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Debate Was Enlightening – Despite Blackout

Four Candidates for Mayor Square Off at High School

For Ledyard residents, Tuesday’s political debate was an opportunity to witness all four of the town’s mayoral candidates in action as they tackled such issues as economic development, taxes, unemployment and “getting along.”

All candidates made an impression, mostly positive, as they recited their respective business and government experience, their accomplishments managing people and budgets, and even proposed some new ideas.

Democratic candidate Anthony Saccone, for example, proposed a jobs summit in response to an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent in Ledyard in August. Similar to a jobs fair, the summit would attempt to bring together local workers and large employers in the region.

Petitioning candidate Rob Lawrence suggested that a water turbine in the river at Gales Ferry might help reduce the cost of electricity, which in turn could make the town more attractive to business.

That was the first mention of electricity, but not the last. When the lights in the auditorium suddenly went out with about 15 minutes to go in the debate, a member of the audience yelled “solar panels” – a reference to one of Mayor Fred B. Allyn Jr.’s signature accomplishments in his first term.

The 90-minute debate was sponsored by The Bulletin and monitored by the paper’s editorial page editor, Ray Hackett. About 100 people attended the debate, which was held in the Ledyard High School auditorium.

The tone of the evening was civil and respectful, despite Hackett’s initial question, which made a reference to “people not getting along very well.” He asked whether the candidates felt that a charter revision might help clarify the respective roles of the mayor and town council.

Republican endorsed candidate John Rodolico, a veteran of five terms on the town council, used the question as a chance to speak to the importance of communication and open government. It was a theme he would repeat throughout the debate, along with his call for greater efficiency and professionalism in town government.

“This never was a problem before when I served on the town council,” Rodolico said.

Saccone agreed that communication between the branches of town government is imperative. “In your home, in my home, it’s all about communication,” he said. He added that one of his goals would be to have the mayor’s office and town council work together more closely.

Lawrence agreed. “We’re all in this together,” he said. “We’re all about doing what’s best for Ledyard.”

Allyn, however, said communication “requires listening as well as talking,” and accepting ideas “even when they’re not your own ideas.”

None of the candidates favored a charter revision.

One of the toughest questions of the night came from Ledyard High School student Meghan Tripp, who asked the candidates to address the issue of high unemployment and little opportunity in town, especially for the town’s young people.

None of the candidates had a solution, although several spoke of the difficulty their own children have had finding jobs in the area. Allyn said he would focus on affordable housing, so that young people at least could live in town, even if they worked elsewhere. Saccone said he would work closely with the state to see about bringing back some of the major employers that have left Connecticut in recent years.

Perhaps the only mildly contentious moment in the debate came in response to a question about how to attract economic development.

Rodolico, who would reorganize the town’s land-use agencies, said he would “never treat the mayor’s office as a private agency,” a reference to Allyn’s reputedly close ties to developers.

“Developers want a land use organization that is integrated and coordinated” in such a way that they would want to do business in Ledyard, Rodolico said.

“The mayor’s office is not a place for private developers to make their deals,” Allyn countered when it was his turn for rebuttal. But Allyn, who worked more than 30 years in commercial real estate, said relationships can be critical to attracting developers.

Saccone noted the many vacant commercial properties in town, calling Ledyard a “well-kept secret.”

Lawrence said the absence sewers in town will always be a disincentive to developers. He proposed a “clamshell” bandstand at the fairgrounds, which could be used for concerts or skits. “I’m a chef,” he said. “I’d cook chicken dinners.”

The candidates were asked about two separate proposals for water-themed amusement parks in town. All favored the water parks, noting the welcome addition to the town’s tax base and the creation of much-needed jobs.

The candidates also were asked about the town establishing an independent police department. All said they favored the idea.

Rodolico, however, said a five-year plan should precede any official endorsement. “We don’t want to buy something only to see the cost going up and up every year.”

