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Ward candidates discuss schools, development, diversity, access

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During the Ward City Council candidates’ forum on Thursday, the 10 candidates for Cranston’s six wards discussed citywide issues including schools, safety, and governmental transparency, and also answered Ward-specific questions like what to do with some of the key properties around the city.

In Ward 1, Democrat Lammis Vargas is going up against Republican Chris Sparks, who said in his opening statement that he wants to make sure there’s “always parity between Ward 1 and the rest of Cranston,” and also said he wants the kids growing up today to have the same positive experiences that his four kids have had. Vargas said “there’s so much at stake” in this election, and wants to see safe schools, modernized city government, a support of small businesses, and a great quality of life.

In Ward 2, Democrat incumbent Paul McAuley is unchallenged. He said he’s looking forward to continuing the development on Rolfe St. and “getting rid of old, abandoned houses” in his Ward.

Ward 3 pits Republican Derik Tutt who faces Democrat John Donegan said the Ward needs someone who will “advocate for schools and for working families,” and “make our government more transparent and accessible.” Tutt said he considers himself a “man on a mission,” and wants to “do whatever it takes to give kids opportunities for their futures.”

In Ward 4, interim Councilman and Republican Ed Brady is facing off against Democrat Tom Cappalli. Cappalli said he wants to make sure everyone in his neighborhood has their voices heard, and Brady said he’s “a man of the people” and he wants to listen to people in his community.

Ward 5 is already decided, as Republican incumbent Chris Paplauskas is unchallenged. He said he has “worked very hard to balance budgets, put more police on streets, and work with department heads to make our city one of the best” during his time on the Council.

Ward 6’s incumbent Republican and City Council Vice President, Michael Favicchio, said he wants to continue working on accessibility of city records and Council meetings, while Democratic challenger Stephen Tranghese said he wants to talk to people to see what they want different in the city.

Here are the citywide and Ward-specific questions asked by moderator Pam Schiff during the forum, which was held at the Central Library, along with the para-phrased answers from each of the candidates, in their own words:

Q: What is the biggest complaint you’ve heard about Cranston while campaigning?

Sparks:

Two major issues have come up in my neighborhood, which have been with people abutting certain commercial property on the Mayflower Ave. part of our neighborhood. The other issue is the existence of the PCBs at the end of Mills St. Signs have gone up reflecting the existence of PCBs, warning people not to walk down there, but there’s not many answers about what exactly is existing and what’s airborne.

Vargas:

What we’re going to do at the Ciba-Geigy location is an issue I’ve heard. There have also been concerns with speeding in Pawtuxet Village, trash pickups in some parts of the Ward. Most importantly, I’ve been hearing from parents that we should fund and repair schools, keep guns out of schools, and have safe and warm schools as well.

Tutt:

I hear issues of speeding cars around Cranston stadium, and we’ll do what we can to have police address those. I’ve also heard concerns about Harrington Hall, and maybe that can be addressed through the parole board and through sentencings of sex offenders that aren’t as light.

Donegan:

I’ve heard traffic issues in Ward 3, and that can be addressed through additional police funding. Another issue we hear is a blight in infrastructure. Maybe bring back the sidewalk program to maintain sidewalks and help beautify properties. Schools come up in any conversation, and I want to keep schools safe, and make sure people vote yes on question 1.

Cappalli:

Issues of speeding cars, which can be addressed with more police. Harrington Hall is also an issue, and the state should put more security and better monitoring of these people walking down our streets.

Brady:

Hear a lot about the sex offender issue at Harrington Hall.

There are 159 sex offenders in Cranston, 24 are at Harrington Hall. I’d like to applaud the Cranston police for making sure they are monitoring this, and would like to work with them and residents to make sure they’re safe. I also hear a lot about infrastructure of schools. We need money, and I’m going to do the best job I can to look at the budget, expenses, and increase revenue there.

Tranghese:

Issues I’ve heard are related to schools. I’ve also heard about infrastructure issues related to development at Garden City and Chapel View, specifically issues with traffic.

Favicchio:

Harrington Hall has been the biggest issue people have been talking about. It’s something I’ve been working on during my eight years on the Council. We’ve been working diligently to try to do something about reducing the number of sex offenders living there. Q: Do you think the schools should be given more funding?  How would you finance it?

