BERLIN — Standing in the way of a third term for Berlin Mayor Gee Williams is Councilmember Lisa Hall, who has given up her elected position to challenge him in the Oct. 4 town election.
Williams was appointed mayor in 2008 after then-Mayor Tom Cardinale died. He was elected to the mayor’s seat later that year and has twice been re-elected to four-year terms in 2012 and 2016. Hall was elected to represent District 2 in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012.
Staff Writer Charlene Sharpe presented a few questions to each of the candidates this week and here are their responses.
Q. As mayor, how do you see your role in guiding the town’s future, specifically in regard to development and the possibilities of future annexation? Do you support annexation to grow the town’s population?
Hall: The only development, I can support, in the immediate future, would be homes priced in the $150,000-$200,000 price range. We desperately need housing in Berlin for the young families that want to raise their families in their hometown. Properties, in Berlin, are selling for approximately 35% more than other homes in Worcester County. We need to address the needs of the community in providing housing for our seniors and young families, so they can continue to live in Berlin.
Williams: I firmly believe the town should continue to grow incrementally during the remaining decades of this century. Not grow willy-nilly, or allow anything to be built anywhere, or embrace every proposed annexation. But by using the proven principals of Smart Growth America we should grow and annex strategically and thoughtfully to make it possible to provide affordable housing for the majority of working families that are the foundation of Berlin. And to support growth, targeted annexation should also be considered to create opportunities that support thriving businesses and create good, stable jobs. I see my role as keeping a community conversation ongoing that seeks to balance economic opportunity and environmental responsibility. Growth and its impact on the quality of life are not an all or nothing situation as a few people try to portray these decisions.
Q. There have been allegations in recent years about transparency not being what it should be between the mayor specifically and members of the council. Following the town’s costly electric generation error, for example, council members Thom Gulyas and Lisa Hall were critical of the fact that the council knew nothing of the issue until after the Public Service Commission hearing and subsequent rate hike. Do you think there is an issue with transparency in Berlin? If so, how would you address it?
Hall: There has been a disconnect with the Mayor and Council on some issues. Going forward, the council needs to be more involved in governing Berlin. For example, Councilmember Purnell is a respected developer in the area. I would use his expertise of developing property, building commercial and residential structures, stormwater, etc. as he sits at the table with the mayor and department heads discussing potential projects with the developer. Councilmember Burrell, retired from Shore Up!, is very knowledgeable with grant applications, grant administration and how the municipal government works with state and federal agencies. Councilmember Brittingham owns a retail store in Bethany and has vast experience in retail sales and operations. His experience is valuable and his input is needed. Councilmember Gulyas has been in the printing and marketing business for many years and is very familiar with marketing and promotional materials. I would use the resources of the council and include them in meetings pertaining to items, that in the end, the council votes on. We need more transparency in our government.
Williams: Complaints about the transparency of the conduct of the Town of Berlin have been alleged only by my opponent, except for the situation last December when she and another council member were upset they were not told about the Berlin’s Electric Utility increase in purchased power in December 2015, instead of being told at the first meeting in January 2016. I actively attempted to convene a meeting of the mayor and council for three consecutive Mondays (Dec. 14, 21 and 28), but it was not possible for a quorum of council members to attend either proposed meeting. The town administrator and I consulted our town’s legal counsel for the electric utility and she firmly advised us to share this information only in an executive session, with a quorum of council members present, because of the potential for litigation resulting from this matter. Whenever I have a choice between following the advice of our town’s legal counsel, or addressing Councilmember Hall’s concerns, I will follow the advice of our legal counsel every time. There is no transparency issue in Berlin, but there is a credibility and responsibility issue when it comes to my mayoral opponent.
Q. What specifically do you want to see occur at the town’s recently acquired Berlin Falls property? Do you envision private and public attractions at this vast property?
Hall: There are grant opportunities available for the Tyson property, which need to be delved into to see what fits for Berlin. I am concerned about the skateboarding on the streets and sidewalks and the safety of our youth. A skateboard park is definitely needed. We also have bikers of all ages and I would like to see activities for them. It would be a great location for a police substation. Worcester Youth and Family Services would be a wonderful fit also. Grant monies are available for refurbishing the offices and cafeteria section of the plant. Those monies could provide services to clients instead of rent. The excursion train is another opportunity. There is plenty of parking and the potential for retail that comes with that type of operation. The department of Aging has grant monies available for activities for seniors. We could build an amphitheater or music/theater venue which would generate revenue. This site has a lot of potential and it will not go back to industrial use which would be detrimental to our town and tourism industry.
Williams: Public-private partnerships will make it possible to provide over time a skateboard park, bikeways, nature walking trails, ice skating in the winter, large musical events and family festivals that are not suitable for downtown Main Street Berlin, but would attract many more guests to Berlin to support local businesses and more jobs. Another objective would be to develop a year-round recreational facility for residents of all ages both during the day and in the early evening. And right out of the gate this is the perfect location to create a multi-modal transportation hub for Berlin. Berlin Falls Park has great auto parking capacity and can be designed to encourage mobility around town via trolleys, trams, bicycles and other small scale and attractive means of transport that enables people to park at the Berlin Falls and enjoy their time in Berlin without driving. It is also the ideal place for an excursion train station that I am committed to making a reality in Berlin’s near future.