They were asked about whether they would raise taxes. While they acknowledged tax increases might be inevitable, they all spoke of efforts to economize and manage existing resources. Allyn, for example, mentioned the high school’s $170,000 annual electric bill, and said he hopes to have solar panels installed on the building.

It was about that time the lights went out.

In his closing remarks, Rodolico spoke of his experience managing people during his career at Electric Boat and reiterated the importance of efficient, professional and open government.

Allyn ticked off a list of accomplishments during his tenure, saying he has the tenacity to lead and keep the town moving forward.

Saccone quoted JFK on change. “Those who look only to the past or the present will miss the future,” he said.

Lawrence told the audience he has nothing to gain by running for mayor except a lot of unwelcomed scrutiny. “I just want to help the town,” he said.

Saccone’s campaign manager, Ralph Hightower, later said thought the debate allowed the audience to get a sense of where each candidate stood. “There were no obvious attacks, although there was an undercurrent,” he said.

“It was a great forum and a wonderful opportunity to see all of the candidates at once,” said town council member Jim Diaz, a Republican. “The town is fortunate to have so much choice, although I think John stood out from the crowd.”

“I did the best I could,” said Lawrence after the debate. “I just tried to be as honest as possible.”

Allyn was still mulling Meghan Tripp’s question about jobs creation. “That was the toughest question we had all night,” he said.

