the police department review.
Each candidate approves reviewing the police department reviews.
DeCoff gave a closing statement pointing out his military background and dedication to watching how the town invests its tax dollars.
Miller, who is also running for budget committee, has intentions to perform both jobs if elected. He says he acts in the best interests of the taxpayers and won't put out any signs that will litter the lawns of Alton.
Hussey said that the board has gotten some things done during his time and would like continue to improve the town. He pointed to saving money by looking for better deals and equipment and supplies.
Clay said that change in leadership would be a good thing for the town. He stressed openness and transparency as the most important thing. He wants to put a stop to sealing non-public minutes.
Strickland said that the town needs a change and believes she would be a great asset to the town. If elected, she will continue to listen to voters concerns.
Fuller said that it has been a privilege to serve on the board for nine years and she would like to continue to serve the taxpayers of Alton. She believes in an open and honest town government and wants to get as much information out to the taxpayers as possible.
Earlier in the meeting, Mark Northridge, who is running unopposed for town moderator, said he enjoys moderating and would like to continue to do it.
Sandy Wyatt, a current school board member, and Clay are running for one open seat on Alton School Board.
Wyatt has been on the board for three years and said she has learned a lot through her time. She has a granddaughter that graduated from Prospect Mountain High School and other grandchildren at Alton Central School. She has worked for more than 40 years as a registered nurse.
Clay would like to reduce the number of times that the school board meets. He presented his background, which was listed earlier.
Loring Carr asked a question about the governor reducing state subsidies, which was printed in a newspaper article.
Each candidate said they hadn't had a chance to read the article, but agreed that it was an issue that had to be addressed.
Miller came forward and asked a question about the recent NECAP scores and building a new school.
"Where are your priorities?" Miller asked.
Wyatt said that renovation would be the most cost effective way to go. Wyatt agreed that something needs to be done about the low NECAP scores, but pointed out that the school will only be taking this test for two more years.
"I don't think that just these tests do a good job at reflecting their ability," Wyatt said. "There is a lot of work to be done."
Wyatt said the test scores shouldn't be shrugged off and pointed to the recent accreditation of the school.
Clay said that safety should always be first when looking at renovations.
"If a building is unsafe, we need to make that renovation," Clay said.
In response to the NECAP scores, Clay said that the school needs to always strive for continuous improvements.
He said the scores are a good way to identify children who are in need.
"The children's scores aren't going to go from a 75 to a 100 over night," Clay said.
He doesn't want the citizens of Alton to think the teachers aren't doing their job.
Howard came forward and asked the candidates how they feel about breaking policies.
Clay said he doesn't believe in breaking policies.
Wyatt said she doesn't believe in breaking policies and asked for a specific example from Howard.
Howard brought up the example of the board approving a contract for Chip Krause and paying him $30,000 for architectural services rendered.
Wyatt defended the board's actions as correct and pointed to the lawyer's explanation of their actions during the School Deliberative Session. She pointed out that the board went with Krause because of the relationship they had with him in the past.
Clay closed with a statement and stressed openness and honesty, saying that is isn't a professional politician. He said that change is a good thing.
Wyatt said that she loves the town of Alton and wants to continue to serve on the board so she can continue what she just began.
The candidates for the water commission, Robert Tilton and John Conby weren't at the candidates' night.
Betty Jane Meulenbroek, who is running for Library Trustee, used to live in Rochester and was active member of their library board of trustees from 1997 until 2008.
She resigned upon moving to Alton and she said that the desire to serve the public remains.
A letter was read on behalf of Ruth Arsenault, who was unable to attend due to an illness.
Arsenault is the youngest of nine children, and she retired from teaching in 2003. She loves books and would like to show her love of books by running for library trustee.
The two-hour event was filmed and is currently playing on LRPA-TV's Channel 26 and will continue to do so until Balloting Day on March 8. Consult Channel 24 at the top of the hour (or visit www.lrpa.org/program/program26.pdf) for program times. Both VHS and DVD video copies are available for loan at the Gilman Library, courtesy of the Longabaughs.
Tim Croes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126