Candidates make their pitch to be mayor

  • Sheila Gilmour speaks in a mayoral debate Monday evening at Greenfield Community Television studios. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Brickett Allis speaks in a mayoral debate Monday evening at Greenfield Community Television studios. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Roxann Wedegartner speaks in a mayoral debate Monday evening at Greenfield Community Television studios. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The mayoral debate Monday evening at Greenfield Community Television studios. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Roxann Wedegartner, Sheila Gilmour and Brickett Allis participate in a mayoral debate Monday evening at Greenfield Community Television studios. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The mayoral debate Monday evening at Greenfield Community Television studios. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Roxann Wedegartner, Sheila Gilmour and Brickett Allis participate in a mayoral debate Monday evening at Greenfield Community Television studios. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 10/8/2019 1:01:49 AM

GREENFIELD — In the weeks ahead of the city’s Nov. 5 mayoral election, candidates Sheila Gilmour and Roxann Wedegartner, as well as write-in candidate Brickett Allis, tried to set themselves apart Monday during a debate at Greenfield Community Television’s studios.

“Running a city of any size, anywhere, is challenging. We have many challenges ahead of us,” said Wedegartner, a veteran of local politics who was the top vote-getter in last month’s preliminary election with 1,236 votes. Wedegartner has spent more than 20 years serving in Greenfield, including 16 on the Planning Board and nearly a decade on the School Committee.

The second candidate, Gilmour, a first-term city councilor, came in second with 1,011 votes.

Gilmour touted eight years of experience as a Russian analyst in the Air Force and a master’s degree in public policy and administration from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“I began leading people early in my career,” Gilmour said. “I have the right mix of skills, experience and values to make Greenfield thrive while maintaining the small-town feel that we all love.”

A third candidate, Allis, another longtime local politician who has served 19 years, lost by 54 votes in the preliminary election.

“I have served on every City Council subcommittee,” he said. “I served as president, as vice-president and its parliamentarian, with honor and integrity.”

Following the election results, Allis announced that he intended to continue his race as a write-in candidate.

The Greenfield Recorder, which sponsored Monday’s debate, included Allis “in the spirit of inclusion and fairness,” according to a Sept. 28 editorial published ahead of the event.

Throughout the evening’s hour and a half-long engagement, Wedegartner and Gilmour seemed to represent similar views on Greenfield’s politics.

Allis, the outlier, put forward comparatively different perspectives to the seven questions that were asked. For example, in regards to whether the city should build a new library — a controversial question that will be voted on by residents next month — Allis rejected the proposal in favor of alternative solutions.

“We, as a city, could decide to build a smaller building, which fits our city better than a building that’s a quarter of the size of Home Depot. We could go back to the drawing board,” he said.

In rebuttal, Wedegartner countered Allis’ proposal by referencing a report commissioned by the city that estimated repairs would exceed that of a new library. She argued that the estimates the city received are accurate and should be heeded.

“In order to do a project like that, you need to hire a project manager,” she said. “That is the person I would trust. That is the person who gave us those numbers.”

Gilmour echoed Wedegartner’s sentiments.

“We spent tax money to pay for these estimates, and if we’re going to disregard them, I would ask why we spent it in the first place,” she said. “We need to trust those people, and what they came back with.”

Unlike the black-and-white opinions of a new library, the debate surrounding how candidates would tackle school funding took on a nuanced tone. Whoever is elected mayor will sit on the Greenfield School Committee.

Wedegartner stressed the importance of “open communication.”

“I am the only candidate who has school committee experience. As mayor and a voting member of the School Committee, I would use that experience to bridge (municipal and school perspectives),” Wedegartner said. Successful schools, she continued, bolster a strong economy and encourage new residents, “To come and live and open new businesses.”

“We must become the education destination of Franklin County,” Wedegartner said.

Gilmour took a broader approach to the question by highlighting structural inequities that drive educational inequalities, especially in a rural community like that of Franklin County.