Stephanie Calhoun October 12, 2011 at 11:15 AM
I enjoyed the debate last night. One thing was very clear to me that right now we don't have time for someone to get up to speed. We need the mayor's office to not miss a step in moving forward. I did appreciate the fact that for the *most part* everyone talked about what THEY could offer the town focusing on the positive rather than negating what someone else has done or could do. It was rather refreshing. I think overall citizens nationwide are tired of hearing personal attacks and really appreciate when a candidate stands up with what they CAN do. Nice job gentlemen.
Kenneth Koe October 12, 2011 at 02:10 PM
I agree with the previous writer that the mayoral debate was refreshing and gave townspeople a chance to see and compare the responses of all the candidates to well-thought out questions. However, I totally disagree with her statement that "right now we don't have time for someone to get up to speed." Incumbency in the mayor's office may offer the advantage for a smooth performance in debates, but any advance or achievement in the town must be credited to the efforts of the entire town government, In our form of representative government, every qualified elector is eligible to seek elected office. Incumbency is no guarantee of better performance in a second term. Human nature and personality are pretty immovable traits.
Mike Cherry October 12, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Well Said!
Olwen Elizabeth Chin October 12, 2011 at 03:49 PM
Very happy with the civility of the evening and VERY proud of my amazing daughter, Meghan Tripp:)
Stephanie Calhoun October 12, 2011 at 03:49 PM
I should have made my statement clearer. I felt that 3 of the candidates on the stage were ready to hit the ground running, "no need to get up to speed". We need all the candidates to be up to date on what is happening in the town, attend town council meetings, attend BOE meetings, read the newspaper so that he is ready to go.. We can't have someone come in on day one that is so unfamiliar with what is happening in our town.
Eva Lowell October 12, 2011 at 05:25 PM
I enjoyed the Mayoral debate last night. I wish more of the residents has taken advantage of the opportunity to listen to all 4 running. It was crystal clear that Mayor Allyn has experience and the knowledge and the drive to keep Ledyard moving forward. Mayor Allyn really hit the ball out of the park last night. Great job Mayor!
Jeffrey Kulo October 12, 2011 at 07:40 PM
I enjoyed the debate last night. All four candidates are hard working, sincere, intelligent, well-intentioned, and meet the minimum requirements to run for mayor. Well, actually there are no "requirements" to run. Therefore, the system leaves the possibility of electing the prettiest face but not necessarily the best qualified to serve for 4 years. This is not news to many people. As a member of the Ledyard Committee to Investigate Town Manager Form of Government (to possibly replace the mayor form), I have seen that a town manager would have requirements. These would include: academic requirements (like a school superintendent or doctor has) of a masters degree in public administration, previous experience as an assistant town manager and review by the town council during the hiring process. A town manager is an expert who would report to the council with an independent voice. Review of the latest (FY2009) town fiscal performance data published by the state Office of Policy and Management shows that Ledyard's town government expenditures were high compared to other towns in Connecticut ($1163 per capita vs $1051 per capita median). This despite hard work by the council and the mayor. Maybe town government could be redesigned to run with better result if the council had use of their own expert rather than an adversarial relationship with a separate branch of government. I think there is room for improvement and changing form of government could be best for our town.
Edee Smith October 12, 2011 at 07:53 PM
The mayoral debate was very well done. I was disappointed with the low attendance. Knowing the issues and meeting the candidates is so important. Having the right information helps citizen of the town make the right decision. We need more people getting involved and going to these events if we want our town to be ready for the whatever the future brings. Mayor Allyn has the experience, knowledge and desire to fight for what we and our children need to survive these tough times. Support Allyn for Mayor in November.
Jami October 12, 2011 at 07:57 PM
Mr. Kulo, I think if you continue to dig you will find out that the Board of Education's healthcare costs are in the Town's budget. This is NOT typical for a town as most BoE's pay for their employees healthcare from the BoE funds. Take out the costs for the BoE healthcare costs and you will see that Ledyard's per capita is less.
Melody October 12, 2011 at 08:01 PM
I attended the debate last night and was sorry to not see more people in attendance. I’m an unaffiliated voter and relative newcomer to Ledyard, moving here about two years ago. My impression of the debate was quite different than that of Mr. Diaz. What I saw and heard was that Mayor Allyn was the only candidate that clearly has the knowledge and experience to lead Ledyard right now and I think it showed in his strong, fact-based answers. Mr. Lawrence had some wild ideas about green energy concepts but clearly isn’t ready for such a position. Mr. Rodolico seemed to throw out his tag-line words too often and touted his experience at EB as one of the keys to his ability to move into the political arena. Tony Saccone seemed tentative with many of his answers and used fire department examples in many responses, maybe for lack of other experience.
Edee Smith October 12, 2011 at 08:03 PM
I agree we need both sides (in fact we need the whole town to be involved) but if you went to the RTC meetings and Town Council meetings, you would see and hear for yourself, how controlling and angry the town council members are, and how little they are willing to listen to the other side or anyone who disagrees with them. They make up their mind way ahead of any discussion. Last town meeting we were learning about the possible change from a strong Mayor government to one run by a manager. You could see they had already made up their mind what they wanted before all the facts were in. Ask NL why they are changing back to a Mayor run government.
Jami October 12, 2011 at 08:21 PM
