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Q&A: Town Council Candidate Mike France

Republican Making First Run For Elected Office

Note: In the days leading up to Election Day the Ledyard Patch will run short profiles of all town candidates for council and board of education, along with their responses to three questions that we asked. Election Day is Nov. 8.

 

Name:  Mike France

Age:  49

Education: Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineering, University of Southern California, 1987; Master of Science, Electrical Engineering, Naval Postgraduate School, 1997; Degree of Electrical Engineer, Naval Postgraduate School, 1997;  Master of Science, Organizational Management, Eastern CT State University, 2005

Work Experience: 1981 – 2005:  U.S. Navy (LCDR, Retired);  Significant experience:  Project Superintendent, USS DOLPHIN (AGSS 555) Overhaul; Program Manager’s Representative, PMS450E.  2005 – Present:  Progeny Systems Corporation, Groton, CT – Program Manager; Significant experience:  Joint Interoperability Certification Lead; Risk Management Process Lead

Civic/Political Experience:  First time as a candidate for elected office

Family:  Married, 4 children:  Annemarie (21), Laurel (19, York College of PA Sophomore), Marguerite (16, LHS 11th Grade), Frederick (14, LHS 9th Grade); 2 grandchildren.

 

1. Why are you running for this office? 

During the 2010 national election cycle, I worked a primary campaign for a friend who was running for U.S. Representative.  That effort sparked an interest in getting involved in local politics, which began with joining the Republican Town Committee.  When my daughter was a senior at Ledyard High School, I attended the town meetings with her as she completed the requirements for Government class.  Following her graduation in June 2010, I continued to attend Town Council and Board of Education meetings, learning in the process what challenges were facing our town.  I strongly believe that running for Town Council is an opportunity to serve my community.  Three skills that I learned and routinely used during my Navy career are critical to being successful on Town Council:  leadership, team-building, and problem solving.  These skills will be extremely useful in restoring an effective and efficient town government in Ledyard.

2. What do you believe is the greatest challenge Ledyard faces today, and what would you do to meet this challenge?

The greatest challenge facing Ledyard today is maintaining needed town services and continuing to improve education while preserving the small-town, bedroom community feel in a fiscally-constrained environment.  There are two principal ways to meet this challenge:  (1) improve the efficiency of town government to free up revenue for the education budget and (2) increase the tax base through responsible expansion of commercial businesses.  The best way to improve town services is to conduct a detailed review of all services and use of town employees to identify opportunities and synergies to reduce inefficiency and redundancy.  Responsible expansion of commercial business needs to be a priority of future Town Councils who, by working closely with the Economic Development Commission, can create opportunities that will encourage businesses to serve our town from the several vacant storefronts.  A recent example of success is the impending construction of a CVS on the site of the old Gales Ferry Elementary School.

3. How would you rate the performance of the current council overall, and what, if anything, would you do differently? 

The current Town Council has been effective despite the rift that developed between them and the Mayor, and the fact that the Town Council was forced to assume some of the responsibilities of the Mayor to ensure town government continued to function.  However, I believe that the Town Council should have done more to maintain the proper alignment of roles and responsibilities between the Mayor, Town Hall staff and the Town Council instead of taking over those responsibilities.  The one thing that I would have done differently is to work harder to engage the Mayor in an effort to ensure that he was fully performing the job to which he was elected.  If that was unsuccessful, then I would have worked to inform town residents of the specific responsibilities the Mayor was failing to perform prior to assuming those roles by the Town Council.  The most effective method would be through the use of the power of the pen in editorials and letters to the editor in The Day, Norwich Bulletin and the Patch.