Sparks:

We need to start getting more creative in funding our public schools because you can only get so much money out of the city’s taxpayers and the state. We have to start looking the regionalization of certain, not all, services we have in the public school system, such as regionalizing special education services on a county level. That’s one of the largest line items on the school department’s budget. We have to better distribute funds. Can regionalize fire, police. We’re not going to see any more money out of the city. The City Council has done a great job stretching the amount they’ve gotten from the Mayor, but we do need a certain level of creativity to go out and seek additional sources.

Vargas:

I understand the need for more funding. I trust the school committee and hope to have a relationship to trust that there’s no wasteful spending. I would like to go through the budget and the Council can ratify it. Also work with RIDE for alternative funding through grants, take advantage of those and work in collaboration with OneCranston so we can have programs to teach kids 21st century skills. I want funds to be used in a proper way.

Tutt:

We need more money in schools, but the City Council does do a good job with the budget in place and there’s not a lot of extra money to shuffle around. It’s easier said than done just to give schools a whole bunch of money. But teachers are putting their own money into classrooms and this shouldn’t be the case, they should be provided resources. We need a collective effort to look at cuts. We need to put money into students because they are the future.

Donegan:

We need to fund schools more. We have to go through the budget with a fine brush to find additional funding. We can better support the local economy and small businesses to shift the burden off of residential taxpayers and to commercial, to bring more revenue to the city.

Cappalli:

Schools should have more money brought in. The budget only allows so much, but there are other ways, such as solicitation of companies in the city for donations. Larger business, whether it be computer companies or property owners that have retailers, get them involved in our schools, and pump money into them for different programs, for books and computers. It’s something to look at.

Brady:

Absolutely we need to find more money for the school system. It’s not easy, and we have a lot of people on the school committee working hard to make the budget. My goal is to collaborate and use my community-minded spirit to figure it out. You have to be fiscally responsible, bring in additional revenue, and find money to give to the school department. Alumni association and businesses can also help, they’re looking to give back to the community.

Tranghese:

Schools need more funding. One of the main reasons people move here is because of the school system. And school buildings need to be just as good as the teachers are. I’m looking forward to looking through the budget to see what we can do for our schools.

Favicchio:

 I’ve been through eight budget cycles. There’s not a lot of money in that budget that’s not contractually obligated, only about 15 percent of the $285 million budget, so there’s not a lot of money to go around. There should be some creativity, although I don’t think regionalization is the way to go. We could consolidate the school buildings so we don’t have to operate as many buildings. It’s not easy to raise taxes, and the school department works very diligently to obtain grants.

Q: How could the City Council be improved?

Sparks:

I can only tell you how I would be as a City Councilperson. I have an open-door policy at my home. Come and see me anytime, give me a call, I’d be more than happy to reach out and help anyone with any issue they have when it comes to our city government. As a resident of Ward 1, I haven’t found the accessibility to be there with our current representative and I’d like to be that guy with an open policy.

Vargas:

I’ve definitely been running with a platform of diversifying our boards and commissions. I also want gender diversity, we need more women representation, we need someone who looks like the residents of Cranston. Live streaming Council meetings is extremely important as well. I want to make sure people know how to find things, find information that should be accessible. We are the second-largest city, yet there are so many other cities and towns with more accessible websites. I also want to make sure we work with union leadership and the personnel director to diversify employees of city hall and so many other departments.

Tutt:

The City Council needs to represent the changing demographics in Cranston. You see in an increase in the city of Hispanics, Asian population, and African-Americans. And you don’t see that diversity on the City Council. Even though Lammis is a Democrat, it wouldn’t be a bad look to see a Hispanic woman, although I do love Chris Sparks as a candidate as well. We need to represent our city, and I relate to all nationalities and I’d like to educate minorities more on government because we need more civic engagement.

Donegan:

I’m happy to hear the meetings will be live streamed, that’s something I’ve heard at the doors. One thing we can do is make a welcome packet because Ward 3 is very transient, with people coming and going, and we should make sure we bring them into the neighborhood with a packet, let them know who their representatives are. I’d also like to see a change to have at least two members of the minority party on all committees, so when people come up with an idea someone else can give it a second so it can be discussed and voted on. The guns in schools resolution didn’t get a second vote because of this.

