Independents in Groton aim to challenge the status quo and end tensions on the City Council

GROTON — A third political party has formed to challenge Democrats and Republicans for seats on the City Council.

The Groton Independent Party, which is separate from the statewide Independent Party and is made up of members from both major parties and unaffiliated voters, has put forward five petitioning candidates as a “compromise” for Groton voters.

CT Examiner spoke with Bill Furgeson, Lauren Gauthier, Bruce McDermott and Scott Westervelt about their priorities for Groton. Genevieve Cerf is also running for city council as an independent in Groton, but could not be reached for an interview.

CT Examiner: Is the housing shortage a problem in Groton, and what is the City Council’s role in addressing it?

Bill Furgeson: As a city, we have met the minimum (exempting the “affordable” housing amount from 8-30g), but there is definitely a housing shortage, especially for people coming to work on the (electric boat). We want these people to live in Groton instead of just working here and living somewhere else. We want them to live, work, enjoy and raise a family in Groton. So, yes, I think there is an opportunity for more housing.

I’ve always said it’s the City Council’s role to bring the right developers to each neighborhood. I believe in small local development that is appropriate for the neighborhood. You don’t have to jump in and build a large residential project as a silver bullet. We need housing to be spread out and appropriate, neighbors to be involved and have a sense of what is happening, and transparency throughout the process.

Lauren Gauthier: I think it’s clear that there is a housing problem. I think the question is what kind of housing. This is where the City Council will have the most say regarding the sale of city assets to developers. This is what we are seeing in these projects with closed schools – is the council using its role of being able to dictate development and determine the type of housing in a particular neighborhood?

Bruce McDermott: I have people passing by my house every day, and every now and then they stop and ask if there are any apartments for rent here. Housing is an issue in Groton, especially because of Electric Boat Company’s rental plans.

What the Council has to do with that, I don’t know. I think Electric Boat and the city should get together to see if there is any way to create more housing. In the past, mills in Norwich would provide housing for their workers because they were suffering from the same problem. I think this could be a way for Electric Boat and the city to work together.

We also have a lot of places here that are rented out on a short-term basis. If they were banned, except for someone who lives there, and most of them aren’t, that would open up a lot of housing to people who want to rent full time. Planning and Zoning is about 90 percent done, but it has not given the council the matter to hold public hearings. But when the council gets that, it must create an ordinance regulating short-term rentals.

Scott Westervelt: I think it’s a problem, but I don’t think it’s as important as some make it out to be. I believe we need to encourage the development of affordable housing, as well as single-family and two-family construction, which we have been sorely lacking in the past few years.

CT Examiner: Do you think tension on City Council has gotten in the way of getting the work done, and how can the council work through that?

Furgeson: There is clearly tension in the City Council. My feeling about it is that these are them. For me, I’m someone who can work well with a lot of different people. If elected, I will do my best to make sure there is a friendly tone and that people work together.

But I won’t say anything about the tension because I’m not on the city council now. People talk about it all the time, and it’s something that bothers a lot of people in the community, but it’s not something I can control right now. People who know me know that I am a very respectful person, and I will bring that to the City Council if I am elected.

Gautier: I think it is very clear that their inability to focus on the actual issues of the city rather than their own personal issues has gotten in the way of good governance and the ability to move forward on projects that would help Groton. This is obvious to almost everyone who looks at it.

The way to solve that is to change the council, which is what Groton independents are trying to do. Our five candidates have significant local government experience, and we are all solution-oriented. We are all willing to put partisan politics aside. We don’t do anything based on ego. We are just here for the community. This is how you will change the Council, by getting rid of the members who use it as a tool for their petty personal bickering.

McDermott: There is no doubt that it gets in the way of getting work done. Anyone who watches Council meetings can only conclude that. There’s a lot of intensity for sure. How to fix that, you just have to make the people on the board not feel that way. Nowadays, you see narcissistic displays from some people almost constantly. It was unbelievable. We need to change the people on the board to eliminate acrimony and get something done.

Westervelt: Yes, it has affected our ability to get things done. I feel like people really need to think about what’s best for everyone, and know that we’re all there to work together. I think this will help relieve some of the tension, and for people to understand that we all have Groton’s best interest in mind.

CT Examiner: What are the biggest challenges the City Council will have to address in the coming years?

Furgeson: Clearly, housing is very important. I think, as a former teacher, making sure we have the best schools with the best teachers and the right class sizes is also a challenge we will face. Because if we have an increase in housing, we have to make sure that we have the resources in the schools for the new families.

I think we need to look at our carbon footprint, and make sure that we’re as prepared as possible for another Superstorm Sandy, and that it won’t impact people along the coast. There are people who say, “You only worry about the rich,” but there are other parts of Groton along the coast that would be severely affected.

The most important thing is to be financially responsible. Our taxes are not low in Groton, and we need to make sure that the taxes go to a government that works efficiently, and there is no waste or overspending. I just want to make sure that we, as a city council, review the budget carefully. I don’t mind paying taxes because I want the fire department to come to my rescue. I want the kids who go to schools in Groton to have the best education, but I want to make sure the money we pay is used in the most effective way.

Gautier: Economic growth. And I think part of that is affordable housing, it’s all tied together. Groton needs to grow and diversify its business community. Kind of keeping up with modern times in many ways. We have Mystic, which is a great anchor. I don’t understand why we don’t have some of the vibrant business community in downtown Groton or in the city on Thames Street.

We are also a coastal community, so we want to make sure we make investments now to keep our families safe from climate change, and to keep our infrastructure and public assets safe. Just being a more future-focused and flexible-minded society when we make decisions and make investments.

McDermott: The most important thing is that there was a pursuit of unrestrained development, and as a result they put together these projects that disturbed the citizens. They wanted to build a data center, and a big group of people got together and said, “We don’t want a data center here because of all the problems that could happen next to a residential area.”

What they should do is go ahead and put some developments together if you think you want to do that, but then hold a public hearing immediately. Don’t wait until the contract is signed. And the contracts and agreements they have made are just awful. The people who work on the independent ticket have experience reading contracts. I worked for many years as a Vice President of an insurance company and also in business.

You don’t want to put together development that will cause citizens to revolt. Easy like that. So you need people on the board who know how to read a contract.

Westervelt: Constantly increasing taxes. I also think we need to take care of town owned properties so we can sell them.

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