Just looked through the photos above and noticed that one candidate has more photos than any of the others... I wonder if this has to do with the fact that some of those involved in his campaign are affiliated with Patch? Patch, please be fair, don't be like the Bulletin and The Day... Have a higher standard for this publication so that your readers can have confidence that Patch is not bias.
Sharon Pealer October 12, 2011 at 09:02 PM
I agree with you Jann, but I also begin to believe even more that no journalistic venture is capable any longer of providing fully unbiased coverage of anything to do with politics. This type of coverage is precisely why citizens are searching for other formats to learn information. The press is no longer credible.
Bill Thorndike October 12, 2011 at 09:29 PM
Hi Jann: This is an interesting point, because I completely understand how a lot of photos of one candidate could give the appearance of bias. The short answer is that Patch is an interactive medium in which everyone is encouraged to participate. Just as your conversation with Sharon became part of this article, the photos of John Rodolico's tailgate party were posted by reader Mimi Peck-Llewellyn. So when you see all those great football photos attached to game stories, they were probably posted by parents, like Sharon Baxley or Sheri Throop. Snow photos, fund-raiser photos, Halloween photos, etc., are often provided by readers. It's the new journalism. It's not perfect, but it is the future.
Mike Cherry October 12, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Mayor Allyn made a point that listening is more than half of communicating. Pitch/Catch - Send/Receive , pick your analogy. Listening and hearing all sides of a discussion is paramount to understanding the issues and discerning ones position. Also having complete background information helps. Just because a story or discussion does not reinforce my preconceived notions doesn't mean it is biased or incorrect.
Howard Smith October 12, 2011 at 09:39 PM
The town appreciates your efforts in the investigation but the conclusions you draw from your investigation are suspect. The Mayors office is not adversarial position, it is a check and balance designed to prevent too much power in too few hands. You need to be careful in the conclusions drawn from your investigation. An investigation requires starting from a neutral point. What facts support your conclusion that the Town Manager who is hired by the Council and serves under contract to the council is an independent voice vs an elected mayor who serves all the residents interests and is hired by the residents not the Town Council.
Howard Smith October 12, 2011 at 09:46 PM
The writer obviously spent some time in the parking lot at John's tailgate party.
Mike Cherry October 12, 2011 at 11:31 PM
Fran The Republican Party Candidate for Mayor in this election is John Rodolico. Nominated and put forward by the caucus. Mayor Allyn declined to have his name put in nomination. So can we call Mayor Allyn a Republican when he can't or won't support the party candidate?
Sharon Pealer October 13, 2011 at 02:27 AM
Sounds like good advice to me. Seems like there have been an awful lot of accusations being thrown around. The mayor is accused of excess spending in the legal department, yet The Patch reported that this year the ZBA requested an extra 20,000 for legal fees in excess of what had been allocated. Seems certain low income housing is not wanted in one neighborhood and the taxpayers are now footing that bill.
Mike Cherry October 13, 2011 at 12:49 PM
Thanks Fran Don't know that I agree with you but I better understand your position
Mike Cherry October 13, 2011 at 12:52 PM
Sharon ZBA and the Zoning Commission are two separate commissions. The Zoning Commission decision was appealed by a developer seeking approval for a three unit apartment building under"affordable housing" section of CT General Statutes not the ZBA. Minor detail.
Jeffrey Kulo October 13, 2011 at 02:32 PM
Jann, You didn't say which total town expenditure number to start with. The town's published number for total government expenditure in FY2009 is $19,256,031 (includes $3,247,673 for BOE heath coverage). The state OMB number is $17,648,964. I used the state OMB number in order to make comparisons with other towns in the state without having to review each town's detailed budget. (I'm not concerned that these two numbers are different because the total town gov't + BOE numbers for town and state are equal. There is some difference in the accounting conventions that must be acceptable to the accountants.) Note that 67 towns in Connecticut; many similar to Ledyard ($1163 per capita) in significant ways; spent between $500 and $1000 per capita on town government in FY2009 - again based on the OMB data. A professional town manager would answer the questions "How did they do it, and should Ledyard?"
Stephanie Calhoun October 13, 2011 at 02:32 PM
I am curious in a town of our size exactly how many apartment type buildings do we really need? It seems there is an abundance already, Gallup Hill, Fox Run, another set on 214, and I think condos also around Ash Drive. Is there a percentage of housing that is required by law to be multi family like that?
Mike Cherry October 13, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Stephanie CERC data shows 87% of Ledyard housing is single family compared to less than 70% for the county and state. What's the "right" ratio? Don't know, but as Mayor Allyn pointed out as an answer to Meghan Tripp's question, affordable housing, that is housing someone starting out can afford , is part of the solution to both our children being able to live in Ledyard as well as our seniors wishing to "downsize" being able to remain here. There is no "magic" number. I am a firm believer that the market drives development. Maybe what we need is the start of a conversation on the need for housing diversity in Ledyard - if you have an interest call me or the planning office. We have two openings on the Planning Commission that deals with questions and planning for the towns future.
Edee Smith October 13, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Great answer Mike More people need to get involved. If everyone got involved a little bit no one would have spend alot of time. Also this way this town wouldn't be run by a very few but by everyone.
Mike Cherry October 13, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Amen! And those involved wouldn't have to guess what everyone is thinking to make a decision

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