GROTON — A third political party has formed to challenge Democrats and Republicans for seats on the Town Council.
Formed by members of both major parties and unaffiliated voters, the Groton Independents — separate from the statewide Independent Party — are running five petitioning candidates as a “middle ground” for Groton voters.
CT Examiner spoke with Bill Furgueson, Lauren Gauthier, Bruce McDermott and Scott Westervelt about their priorities for Groton. Genevieve Cerf is also running for Town Council as a Groton Independent, but could not be reached for an interview.
CT Examiner: Is a lack of housing a problem in Groton, and what is the Town Council’s role in addressing it?
Bill Furgueson: As a town, we’ve met the minimum [amount of “affordable” housing to be exempt from 8-30g], but there’s definitely a lack of housing, especially for the people coming to work at [Electric Boat]. We want those people to live in Groton rather than just working here and living somewhere else. We want them to live, work, be entertained, and start a family in Groton. So yes, I do think there’s an opportunity for more housing.
I’ve always said it’s the role of the Town Council to bring in developers that are appropriate for each neighborhood. I believe in small, localized development that’s appropriate for the neighborhood. You don’t need to hit a home run and build a major housing development as a magic bullet. We need to have housing spread out and appropriate, and for neighbors to be involved and have a sense of what’s going on, and transparency throughout the process.
Lauren Gauthier: I think it’s obvious there’s a housing issue. I think the question that’s up in the air is what kind of housing. That’s where the Town Council would have the most say in terms of selling the town assets to developers. That’s what we’re seeing with these projects with the closed schools — is the council using their role in being able to dictate a development and determine the type of housing that goes in a given neighborhood?
Bruce McDermott: I have people walk by my house every day, and every once in a while they stop and ask if there’s any apartments for rent around here. Housing is a problem in Groton, particularly so because of Electric Boat’s plans to hire.
What the council has to do with that, I don’t know. I think Electric Boat and the town should get together to figure out if there’s any way to create more housing. Back in the old days, the mills up in Norwich would provide housing for their workers because they had the same problem. I think that could be an avenue for Electric Boat and the town to work together.
We also have a lot of places here that are rented on a short-term basis. If those were disallowed, except for somebody who lives there, which most of them aren’t, that would open up a lot of housing for people who want to rent full time. Planning and Zoning has done about 90 percent, but hasn’t given it to the council to set up public hearings. But when the council gets that, they should put together an ordinance regulating short term rentals.
Scott Westervelt: I do believe it’s a problem, but I don’t think it’s as critical as some make it out to be. I think we need to encourage development of affordable housing, as well as single-family and two-family starts, which we’ve been seriously lacking the last several years.
CT Examiner: Do you think the tension on the town council has gotten in the way of getting work done, and how can the council work through that?
Furgueson: Obviously there’s tension on the Town Council. My feeling on that is, that’s them. For me, I’m a person who can work well with many different people. If I’m elected, I’m going to do my best to make sure there’s an amicable tone and that people work together.
But I’m not going to say anything about the tension because I’m not on the Town Council now. People talk about it all the time, and it’s something that bothers a lot of community members, but it’s not something I can control now. People who know me know I’m a very respectful person, and I’m going to bring that to the Town Council if I’m elected.
Gauthier: I think it’s very apparent that their inability to focus on the actual issues of the town instead of their interpersonal issues has gotten in the way of good governance and being able to move along projects that would help Groton. That’s apparent to pretty much everyone who looks on.
The way to solve that is to change the council, which is what the Groton Independents are trying to do. The five candidates we have are all very experienced in local government, and we’re all solutions-oriented. We’re all ready to put aside partisan politics. We don’t do anything based on ego. We’re just here for the community. That’s how you’re going to change the council, is by getting rid of the members who are using it as a tool for their own personal, petty squabbles.
McDermott: There’s no question it’s gotten in the way of getting work done. Anybody who watches the council meetings can’t help but come away with that. There’s a lot of acrimony for sure. How to fix it, you just have to get people on the council who don’t feel that way. Right now, you see a narcissistic display from some people on almost a constant basis. It’s been pretty unbelievable. We need to change the people on the council to eliminate the acrimony and get something done.
Westervelt: Yes, it has affected our ability to get things done. I do feel that people really need to think about what’s best for everyone, and know that we’re all there to work together. I think that’ll help cut some of that tension, that people understand we all have the good of Groton in mind.
CT Examiner: What are the biggest challenges the Town Council will have to address in the coming years?
Furgueson: Obviously housing is very important. I think, as a former educator, that making sure we put forth the best schools with the best teachers and appropriate class sizes is also a challenge we’re going to face. Because if we do have an increase in housing, we have to make sure we have the resources in the schools for the new families.
I think we need to look at our carbon footprint, and at making sure we’re as prepared as possible for another Superstorm Sandy, and that it doesn’t impact people along the coast. There’s people who say, “Oh you’re only worried about wealthy people,” but there’s other parts of Groton along the coast that would be terribly impacted.
The biggest thing is being fiscally responsible. Our taxes aren’t low in Groton, and we need to make sure that taxes are going to a government that’s run efficiently, and there’s no waste or overspending. I just want to make sure that as a Town Council, we look over the budget carefully. I don’t mind paying taxes because I want the fire department to come save me. I want kids who go to schools in Groton to have the best education, but I want to make sure the money we pay is used in the most effective way.
Gauthier: Economic development. And I think part of that is affordable housing, it’s tied together. Groton needs to grow its business community and diversify it. Kind of come up to speed with modern times in a lot of ways. We have Mystic, which is a great anchor. I don’t see why we can’t have some of that vibrant business community in downtown Groton or in the city on Thames Street.
We’re also a coastal community, so we want to be sure we’re making investments now to keep our families safe from climate change, to keep our infrastructure and public assets safe. Just being a more future-focused, resiliency-minded community whenever we’re making decisions and making investments.
McDermott: The biggest thing is there’s been a quest for unbridled development, and as a consequence they’ve put together these projects that have gotten the citizens upset. They wanted to put a data center, and a whole bunch of people got together and said, “We don’t want a data center here because of all the problems that would cause right next to a residential zone.”
What they should do is go ahead and put together some developments if you think you want to do that, but then have a public hearing right out of the box. Don’t wait until they have a contract signed. And the contracts and agreements they have put together are just atrocious. The people who are running on the Independent ticket are experienced with reading contracts. I have for many years as a vice president of an insurance company, and also in business.
You don’t want to put together development that’s going to cause the citizens to revolt. Simple as that. So you need people on the council who know how to read a contract.
Westervelt: The ever-increasing taxes. I also think we need to take care of the town-owned properties we have so they can be sold.