Five of Barrington’s six Town Council candidates gathered in the Council Chamber Wednesday evening, Oct. 17, to make a case for being elected in November. The other candidate was in China.
The gathering was a League of Women Voters RI “candidates’ forum” attended by around 75 voters and other candidates for the School Committee and State House seats in District 66 and 67.
Incumbents Kate Weymouth and June Speakman, Democrats who have campaigned together, and Republican challengers Margaret Kane, Don Nessing, and Shirley Applegate-Lockridge, took turns answering or responding to question written on index cards from the floor. Democrat Ann Strong was the candidate who said she could not participate because she is overseas
The format prevented candidates from answering or responding to all of the same questions. A candidate could use, however, a limited number of “wild cards” to weigh in on a certain question. No one used all the wild cards.
Each candidate got two questions to answer or respond to first. There were strict time limits for answers or responses, including for the wild cards.
The overall format, which included opening and closing statements, therefore, did not allow the audience to assess one specifif candidate against another except during four of the 10 questions asked by moderator Scott Pickering, general manager of East Bay Newspapers, which sponsored the forum.
All of the candidates used their opening minute to provide mostly biographical or background information or to focus on a particular issue.
Weymouth, for instance, stressed her 8 years on the Town Council, which, she said, “I feel partly responsible for the record of achievement.” She is an architect.
Speakman, the council president who has served 10 years, talked about making Barrington a more “walkable” town and cooperating with other towns on the provision of certain services. She is a political science professor.
Kane, who serves as the chair of the Senior Services Advisory Committee and the Community Center Task Force, brought up the contentious affordable housing mandate by Rhode Island and the often-criticized signage regulations in Barrington. She is retired from the RI Lung Association.
Nessing, a Barrington mortgage broker, also brought up the affordable housing mandate and a general increase in services.
Applegate-Lockridge, a Barrington attorney, described the town as “well-run. And I want to keep the town a great place to live by stressing fiscal responsibility.”
The 10 questions from the floor covered a wide range of issues, including regionalization and consolidation of services, fiscal management, what initiatives a candidate might champion, the plastic grocery bag ban in Barrington, whether the town should hire a full-time or a part-time recreation director, term limits, the role town councilors should play.
The first question asked: What is the most important issue in Barrington. By the order of seating, Weymouth went first. Her answer was “maintaining a balanced budget.” Speakman had the first chance to respond . She agreed with Weymouth on balancing the budget.
Speakman got the second question, which dealt with consolidation of services.
“Yes, I favor looking at consolidation,” she said. Kane, who got to respond first to the same question, agreed with Speakman that Barrington needs to consider regionalization of some services.
Kane’s primary initiative if elected, question #3, would be to continue pushing for a Barrington community center. Nessing said he would like to continue to be involved in revaluation; he has served on an ad hoc board that handled that issue.
Weymouth used a wild card to say that she wants to push for another community garden and the continued renovation of the Bay Spring Community Center.
On a question about “fiscal restraint,” Nessing said he would use his business experience to “do more with less.” Applegate-Lockridge’s response was to have “fiscal responsibility.”
Speakman weighed in on that question: “We need to continue doing what we have been doing” to come up with “lean and mean budgets.” Weymouth said the Town Council has approved town-side budgets that have gone up only 3 percent in four years – a sure sign of “fiscal restraint.”
Where do you stand on the plastic bag ban?
Applegate-Lockridge said he opposed it at first and still would like see a moratorium to evaluate the impact. Weymouth, the bag ban’s most avid supporter on the Town Council, responded by saying: “We must reduce our dependency on plastic. Everyone should be concerned."
What about term limits?
Speakman is opposed. “Voters must be given the opportunity to vote in or out a candidate,” she said.
“Generally, I support term limits,” said Kane, but a town council might be an exception because it is often difficult to get people to serve on local boards.
What two “fresh ideas” do you have?
Kane got that question first. “I think my primary idea is the community center,” she said, “but we need to keep the seniors in town.” Nessing said he favored a better senior center and somehow turning the affordable housing mandate into senior housing.
What role should a town councilor play in government?
A councilor should be a good listener to all points of view, Nessing said. “It’s important to hear all voices.” Applegate-Lockridge said: “Do well what we do. Be deliberative.” Weymouth used a wild card. “We need to be more than listeners. We need to protect the health, safety and welfare, the well-being of everyone.”
Applegate-Lockridge got the first closing statement. She said: “My slogan is Shirley for all of us. I have no obligations. And I won’t forget West Barrington, where I live, and Bay Spring.”
Nessing stressed that if he is elected he would focus on the “needs of the town.”
Kane said Barrington has had an unbalanced council for too long. “It may not be in our best interests,” she said. She also said: “Change is what we’re about.” She referred to Speakman’s initial decision not to run for re-election because “10 years is long enough.”
Speakman conceded that she did say 10 years is enough before she changed her mind to seek re-election. “I decided that I did not want the things I’ve worked for to unravel,” she said. And we need “policy that is consistent with the needs of our neighbors.”
Weymouth finished by saying: “I am proud of my record,” which has included a decrease in spending, the hiring of a full-time planner, liquor stores, chickens in back yards, the plastic bag ban and the recreation bond, which has led to improvements at playing fields, parks and Barrington Beach
The forum was being broadcast for viewing on Full Channel 9 six times: Oct. 20 at 12:30 pm; Oct. 24 at 8 am; Oct. 29 at 2 pm; Oct. 31 at 8 am, Nov. 3 at 12:30 pm and Nov. 5 – Election Day eve – at 2 pm.
Look for Patch stories to follow on the School Committee and District 66 and 67 candidate forums.