Raymond Town Board Candidates Night
The Town portion of the Raymond Candidates Night on Feb. 21, coordinated by Christina Vogel and moderated by Doug Vogel, started out with the uncontested candidates for the Ethics Committee, but led into a questioning of the committee’s purpose.
Three seats are open on the Ethics Committee, none contested. Candidate Sue Roundy did not attend Candidates’ Night.
Candidate Susan Hilchey, asked to explain the committee’s purpose, said “ethics is important for the Town because public service is a public trust." She noted that transparency and fair dealing are needed and that the Ethics Committee members are not "ethics cops."
Hilchey said the committee exists to ensure that people behave honestly and fairly and if they don't, there is an avenue to deal with that. The Ethics Committee is a resource and can mediate issues but does not have any enforcement or penalty authority, she added.
Candidate Joyce Wood noted the committee is an independent board that has three duties: to educate public servants and once a year provide an ethics review; provide guidance covered by policy following the process of submitting inquiries to the Ethics Committee in a generic form; and resolving complaints. Complaints must be made in writing.
"We have no authority to fine or enforce," she said. "We do independent evaluations of a complaint and file a report." What happens next is up to the parties involved.
Hilchey, Roundy and Wood are currently serving on the committee.
According to the Ethics Committee page on the Town Web site (www.raymondnh.gov), "The proper operation of democratic government requires that public servants be independent, impartial, and responsible to the people; that government decisions and policy be made through the proper channels of governmental structure; that public office not be used for personal gain; and that the public have confidence in the integrity of its government members to perform their duties without conflicts between their private interests and those of the citizens they serve... The purpose of this code is to establish guidelines for the ethical standards of conduct for public servants...It is important that the public have confidence in the integrity of its government and that public servants have an opportunity to protect their personal reputations."
After the candidates had left the table, resident Peter Buckingham, who had earlier indicated he wanted to ask a question, instead issued a statement regarding the committee. Buckingham stated that anyone running for the Ethics Committee needed to understand that being brought up before that committee can ruin a person's life.
He spoke about Frank Bourque and the late Frank Bishop and said that bringing them before the Ethics Committee had impacted them to such an extent that neither wanted to run for a town position again. Buckingham said that "people on boards and committees need to understand that their actions have ramifications."
Hilchey and Wood did not comment. Bourque was not in the audience.
(Editor’s note: "Regarding Frank Bishop, in 2006 Richard Flibotte, a local developer, offered to donate 6.336 acres with a conservation easement to the Town of Raymond. Bishop, a selectman at the time, gathered 60 signatures on a citizen petition requesting a warrant article be added to the 2007 ballot to vote on “the proposed acquisition of land.” In March 2007, Warrant Article 27, to accept a donation of 6.336 acres of Open Space within the Madison Avenue Subdivision, was passed 1,063 in favor to 333 opposed. In June 2007 Flibotte filed seven ethics charges (A-1,2,3,5 & 7C) and B(2) & G against Bishop. The Ethics Committee found that five charges would be addressed. In February 2008 Bishop was found in violation of the town’s ethics policy in three of five complaints (A-2, A-7C and B-2). In 2012 Bishop did indeed serve again, and was appointed to serve on the Conservation Commission.)
(“Regarding Frank Bourque, in August 2011 the new town manager, Craig Wheeler, moved into a residence in Raymond and Selectman Bourque left a bottle of W&J Graham’s 1994 Vintage Port sitting on top of his Barnes and Noble business card with “Welcome to Raymond” written on it. Cheryl Killam (owner of Raymond Area News but acting as a Raymond resident) visited the Wheelers’ new house the same day and observed the bottle of port and business card on the porch. She filed three ethics charges (A-8, 9 and E) against Bourque. Bourque was not found to be in violation of the town’s ethics policy." He continued his service as selectman until his term ended.)
Buckingham also offered a question for the candidates for Selectmen and Planning Board as to what they would do differently to make the Economic Development Committee more effective bringing businesses and jobs to town.
Selectman candidates are Robin Jordan, Bernie Peer, George Plante, Carol Watjus, incumbent Jack Barnes and former selectman William Hoitt; all were in attendance. Two seats are open.
Hoitt said he thinks Raymond needs more economic development. He said previous business interests were dissuaded by the lack of sewers and what he called over-regulation.
Barnes, a former longtime State Senator, pointed out that economic development would help the taxpayers. He said that in the past, too few businesspersons took part in the committee, and added that Ernie Creveling who heads up Community Planning and Development, is a good leader and with the participation of the Planning Board, this may be changing.
Watjus said she would look at what other towns have done and are doing to attract new businesses and at the same time look into the lack of a town sewer.
Plante said he would add the Planning Board to the effort as well as the Selectmen and check out what other towns are doing, while Peer said he would engage in conferences on town government and work at retaining the rural feel of Raymond. He said he would work with Creveling and his staff and agreed the sewer issue needs to be explored, adding that perhaps it is time to start correcting it on a small scale.
Jordan said she is running for the post because of her concerns about property taxes and residential and commercial development. She said a new police station and addition to the elementary school, both on the March warrant as bonds, need to happen to attract more business. She added that increased development needs to be commercial rather than residential.