Cappalli:

Minorities are afraid to join these committees, we have a lot of people that are predominantly male, and predominantly white. It’s intimidating for a minority to step up. We should welcome them into our committees and hear their voice. They have real problems, and if we listen to them and we together we could diversify committees, jobs, everything.

Brady:

In the five months I’ve been doing this, I have to say that he Council President is doing a great job of bringing our team together. We need politicians to continue to work together, putting parties aside. We’re here for you, the people. We have to listen to the issues of our ward, separate whether we’re Democrat or Republican, and work to push these issues through.

Tranghese:

Increasing accessibility among the City Council. I hear a lot of people who don’t know who their City Councilperson is and how to contact them. I’d like to work on making that line of contact more direct.

Favicchio:

The first resolution I co-sponsored in 2011 was to ask for greater diversity on all boards and commissions in the city and on the City Council. We were successful in adding women participants. We’re also going to be online as far as streaming the meetings, which will give greater accessibility. Having our meetings online will give everyone a chance to see them and ask questions via email the next morning. I think we’re headed in the right direction, we have a really good Council. We fought for the last four years to get an HR director of the city, and the Democrats fought against it. Finally we got one last year for the 600 or so city employees, and one of his goals has been to find candidates that are diverse. We’ve worked to get free courses for minorities to be on the fire department, on the police department.

Q for Ward 1 candidates: What is your vision for the corner of Park and Warwick Aves., where the Cumberland Farms was proposed?

Vargas:

Ward 1 residents agree that it’s an eyesore and it needs a re-facing. I really think there is a lack of affordable housing, so for me, although it’s not totally up to me, I’d like to see affordable housing there with maybe some small spaces for businesses. It’s an area where traffic is really bad, so we need to make sure whatever goes in there, we work with the people. I’m against spot zoning. I’m in favor of working with the residents to make sure whatever development that goes in there the people have a say.

Sparks:

I supported the Cumberland Farms proposal until I found out people couldn’t get FHA mortgages. Council President Farina did the right thing yanking the zone change. I would say tear down the front buildings, leave the back buildings alone, and reconfigure the intersection so traffic can flow. Let’s not impact anyone who lives behind that piece of property, we can’t upend their lives because it’s a piece of commercial property they happen to abut. I say take a minimalist approach. Q for Ward 3 candidates: What kind of business should move into the former K-mart building?

Tutt:

You have to take into consideration the other businesses that are there, because you can’t have one that would be in direct competition with the Stop & Shop already there. I think ti would be a good idea to put a business such as Savers there. It would give people an opportunity to get second-hand clothing and get rid of unwanted things. People who aren’t as financially fortunate in the city would have somewhere to go for clothes, and it would also create a tax revenue for the city.

Donegan:

I don’t have a specific company in mind, but any business that goes in there should be one that pays their employees a livable wage so they can afford housing. It should also be a business that the state won’t have to subsidize medical care costs for. It should be company that pays people livable wage and one that provides adequate benefits.

 

Q for Ward 4 candidates: What is the best use of open space in the rural parts of Western Cranston?

Cappalli:

Farming is. Our farmers work hard, that’s their job. They work hard to give us fresh produce. Expanding and giving them the space they need to produce products is very important. There are other places for solar farms, but where else can you go in Cranston and just relax? Keep the open spaces where they are and put solar farms where they belong, and let the farmers do their job and we can enjoy the benefits from it.

Brady:

Open space is very important to our Cranston community, especially for the Western side. The solar farms have been a touchy subject. It’s my job to support it now, but I think there can be stronger regulations. But we have to continue to look at creative ways to increase revenue for things like the school system. I don’t want to develop houses because it decreases revenue, but we should work with he economic development team and work on a case-by-case basis.

Q for Ward 6 candidates: What is your vision for the former Citizens Bank site?

Tranghese:

It is private property, so the City Council doesn’t have control, but when it comes to development in that areas a whole I think it needs to be more carefully managed. We can’t prioritize development over residents. We need more consideration of the residents who live there because I’ve heard concerns of traffic and congestion.

Favicchio:

It’s private property, so we really can’t dictate what goes there. But I think it will be a mixed-use development, some retail, maybe some apartments. It’s probably more retail and office space, and I think that would be better. We saw with Citizens the traffic really increase and some mixed-use development might stagger traffic problems, so that would be a good use of the site.

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