Newcomers call for change as incumbents highlight progress in Town Council race

Newcomers call for change as incumbents highlight progress in Town Council race

NORTH SMITHFIELD – With debates over development and transparency and concerns about the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis playing heavily into this year’s election season, voters will have a lot to choose from when they decide the Town Council race on Nov. 3.

Ten candidates are running for seats on the five-member board, including five that have never served on the Town Council before. That’s in stark contrast to 2018, when only six names appeared on the ballot, including four sitting councilors.

Councilors Teresa Bartomioli, Claire O’Hara and Paul Vadenais are all seeking to hold onto their seats. Kimberly Alves and John Beauregard, who previously served on the council, are also seeking spots, as are Stephen Corriveau, Cheryl Marandola, Ana Parsons, Christopher Simpkins and Megan Staples.


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For the newcomers, concerns about the way decisions are made have often been cited as a reason to run. Simpkins, Staples and Marandola have all called for greater transparency and accessibility to town government as a top priority. Simpkins and Staples, who partnered on joint political advertising, have also called for a slowdown in solar development and stricter enforcement of the town’s ordinances.

“It’s really overrunning our town right now,” Simpkins said about solar development. “You hear from a lot of people in town that they’re not happy with the decisions that have been made, and largely, I would agree with that.”

Staples, a Planning Board member who launched an unsuccessful write-in bid for Town Council in 2018, said that for her, transparency is about making government more accessible to residents. She called for continuing to stream meetings online post-COVID-19, archiving meeting videos in a way that’s easy to navigate, and making more information about the town available to residents online.

“Even when it wasn’t the pandemic, I was still a single mom who hunts and gardens and has a kid that goes to school and plays hockey,” she said. “Nobody has time to go and sit at meetings.”

Simpkins and Staples were also critical of the 2018 proposal by Beauregard, a former council president, to boycott Nike products in response to an ad featuring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Beauregard told The Breeze he acknowledges the proposal was a “big mistake” and hopes residents can look past it to his accomplishments, including forging a better relationship between the council and School Committee.

“I admit 100 percent it was a mistake the way I went about trying to show my support for the police. And I paid for it,” he said.

Beauregard and other councilors also faced criticism for a 2018 decision to allow the Green Development solar project on Iron Mine Hill Road to move forward under a zoning overlay. Beauregard said he still stands by that decision, even if he’s disappointed plans to use the revenue from the farm to purchase the Gold property fell through. Instead, he said, the town has been able to negotiate a new concession stand and bathroom facility at the high school football field and protect the property from more intensive development.

While some residents have continued to criticize the Nike proposal, others have been more willing to move past it. O’Hara, Bartomioli and Corriveau all said Beauregard showed strong leadership and was an asset during his time on the council.

In addition to transparency, Marandola, a Parks and Recreation Commission member, highlighted her background as a data analytics professional in calling for greater fiscal responsibility. She pointed to the difficult financial decisions facing the town on the Halliwell property and the police station, and said the town needs to have better long-term planning.

“I think that’s where preparing for the future is important, because in the short term, there are limited options,” she said.

Another new candidate, Corriveau, also highlighted his business background in pushing for smarter economic development. Corriveau, who serves on the town’s Economic Development Commission, said the town should be taking steps to market itself to large businesses to bring in new revenue to support schools and infrastructure.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in the running like a Johnston or like a Lincoln that have opened their arms to businesses without compromising the beauty of the town,” he said.

A fifth candidate, Parsons, said she was inspired to run partly after watching the Conservation Commission resign in protest last year during a dispute over reappointments to the volunteer board by Town Administrator Gary Ezovski. Parsons said she believes the incident was “poorly handled” by town officials and positioned herself as a “fresh perspective” for the town.

“I don’t have an agenda that I’m trying to fix, I just want to be a new voice for people,” she said.

At the same time, sitting councilors have pushed back against the idea that the town needs to change its processes to be more transparent. O’Hara and Vadenais, who are running for re-election, both pointed out town meetings are open to the public and said residents could make more of an effort to attend.

“I don’t know how much more transparent we can be,” said Vadenais. “We have meetings, they’re open to the public. Right now they’re on Zoom, so you can watch them from home.”

Vadenais, who was elected to the council in 2018, said he hopes to continue his current work on the council and pointed to a new police contract and the acquisition of open space on Old Smithfield Road as recent successes. He’s also served on the Municipal Buildings Review Task Force, the group overseeing a controversial renovation of the former Kendall Dean and Bushee school buildings into a new town hall and renovated police station. Vadenais told The Breeze he supports building a new police station, but didn’t rule out using some of the bond funds approved by voters for short-term improvements to the existing one.

O’Hara also said she supports building a new police station and named adequate funding for the schools and bringing in new business as the top priorities in her campaign.

“We have to think of what’s needed for the town as far as the tax base, she said.

Also running for re-election is Bartomioli, a local business owner who’s served on the council since 2017. Bartomioli said she likes to think of herself as representing the town’s small business owners and tries to listen to the “silent majority” who don’t always speak up about their concerns. Maintaining a reasonable tax rate, she said, is going to be a priority, particularly as the pandemic strains the town’s traditional spending on schools and infrastructure.

“We can all want things, but how do we get there? We can all sit there and have town hall-type meetings, but the reality is that that all requires money,” she said.

Alves, a former councilor who served from 2010 to 2016, is seeking re-election after stepping down four years ago. She later served as chairwoman of the Budget Committee but was part of a group that resigned in protest after the Town Council neglected to follow the Budget Committee’s recommendations in 2017.

Alves told The Breeze the town budget remains a top priority. She criticized the council’s decision this year to put more than $800,000 in contingency for potential COVID-19-related costs, saying it doesn’t create enough checks on future spending.

“It’s an open invitation for them to spend money,” she said.

Comments

I am so in favor of all new people for the TC. What this town needs is new ideas, people who will listen to the voters, not push their personal agendas onto others, no bullying & be upfront with all decisions...no back room decisions/deals.
Its about time for a change!