Litchfield Residents Meet the Candidates

March 8, 2019

 

by Doug Robinson

Litchfield residents turned out in numbers to listen, learn, and participate at the Community School Connection Committee’s Meet the Candidate’s event at Campbell High School. The event was held in conjunction with the Litchfield Education Association and led by Litchfield Town Moderator John Regan.

“The Community School Connection Committee is a group of volunteer residents who have children in the Litchfield school system. We have come together joined by common beliefs, concerns, and desires to improve the duration system for all Litchfield students,” writes CSCC.

Candidates running for the offices of board of selectmen, budget committee, and school board were all in attendance.

For the office of Litchfield Board of Selectmen, five candidates are running on the March ballot for the two open positions: John Brunelle, Keri Douglas, Kevin Lynch, Andrew Santom, and F. Robert Leary. Two candidates will be selected for the open three-year terms.

The budget committee candidates, who are running uncontested, are Jennifer Bourque, Andrew Cutter, and William G. Hayes. Two of the three candidates running will be elected to a two three-year term, and one will be elected to a one-year term.

The school board candidates are Brian Bourque, Keri Douglas, and Christina Harrison. Of these three candidates, two will be elected for the two open seats.

BOS candidate John Brunelle stated that he has been involved with various Litchfield boards since 2001, including being a selectman since 2009. He believes in “transparency” in government and feels that the town faces a lot of challenges ahead, especially involving the police and fire departments.

Keri Douglas has signed the line to ask for your vote both as a member of the board of selectman and as a member of the school board. To her credit, she was the only candidate on the stage that elected to answer and give her views on every question that was posed by the audience. She said that her experiences as a construction project manager have provided her with valuable training. “I wish to use my skills to benefit the town.” She also commented that the town needed to “work together” and that she was “very proud of what we, the town, has accomplished to benefit everybody.”

The next speaker was F. Robert Leary. He explained his heritage of lifelong residence in Litchfield. “I am running because a lot of people asked.” He cited the need for “fresh blood and new ideas. I do not have any agenda and I only want to help the town. My style is to sit down and have a cup of coffee.”

Kevin Lynch, reading from his prepared speech, spoke of having been born and raised in Litchfield. “I want to give back the knowledge and experience that I have gained over the years. That is why I am running.” He rose through the ranks of the fire department to the position of deputy chief. He was the building inspector for Milford for 20 years, and then building inspector in Litchfield “to be closer to home.” He continued, “It is my opinion that what qualifies me to serve…is my extensive knowledge of town government, service and devotion to a great town, and overall understanding of town operations.”

The final BOS candidate to speak was Andrew Santom. He said he served the town from 2006-2009 as a selectman. Santom commented that he was a “no nonsense” person who likes to keep debates short. He supports having the fire chief appointed rather than elected and that he believes it would be a “nightmare without a town administrator. The town is too big now.”

Budget committee candidate Jennifer Bourque explained “while I recognize that I’m running unopposed, I thought it still important to take the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my background.” Currently, she serves on the budget committee, along with the PTO, as Box Top coordinator, as special events coordinator for soccer, and a coach for the U10 and U14 soccer teams. She believes that she really “understands what it is to live here” and she believes in “fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget which is fair to our taxpayers.”

Candidate Andrew Cutter believes one of the responsibilities of a town leader on the budget committee is to “take a hard look at the numbers and analyze wants versus needs. I am a straight shooter, and I have tough conversations. This is my way of giving back, helping out.”

William G. Hayes, also running unopposed, wishes to “give back.” As a lifelong Litchfield resident, he called himself as a “fiscal conservative who is concerned about budgeting and about controlled spending.”

The school board candidates spoke last.

Brian Bourque, reading from a prepared text, said that he was seeking re-election because he has a “proven track record of building teams and delivering results. In the past six years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of and, in many cases, lead significant changes for our school district. He explained that his proudest accomplishments have been the “implementation of one-to-one technology and the significant changes to the administrative team including our new superintendent, business administrator and curriculum director, in addition to the principals at both GMS and CHS.” His focus going forward will be to “provide transparency to the taxpayer in regards to the school district priorities as well as how to balance the declining enrollments with the offerings” at Campbell while meeting the needs of Litchfield’s college-bound students. He said we need to make sure “our students are life ready.”