Edee Smith October 29, 2011 at 03:01 PM
I hope you are not blaming the ineffectual relationship with the mayor's office with the mayor. Let's remember it is this Town Council that begged him to run and than they turned on him because he is a strong mayor working for the people and not for the Town Council. If you are blaming this on the mayor you lost my vote. This is a copy of my last comment. I think you ought to do more research and maybe go to more council meeting to see what is really happening. Such as the zoning issue that we are spending alot or money on (inchcliff) that was won by the property owner and the town council and the zoning committe appealing the court decision. The comment being made by a "realtor" in Ledyard that we need higher priced housing. Is this how you expect to keep the young people in this community.
Mike France October 29, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Ms. Smith, thank you for your comments. I am not laying "blame" solely on either Mayor Allyn or the Town Council. When there are two parties involved, there are almost always mistakes made by both parties. My question responses were directed at ensuring better communication between the Town Council and Mayor's office so that town government functions effectively and I was attempting to describe the process I would have used. I have attended Town Council meetings and have seen some of the animosity between Mayor Allyn and the Town Council during those meetings but that is only a small part of the story. As for Mayor Allyn working for the town, I don't question his motives but he is not the only elected representative of the town. There needs to be collaboration between the Mayor, Town Council and Board of Education so that all the interests of our town are represented. As for the zoning issue on Inchcliffe Drive, there are valid issues related to Mr. Coen's request to build that could have impact on a wide range of future construction in our town. Many of these were discussed at the last Zoning Commission meeting, which I attended. I don't believe we need "higher priced housing" but we need to be considerate of neighborhoods and be responsible in our approach to what people term "affordable" housing. Having witnessed mixing of single family with multi-family residences in other communities, we need to proceed with appropriate caution before heading down this path.
Edee Smith October 29, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Thank you for your explanation. And good luck on the election we need change
Sharon Pealer October 29, 2011 at 10:08 PM
Mr. France I would like to hear what you think is an appropriate mix of affordable housing. Ledyard in 2008 was on the extreme low end with just over 3% of the town qualified to be called affordable under state definition. I do not think that one single unit will have any impact on changing that percentage, but it is only one unit. What do you think would be a fair solution to the situation on Inchcliff? The town has denied all proposals put forward to date, yet taxes on the land. I am struggling to decide who I can support in the election next month because I do not feel that the council has made all decisions based upon what is best for the town as a whole. There are times that things can be studied to death and the benefit lost because the opportunity has moved on.
Mike France October 31, 2011 at 01:14 AM
Ms. Pealer, the issue of housing affordability is complex. There are at least two issues here: "affordable housing" and housing that is affordable. "Affordable housing" is a statutory term that is defined at both the state and federal level. Per CGS 8-39a, "a housing unit is affordable if it costs an occupant no more than one third of his or her annual income, where the income is less than or equal to the area median income". According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the FY11 Area Median Income (AMI) for Norwich-New London HMFA is $83,200 with an affordable rent of $2,080 based on 1/3 of AMI. Based on a median home cost of approximately $190K in Ledyard (zillow.com), at least half the houses in Ledyard would qualify as "affordable" at the local AMI with current interest rates. Even the rents for those same houses would be "affordable". In May 2009, the Town of Ledyard hired a consultant, Laberge Group, to develop an Affordable Housing Strategy and a public meeting was held on May 21, 2009, to present the Strategy. The Strategy states, "according to the 2008 Affordable Housing Appeals List, 3.37% of Ledyard's total housing units are designated affordable." I presume that is the 3% figure that was cited. However, when you look at the overall data, much of Ledyard's housing is affordable by the CGS definition. (See next post for the rest of my response)
Mike France October 31, 2011 at 01:35 AM
However, instead of worrying about statutory definitions and specific percentages, I believe we need to have a dialogue about what the appropriate mix of housing is in Ledyard, including specific locations that would be acceptable. This would include an understanding of what housing within our town is truly affordable to new families and young, single residents instead of concerning ourselves with the 3.37% of housing units that qualify for state and federal assistance through programs such as the Farmer's Home Administration, CHFA and HUD Section 8. The Planning and Zoning Commission has been working for the past several years on the specific zoning within the Town of Ledyard to encourage responsible commercial and residential development. I would recommend that we initiate a public dialogue wit the concerned residents of Ledyard, starting with the Affordable Housing Strategy, including the specific Goals and Strategies, and determine the appropriate development strategy for our town. This would best be coordinated by the Planning and Zoning Commission with input from the next Town Council, which I hope to be a part of. As far as the specific issue concerning the Inchcliffe Drive property, it would be inappropriate for me to comment directly. The only thing that I will say is that there are larger issues for Ledyard than that one piece of property. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond and I hope this answers your question.