Two Planning Board seats are open. Brad Reed and Alissa Welch have filed for them; Welch did not attend Candidates’ Night.
Reed said changes are needed to what he termed Raymond's reputation of being a difficult town for applicants to get through the Planning Board process.
Dana Hanson asked what they would do about the $1.5 million in uncollected taxes due to Raymond, Jordan said they should be looked at on a case-by-case basis but added the town needs to be sensitive to people who are having difficulties. However, in those situations when taxes could be paid, the town should go after them, she said.
Peer noted that the selectmen review outstanding taxes and he agreed they need to be sensitive to difficult situations and should handle the matter on a case-by-case basis. He suggested that taking a property for taxes doesn't necessarily bring in the money owed the Town, although there are properties that could be sold to recoup the taxes owed.
Plante agreed about looking at the issue on a case-by-case basis and Watjus said people with difficulties should be given a year or two to resolve their issues but thereafter the town needed to move to get the money to help reduce everyone else's taxes.
Barnes said 98 percent of residents pay their taxes but he didn't want the town to be in the real estate business. Some properties could be sold but the town needs to be compassionate and should be making deals with people to get the taxes paid.
Hoitt called any town decision a tough one and pointed out the tannery hides buried in town make many properties difficult to sell. He noted that if a property is found to be contaminated, the Town has to pay for clean-up. He said he didn't want to see people thrown out into the street.
Asked what kind of industry over the next five years the candidates want to see brought to Raymond, Richard Rousseau, a 22-year-old running as a write-in for a three-year Budget Committee seat, said he wanted to see more small businesses. He also said the sewer issue needs to be considered and possibly corrected.
Three seats are open on the Budget Committee, none contested. One seat has no candidates filed.
Elisabeth McGovern, running for a one-year Budget Committee seat, is just finishing up her first year on the committee and said she thought small businesses, restaurants and retail are needed, along with larger industry.
Joshua Mann, running for a two-year term on the Budget Committee and currently serving as the committee’s chair, said he would assist voters with the prudent distribution of public funds while looking at both town and school budgets to make sure the best decisions are being made, Exit 4 property should be developed and the town infrastructure and funding of the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) must happen before people will be attracted to Raymond, he added.
Jordan said restaurants and small businesses should be brought to the downtown area and commercial development to the Exit 4 area. Peer said trying to find another distribution company such as Walmart would be good for Raymond but he also thought the town needs manufacturing jobs.
Plante said there is room for industrial development but small business is needed too, and Watjus agreed. Barnes said the town needs businesses that will hire local people, and that any businesses that come to Raymond need to be environmentally clean. He said Exit 4 will get developed but needs sewer, and Hoitt agreed, noting there are several good locations for manufacturing in Raymond but the businesses need to be environmentally clean.
Reed said small business are needed in town but there needs to be a wide variety so that Raymond would be recession proof. He suggested high tech businesses but said that bringing in businesses means the town would need housing. He said the town would have to preserve greenspace as well.
Hoitt suggested offices would be good to attract, and Watjus said more information should be made available about space and resources for new businesses. Peer suggested that recreational businesses might be a good area to explore, and Jordan added that trying to attract green business would be a good idea.
The candidates were also asked their views about the construction of the proposed $6.8 million police station, a bond article on the March warrant.
Jordan said it was long overdue. Peer said he supported it, especially as it meets both present and future needs. Plante supported it but Watjus said she wonders if the timing is right, given the bond article to construct an addition at the elementary school, also on the March warrant, and the underfunded CIP.
Barnes said the safety and security issues that would be resolved by the proposed police station are key, along with the fact that the police department had worked hard to reduce the cost to $6.8 million, which addresses everything - construction and equipment and furnishings. He pointed out putting it off a year would add up to a half million dollars to the cost. He also noted the vacated police station would offer space to house some portions of town government.
Hoitt said he supports the police proposal and said it is important because the town doesn't have to purchase any land for it.
Buckingham asked whether the Fire Department would be able to use the vacated space, to which Barnes answered yes, as well as town hall using some space there as well.
Those who have previously served in the post they are seeking were asked what they would like to accomplish this time that they didn't during their previous appointment.
Hoitt said the services the town is providing are not as good as they should be and the building inspector position needs to be improved. Barnes said he wanted to get a viable Economic Development Committee formed and active, and find ways to bring more revenue and tax dollars for the town. Peer called the CIP eye-opening and said that all of the past neglect that failed to replace and repair town equipment and infrastructure needs to be addressed.
Asked about large residential housing developments coming to Raymond, Jordan said there is room for growth in town but open space and multi-family dwellings must be looked at very carefully. Peer said that if zoning allows such development, it should be supported but those unhappy about it should go about seeking changes to the zoning regulations.
Plante said large residential developments not restricted to persons 55 and older will add pressure on the schools, and Watjus agreed, saying large residential housing developments strain the town's resources and services so she favors single family and over 55 development.
Barnes reminded the audience that if new businesses are brought into Raymond, housing will have to be available and said the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment would listen to those who oppose large residential development and come up with a mix of housing types for developments that are approved. Hoitt added that it is hard for a town to tell people what they can do with the land they own.