Candidates speak at public forum ahead of Town Elections

Mar 17, 2017

Preceding the Town Election, candidates for Select Board and School Committee seats remarked on their backgrounds and answered audience-submitted questions at Candidates Night on March 16.

The aforementioned committees will be the only two contested races on the April 4 ballot. Incumbent Stanley Mickelson and challenger Lorri-Ann Miller are both vying for the Select Board opening. Incumbents Christopher Garth and Carol Karafotis, as well as newcomer Kathleen Amaral are running for the two openings on the School Committee.

Here’s what the candidates had to say:

On implementing the results of an economic development study.

Miller: We need to work more with [the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth], Bristol Community College, and even New Bedford Vocational High School. We need to bring the Industrial Development Commission back, and we need to give them a budget.

Mickelson: We can’t be fighting one board or this board. At the end of the day what we need to do is bring revenue into this town. We need to exercise a different attitude, and we need to get together as a team rather than fight each other from one board to another.

On supporting Dartmouth’s schools.

Mickelson: The School Committee has a long-range plan. I think we need to listen to their suggestions and of course their needs and demands for classrooms. I want to hear what the professionals have to say, and then we can go from there. Debt exclusions don’t work well in this town. We need to be very creative, but we do need to help the schools.

Miller: Our expenses are going up not only in the School Department, but in all departments. We need to find businesses that are clean, safe, and healthy to come into this town to increase our tax base.

On the most important issue facing the Dartmouth school system.

Garth: Without a question, the biggest issue facing the school system is the issue of school finance. New growth is down this year. Dartmouth is $2,500 behind the state average when it comes to per pupil expenditures. I think that’s a reasonable ask for the community to reach into its pockets and get us to the state average in at least what we spend in the classroom.

Amaral: Funding is a big issue when you look at the budget. The initiatives that were sort of off the table because of funding this year, they’re so vital to the guiding priorities of the strategic plan for the district. I would agree that funding is the most challenging issue the district is facing and will continue to face as it stands.

Karafotis: In the proposed budget, $700,000 was cut before it even went to the town or it went to a public hearing. It’s always going to be money, it always has been and I don’t think that’s going to change, but we have to find creative ways to deal with these issues.

On addressing and assessing the needs of school buildings.

Karafotis: I really would like to see what the professionals have to say when they come into town to look at the buildings. We know the Potter School is going to be crowded if we don’t do something because there’s been more building in the north end of town.

Garth: I too look forward to the master plan. Our buildings are the same age. Potter, DeMello, and Quinn opened within three years of each other. Can you imagine having to replace all of those schools at once? You think a debt exclusion is hard now? If the town wants to avoid that problem, a plan needs to be in place.

Amaral: It will be important to see that plan by the team that’s going to assess the buildings and formulate priorities. Certainly, with Potter School needing some space somehow.

On the Dartmouth Police Department's proposed police station.

Mickelson: It’s one of the most important decisions this town is going to make. I was a member of the [original] Police Chief’s subcommittee, and I’ve watched the Police Chief’s Advisory Board very very carefully. The board did their job, they vetted properly, and I strongly believe the town is ready for a new police station. We have a decision to make: Do we want to allow the police department to do its everyday work out protecting our town in basically used classrooms? We all saw the water leak the other day. We desperately need to send the right message to our police department that it’s important that we support them.

Miller: I’m on the Police Chief’s Advisory Committee this time around, and believe me, we vetted every single inch of every single possible issue we could think of. The station presently is in a temporary building and is only good for at most 10 more years. [On March 16] it poured into that building and the building is going to be susceptible to mold. We need to get the police department out of that building and get them into a building that will last.

On selecting candidates for top appointed positions.

Mickelson: I work for a plumbing and heating company. We have 140 employees and seven stores. I run all the retail stores. I’ve done that for almost 30 years. I know about hiring, firing, taking care of people, and negotiating contracts. I know how to vet people property, do due diligence, and the need to listen and listen more.

Miller: At [the Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District] I served on a search committee to hire a new executive director. It was a nationwide search. We did hire someone out of Virginia. I was also on a search committee to hire a town planner. I have an extensive background in hiring and firing having served on that search committee.

On stabilizing tax rates.

Mickelson: It’s all about balance and it’s all about money. No one likes taxes, however I think our tax rate – $9.70 for residential and $15.40 for commercial – is a pretty good rate for a town our size and what we offer. People honestly want to move to this town. It all has to do with revenue and bringing cash in.

Miller: The tax rate in this town right now is pretty phenomenal compared to the tax rates of other communities. Again, it all comes down to how much money is coming into the town. We have to fight to get state funding, grants and stabilize our tax rate to maintain services. We need to increase our industrial and business off space, we need to bring in clean businesses to help offset the tax rate.

On changing one aspect of town government.

Miller: Bringing in more public input. I want more input from the public. I want them to have a bigger voice. It’s very important to listen to citizens and hear what they have to say. It’s easy to sit here and listen but are you really hearing what the public are saying?

Mickelson: There seems to be a combative type of issue on boards and committees. Everyone has their own little serfdom. We need to collaborate, we need to put our hands around each other and collaborate together for one common goal: economic development which will bring more money into this town.

On continuing to provide quality education in the face of potential federal cuts.

Garth: I don’t think this is as theoretical as we might want to hope. Fortunately, Dartmouth has a history of relying on the great people we have in Dartmouth and continuing to do more with the resources we have. In the worst case, we’d still rely on that trend. We don’t want to have to rely on it though, and rather than say how to deal with the inevitable, I should say I we should show the leadership in this country and demand that change does not take place. I do think there’s a rising tide of people there, especially if you have followed the federal budget predictions announced today.

Amaral: We do have a lot of input and committed people, but that advocacy on the legislative level is so important for our funds for education. I can’t stress that enough it’s so important so I hope it does not happen, but it’s so important to keep an eye out and advocate on every level to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Karafotis: We have to get out there now and make sure how people feel about what’s going on and make our voices heard. If this ever happens it’s going to be devastating to our schools.

On other primary objectives other than financial matters.

Garth: Continuing our growth in terms of academic performance and having strong curriculum leadership.

Amaral: Developing social and emotional learning and safe schools. From outside school and in school. Kids come in and they are stressing to pass that test, whether disability or anxiety related, we need safe and supportive schools that include social and emotional curriculum support.

Karafotis To me its always the same thing: teaching and learning. I want to make sure teachers have resources, and they can talk to each other, collaborate. We’re building a stairway of learning. And social and emotional issues – Dartmouth has done a great job focusing on that in the classroom. Up through the high school its of so much importance because kids come to school with all kinds of issues. If you see a child misbehave, there’s a reason for that. It’s our responsibility as professionals to figure out what’s going on and what to do to help. And continuing to hire the best people for the job.

The ballot will also include the following uncontested candidates: Robert Michaud is running for the Assessor seat; Wendy Garf-Lipp and Suzanne E. McDonald are running for Library Trustees; Thomas Hardman is running for the Board of Health; Joel Avila is running for the Planning Board; Sherri Tetrault is running for the Parks and Recreation Board; and George Alix is running for the Housing Authority board.

The polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. on April 4. For more information about the election, contact the Town Clerk's office.