Sharon Pealer October 31, 2011 at 01:37 AM
Thank you for getting back to my questions. I am wondering though just how many young couples can really afford to rent or buy in this town today. As you well know most people do not start out earning that kind of money, yet they need a place to call home. Once established people are far less likely to pull up roots and move to a town that offers less in the way of activities and entertainment than in areas where the cost of living is much lower. My children are in college right now and very concerned about what kind of job market will greet them when they graduate. The direction this town has been following will force them to move to more affordable areas of the country where they can find jobs as well. We are watching far too many of the high paying jobs leave this area to expect change in the next few years. That said I believe that we might be talking about different standards for affordable housing.
Mike France October 31, 2011 at 02:32 AM
Ms. Pealer, there are a number of houses and condominiums recently sold, for sale or for rent in Ledyard that are reasonably affordable (sale <$120K and rent <$1200 per month). Many of these I am sure are not designated as "affordable housing" under the CGS definition but I would consider them to be affordable for many young couples or single people with roommates. The one thing that we need to consider is what type of community we want in Ledyard. We are currently what many call a "bedroom community" of primarily single-family residences with surrounding communities that have much larger options for apartments for rent. If that is to change, Ledyard residents should be given the opportunity to weigh in on this issue, which I believe should be coordinated by the Planning and Zoning Commission. When you include the challenge many areas are facing with the uncertain job market and high paying jobs leaving our area, the discussion of housing that new families and young, single residents are able to afford becomes even more complex. There is little that the Town of Ledyard can do to directly influence the departure of high paying jobs from our region. However, we can make a determination about what type of community we want and how best to influence that demographic via zoning changes if required. I look forward to the opportunity to address challenges such as these as a member of the next Town Council. If you have any further questions, please let me know.
Mike Cherry October 31, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Well said sir! Mike, the Planning Commission welcomes input from the Town Council and residents. Very often too few comments are received on important policy document (eg the Affordable Housing Strategy) and the Commission acts on minimal input and their best judgement. We look forward to working with you in the future.
Sharon Pealer November 01, 2011 at 08:57 PM
I can only say that I find it less than satisfactory that both of you gentlemen are speaking in direct opposition to the newest study released about Ct' housing needs if the state is to attract young professionals to live here.
Mike France November 02, 2011 at 03:35 AM
Ms. Pealer, please provide the title of the study that you reference so that I can read it. I am always open to new information and want to make sure we are having a conversation based on a common understanding. I have found several articles about young professionals in Connecticut but nothing that looks like a formal study. Thanks.
Sharon Pealer November 02, 2011 at 10:37 PM
I am referring to a report that I heard on the radio and I am attempting to track down the source of the study and name of the commission. I am sorry that it is taking so very long.
Mike France November 02, 2011 at 11:08 PM
Ms. Pealer, thank you for making the time to locate the information. I look forward to being able to review the study and understand how the recommendations that are made may be applied to our town.
Mike Cherry November 03, 2011 at 12:33 AM
I have always found SECHA a good place to start http://www.secha.org/ I have also felt their guiding principles are noble and worth pursuing on a local level: "Guiding Principles Everyone should have access to decent affordable housing. Those who work in southeastern Connecticut should not have to live elsewhere. Just as our community is healthiest when its job base is diverse, a diverse housing stock contributes to a strong and resilient community. The challenge of affordable housing is also an opportunity. We must capture this opportunity to improve our community. Production of affordable and workforce housing is best accomplished with incentives and assistance rather than penalties and regulations.
Mike France November 05, 2011 at 03:16 AM
@Mike, thank you for the link to the SECHA web site. I have spent the last two evenings reviewing much of its content. Unfortunately, most of the links on the Housing Facts page are broken and most of publications are based on housing statistics from 2000-2005. Obviously, the housing situation has changed dramatically since the significant rise in housing prices from 2000-2008 where we saw sale prices almost double. However, since 2008 we have seen a 25% decline in housing average sale prices. One study published by the Partnership of Strong Communities titled, "Affordability in Connecticut, 2010", ranked Ledyard as 150 out of 169 towns in Connecticut based on Town Median Household Income. This indicates that only 19 towns are more affordable than Ledyard. Even when you use the State Median Household Income, Ledyard ranks 113 out of 169. Within New London County, there are only 9 towns that are more affordable and 11 that are less. Having said all that, even though Ledyard is a reasonably affordable town based on these statistics, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't have a dialogue between town government, the residents and housing advocates on what is the correct mix of single family residences, condominiums and apartments. As with other town issues given real fiscal constraints, we should include a discussion of regionalization related to housing affordability. Once again, I look forward to addressing these challenges as a Town Councilor over the next two years.

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