Christina Harrison was the final candidate to speak. She, too, came prepared with a written statement regarding her candidacy. “In my time on the board, I have advocated for our students and have developed many positive relationships with teachers and staff. I have been on the role of communicator by creating a presence on social media and by being available to answer questions and hear concerns from our families and community. I will continue to work to increase transparency and solicit feedback to ensure we are on the right track. Our schools play a large role in our small community. One of my goals is to strengthen town-school connections, both with town government, and our taxpayer as a whole.”

With the introductory speeches completed, the audience took control with the asking of questions, which were written and presented to the moderator for his review.

The following questions were asked of the school board candidates:

  • What is your position and how would you resolve the contract dispute with support staff throughout the district?

All three school board candidates commented that they “valued” or supported the support staff, however, none offered any type of plan as to how fix the current contract dispute.

  • What role should student input have in the school board process?

All three candidates believed students should have a say. Douglas said, “They are our stakeholders” while Bourque said, that he would “like to see more.” Douglas commented, “More perspectives make for better decisions.”

  • Resident Ava Webber approached the microphone and asked, “How many support meetings were held before the (talks) broke down?

Bourque said, “four or five.”

  • Many communities are having a problem with teacher absenteeism. How do we keep it under control? Is it a problem in Litchfield?

Harrison commented that “students do not learn as much” when teachers are away from their students. Something is lost. We have good subs and that our “teachers earn every day of their sick days and are entitled to them. Bourque said they [the teachers] are contractually entitled. Douglas commented that the district needs to take a look at how subs are being pulled. None of the candidates answered the question asked.

  • How important is the music department and why?

All the candidates agreed that the music program in Litchfield was important to the education of the students. Douglas said that music on a scale of one to 10 was a “10.”

The board of selectmen candidates were asked the following:

  • Are you for or against the fire chief article?

Santom said that he believed the BOS should “hire” the fire chief. Leary commented, “No one should stand up here and tell you. I go back and forth.” Lynch said, “Put it out there, and see how they feel.” Douglas commented, “I am on the side of appointed.” Brunelle said, “100 percent appointed position.”

  • What is your idea for improvements on the board of selectmen?

Lynch commented that he believes in “openness to communication and not to jump into everything.” Brunelle spoke of transparency and the thinking of better long-term planning. Douglas said the board needed more openness as well as long-term planning. Leary followed with “openness” as well as “working together in a proactive manner.”

  • What is the biggest joy and challenge for you during your tenure?

Bourque: joy-technology; challenge-GMS needs.

Brunelle: joy-fire department; challenge-infrastructure with roads.

Douglas: joy-fire station; challenge-school building and grounds.

Harrison: joy-kindergarten; challenge-contracts, and slowing “myself” down.

Santom: joy-hiring of town administrator; challenge-”riff” between LFD and LPD.

Lynch:   joy-unanswered; challenge; unanswered … it is about the “tax dollar” and the future.

Bourque: agreed with Lynch.

  • What is Litchfield’s single biggest issue in town?
  1. Bourque: declining school enrollment and aid from state

Brunelle: tax base

Douglas: long-term planning on both school board and BOS

Lynch: taxes

Bourque: how to continue the education with declining revenues from the state.

  • Would you like to see Litchfield stay small or hope the town expands and bring more revenue here?

Bourque: stay small

Douglas: need to find a way to welcome new houses; growth still happens

Leary: wants to keep attractive. “Don’t eat up pretty land.” I am against a moratorium. This will be a big challenge for future.

  • Litchfield has a history for not passing funding for Special Ed. How would you support funding to support all students?

Harrison: “We forget those kids over there need much more money” for their education. “When students do not get what they need, it affects every student in the classroom. When we give kids money they learn. We are legally required to provide (an education for) them. Instead of considering (these students) separate, “they are students.”