“When you’re paying for education out of property taxes, what happens is that poorer neighborhoods will have less funding than richer neighborhoods. This is a problem that needs to be fixed at the state level,” Gilmour said. “Funding models are very Boston-centric. ... We have to make a little bit of noise — not be rude — but let them know that this isn’t working for our students. We can’t keep on taxing our residents. There is going to be a fiscal cliff.”

To help make local schools run more efficiently, Allis suggested having an audit to figure out how money is being spent “and where it’s going.”

“I believe that’s an appropriate step to take,” Allis said. “I do have a dog in the fight. Before I would be out of (mayoral) office, my daughter would be entering the public schools.”

Other questions posed by Joan Livingston, the Recorder’s editor-in-chief and the debate’s moderator, ranged from when it’s appropriate for a mayor to use the executive power of veto, to whether redistricting the City Council is a good idea (all three expressed openness) to the role national politics has in local government.

On the question of national politics, the candidates displayed a swath of opinions.

Allis referenced three topics the City Council recently weighed in on — one to impeach President Donald Trump, another on the ROE Act, a state act that has to do with abortion, and a third “safe city” ordinance.

“They did not belong on the council agenda at all,” Allis said.

Gilmour provided a counter perspective: “Democracy is tedious. Democracy is time-consuming. It’s supposed to be. If we become too autocratic, we’re not listening to the people in our precinct. If they want us to take up an issue that requires a lot of time, that’s what we signed up for.”

Wedegartner referenced a recent City Council meeting on the city’s end of fiscal year budget transfers that failed to reach a quorum. Conversely, she noted that quorums were met for each of the meetings related to national issues.

“Excuses don’t get the work done. It’s very, very important that the City Council focuses on issues important to Greenfield, particularly those that hit our pockets,” Wedegartner said.

A question about economic strategy drew varied responses.

“Economically, Greenfield is at a tipping point,” Livingston said. “Decisions made by the next mayor will impact the fabric of the city for years to come. What is your economic development strategy — one that embraces downtown or expands elsewhere?”

If elected, Wedegartner said she’d create a marketing organization within municipal government to promote the city’s more attractive elements to potential businesses — it’s location “at the crossroads” of the Mohawk Trail and Route 91, rail service, strong internet and proximity to higher education.

Additionally, she suggested making “tweaks” to the city’s zoning plan, especially along the French King corridor, broadening small commercial development to be “by right” instead of “by permit.”

“It’s not an either/or situation,” Wedegartner said. “We can have a viable robust economy with both retail and commercial businesses.”

Allis advocated for building on what the city already has.

“I believe we need to start at the foundation level. We need to allow people to work in the jobs they want to have, here,” he said. In his time on the City Council, Allis said he’s met business owners in precision manufacturing who say, ‘“We have plenty of jobs, but can’t find the people to work in them.’”

To that end, if elected, Allis said he’d promote “A program that trains our kids who aren’t going to go directly to college, or a two-year school, to get them the training to do those jobs so that they can stay here. Those jobs aren’t subject to a $15 minimum wage. They earn that much to start.”

For Gilmour, embracing the city’s economic future begins with a change in perspective.

“We need to focus our efforts on services, experiences, recreation and tourism because those are things you can’t replicate in an online model,” Gilmour said. As for existing retail stores, “We’re not going to leave them twisting in the wind. … If we put less of a focus on bringing more in, it will be easier to (support) the ones that we have.”

While different in their approaches, all of the candidates expressed a commitment to the city and asked for residents to vote for them.

Greenfield’s mayoral election will be held Nov. 5. at Greenfield High School from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The last day for residents to register to vote is Oct. 16. The clerk’s office, where registration is conducted, is open that day until 8 p.m. For more information, visit the city’s website at greenfield-ma.gov.

Andy Castillo is features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com. Melina Bourdeau, who covers Greenfield, can be reached at mbourdeau@recorder.com.




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