Smithfield Town Council candidates on why they’re running

Smithfield Town Council candidates on why they’re running

SMITHFIELD – Three incumbents, all Democrats, are aiming for a position on the five-member Town Council this November, with two additional Democrats and five Republicans rounding out the 10-candidate race.

All five at-large seats for two-year terms are up for election in Smithfield in the Nov. 3 election.

Endorsed Democrats Suzy Alba, T. Michael Lawton, and Sean Kilduff are running for another term on the Town Council. Councilor Dina Cerra, a Democrat, will not run for a second term in office.

Maxine Cavanagh, a long-time councilor and the council’s sole Republican, is not seeking re-election this year.

For the Democrats, Council President Suzy Alba, 37, of 85 Colwell Road, said the decision to run for council was simple: there is always more work to be done and she’s dedicated to service to Smithfield.

Alba said the biggest issue the town is facing stems from the passage of $50 million in bonds for the new fire station and elementary school renovations. She said the town will begin paying off bonds in the near future, and the town will need to focus on finding savings and generating revenue wherever possible.

Alba said she’d like to see the town sell its salt barn property, as well as Winsor School once it’s decommissioned, to raise revenue, as well as look at other assets.

The town should continue to promote the Economic Growth Overlay District to actively and aggressively find companies to expand and locate in that area of Smithfield, Alba said.

Aiming for a second term in office, incumbent Democrat Sean Kilduff, 25, of 12 Calista St., said he wants to continue the progress the council has made over the past two years.

“We’ve invested in our infrastructure by paving long overdue main roads, our future by preserving open space and supporting recreation opportunities, and our residents by not raising taxes for our residential homeowners during a global health crisis,” he said.

For Kilduff, the biggest challenge facing Smithfield is future bond indebtedness and long-term impacts of COVID-19. He said ensuring that Smithfield leaders will support public schools while making sure renovations are complete is crucial.

“There’s no telling what the future will hold, but with proper planning, we can be prepared for what may come,” Kilduff said.

Incumbent Democrat Lawton, 50, of 10 Sprague St., said he decided to seek re-election because it has been “an honor and privilege to serve residents of Smithfield” for the past two terms.

Over the last four years, Lawton said he found satisfaction working with colleagues to address major infrastructure improvements to roads, schools and water tanks. In addition, the council took steps to preserve open space and expand recreational opportunities all while holding the line on taxes, he said.

As a father of three and a small business owner, promoting sound fiscal oversight and building a commercial tax base is a priority to him to keep Smithfield affordable to residents.

“I look forward to serving the residents of Smithfield for another council term as we continue to increase the quality of life for all our residents,” Lawton said.

Lawton said major issues he sees in Smithfield over the next two years will be financial, while grappling with the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, he said, Smithfield will need to begin paying off debt associated with the elementary school and fire station bonds.

Former North Providence Police Chief and Smithfield resident for 52 years, David Tikoian, a Democrat, 52, of 114 Austin Ave., said the decision to run for council came from wanting to give back to a town that gives “so much to so many.”

Tikoian served as a major in the Rhode Island State Police, overseeing a $97 million budget.

“My leadership ability coupled with my experience administering large budgets and municipal contracts will be an asset in addressing our town’s finances,” he said.

Tikoian said town leaders must keep Smithfield affordable for residents, pursue economic development prospects, curtail unnecessary spending, and identify alternative revenue opportunities.

“It’s time for elected officials to make responsible economic development a priority in order to stimulate economic growth and provide tax relief for our residents,” Tikoian said.

He said budgeting bond debt coupled with economic growth is the roadmap to keep the town affordable, maintain great municipal services, increase recreational opportunities, keep excellent schools and maintain first-rate public safety.

Newcomer Angelica Bovis, a 24-year-old Democrat living at 3 Country Hill Lane, said she decided to run for council because she feels it is important for young people to be involved in politics.

From a young age, Bovis said she helped many local council members and General Assembly members, seeing the positive impact politicians made on Smithfield. This led her to want to actively participate herself, and encourage people along the way.

As a member of the Smithfield Land Trust, Bovis said she devoted time to preserving walking trails and open spaces, giving her the necessary experience to create responsible economic growth.

“I think it is important our town adapt to the ever-changing world,” Bovis said.

As a recent law school graduate, she is facing the current job market firsthand. First, she hopes to implement programs to teach youth about life after high school, and offer career and college advice including investing, mortgage and tax information. Second, Bovis said she plans to responsibly expand the tax base. Third, Bovis said, she is committed to preserving the senior tax freeze.

“It is crucial to me that our older residents continue to enjoy everything Smithfield has to offer without being burdened by property taxes,” she said.

Newcomer Zofia Grzegorzewska, a Republican, 44, of 129 Burlingame Road, said she decided to run for council because Smithfield is a great town and she thinks “we should keep it that way.”

Grzegorzewska said she wants to remain neutral, and thinks Smithfield could benefit from her education, management and experience in agriculture from Poland.

A U.S. resident of 22 years, and Smithfield resident for the past 16 years, Grzegorzewska said she is “passionately in love” with the town, and is committed to listening to her fellow Smithfield residents.

“For me, every resident and every part of town is equally important,” she said.

Another Republican is Phil Hirons, 53, of 19 Lakeside Drive, who said his time volunteering, coaching and in local politics led him to run for council. He said he’s been an active volunteer for decades, working with cadets in emergency management with Civil Air Patrol, served as town moderator, and has previously run for office.

“All that time, I learned from some outstanding public servants, most of whom are retiring from public life. I hope to follow in their footsteps,” he said.

The biggest issue Hirons sees is in the General Assembly, where budget delays caused towns to have a question mark in anticipated state aid. Hirons said he expects state aid in 2021 to be much less than in previous years, though it won’t be known until halfway through the budget year.

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“There are going to be some difficult decisions in the next two years and I think there needs to be more people on the council who have experience in private sector areas that do not rely on government spending,” he said.

Those decisions, he said, will affect the quality of life in Smithfield for years to come.

Rosanne Morales, 61, of 9 Fenwood Ave., took over the fifth Republican candidate role for Town Council after historic preservationist Katie Law withdrew from the race. Morales was appointed by Republican Town Committee Chairman Jim Archer to replace Law.

No signatures were required for the transfer of candidacy.

Archer is also running for council but did not respond to The Valley Breeze & Observer for comment.

Morales said the current council majority is a “good ole boys club” who know how to work the system and pacify constituents, developers, and lawyers who want to overdevelop Smithfield.

She said with that in mind, she decided to offer herself as a candidate concerned with residents rather than be a professional politician.

“I am concerned that Smithfield is becoming overdeveloped, which prompts me to become a voice. When I speak against overdevelopment, I mean using existing state law and the courts to override local zoning,” she said.

Morales said the parcel at Routes 116 and 7 is a great example and said state planning is using low- to moderate-income housing laws to create a combination retail and residential area that is three or four times planned corporate density. She said the same will happen at Esmond Street and Route 44.

“This may generate more property tax but the dense residential will generate more need for schools, fire and police,” she said.

Morales said that type of overdevelopment might generate a small net increase in tax revenue, but too often it’s a net loss.

Republican Marina Emin, 24, of 10 John Mowry Road, said her family has lived in Smithfield for generations and she said she could not think of a better place to live.

“My business is here, generations of my family history are here, my roots are here and I hope to continue to live in this town for the rest of my life,” Emin said.

Emin said there is still much that Smithfield has to offer, including history that needs to be preserved, small businesses and farms that need to continue to be nurtured so they can flourish, and roots that need to be recognized, taught and cherished, “all things, and more, that I hope to bring to this beautiful town.”