Candidates’ Forum Yesterday at the UCC

The Northfield East Side Neighborhood Association organized a candidates’ forum which was held yesterday afternoon. I attended for part of the forum but was unable to stay for the entire event.

Participants (listed in the order they appear in the photo, left to right) were mayoral candidates Paul Hager and Mary Rossing; 2nd Ward candidates Betsey Buckheit and Jerold Friedman; at-large candidates Dana Graham and Kris Vohs; and special election at-large candidates Joe Gasior, Rhonda Pownell, Victor Summa, and Lynn Vincent.

Third ward candidates Erika Zweifel and Don McGee also attended, but were not part of the forum since their ward boundaries are not part of the NESNA.

A questionnaire was sent to the candidates prior to the forum, with their responses included in this MS Word document or this PDF.

I believe about 50 people attended the forum, but I didn’t count heads so I may be underestimating. I’d like to hear comments from those who were able to listen and participate more than I was. Were there any particular comments or discussion of note?

23 thoughts on “Candidates’ Forum Yesterday at the UCC”

  1. The forum had all ten candidates answering every question – which means that there was only time for 3 1/2 questions to be answered.

    One was on the lines of “what qualifications would you look for in selecting a city administrator”?

    The last 1/2 question (there wasn’t time for everyone to answer it) was about candidates’ positions on expansion of Northfield eastward – and everyone who spoke was against it.

    I’m blanking on the other two at the moment. It’s early still.

    I thought the most useful things about the forum were: 1) attaching faces/persons (and a bit of self-description) to the names on the ballots, and 2) the written answers to the questions.

  2. Patrick, I really hate a format in which every candidate on the panel answers every question (unless it’s just a two-person debate).

    Generally, by the time the 3rd or 4th person answer, they’re regurgitating responses and it becomes very boring. Why not have a moderator who says “only speak if you have something new to add or something you disagree with what a previous speaker has said”?

  3. I agree, Griff about all candidates answering the same question… they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

    What I found to be especially difficult for the candidates was the “staging”… all ten sitting in a big straight line and then passed a hand mike to answer while standing.

    It would have been considerate for them to have a podium to the side, or centered, with the candidates a little to each side, with a fixed mike. Even the hand mike at a podium would have been more comfortable. They should have been given an “anchored” space for their 4 minute opener.

    All in all, I think it’s great that there IS a neighborhood association and that they organized the forum … but the written answers definitely provided the best insight.

  4. Griff,
    I too would’ve preferred a format that separated the candidates into pairs or groups based upon the position they are seeking – especially because there are still 4 candidates for the 2 year at-large position. That group alone took up nearly half of the forum time.

    Still, in regards to the at-large 2 year Council seat, it was most helpful to see Joe Gasior and Rhonda Pownell for the first time. (I’ll skip rehashing the written answers, as they are posted above.)

    Victor’s political involvement and principles are fairly well known here, and what he said at the forum was consistent with his previous writings and statements. (I have to admit, I was mostly perusing the written answers when Victor – as well as other persons who I am familiar with, like the Mayoral candidates – spoke. My purpose yesterday was to sort out the people who were new to me.)

    Joe Gasior has experience as a project manager at Malt-O-Meal, and emphasized his experience working within budgets, and the need to do the same at city hall – with the priority of controlling spending.

    Rhonda Pownell cited her experience as a stay-at-home mom raising 5 children as her greatest strength as a candidate for city council. I could not discern any policy principles or positions from her spoken answers.

    Lynn Vincent cited her experience as executive for the Cannon Valley Girl Scouts as her greatest strength. She emphasized the need for structure within city leadership: the council led by the mayor must provide goals and vision to the city staff, led by the city administrator.

  5. Regarding Noah Cashman’s seat, I agree with Patrick that Lynn Vincent looked to be the best choice – however, given the lack of a primary, I’d REALLY like to see a straw poll for that position in the upcoming weeks.

    Regarding the candidates for Ward 2… My biggest impression came from a moment when nearly every other candidate had been misinterpreting a question about how can people work together to mean “what should we look for in a new city administrator?” Jerold was the first to indicate that he’d actually listened to the question by answering it directly. He said that all the elected officials, commission appointees, and city staff were working for the people of this city, and that remembering that would help provide unity of purpose. Betsey then continued on the theme of what should we look for in a city administrator.

    I’m really ready for someone who listens to the people. Jerold also talked about his idea of a website for citizens in Ward 2 to discuss issues (betternorthfield.com). Paul Hager talked about how he used to hold 3 town hall forums a year when he was mayor before, and he seems to want to continue that idea. These would be great first steps toward increasing transparency in our government.

    Biggest impression overall: time limits need to be enforced! And all candidates should never be allowed to answer all questions. I know LWV is good about both these problems at their debates; hopefully the other venues will follow suit.

  6. Felicity,
    I didn’t explicitly say (here, yet) that Lynn was my preferred candidate, but yes, that is a true reflection of my personal opinion. Joe Gasior may be a fine choice, and I do agree with Victor Summa on many of his policy positions on development and preserving the vitality of downtown, but my gut feeling is that Lynn Vincent will help foster the order, sense of leadership, and collegiality that I believe we need most at this time.

  7. When Griff and Ross and I did the state rep. 25B forum/debate last fall, we saw firsthand the challenges in coming up with a format that

    a) Was fair and impartial
    b) Kept the dialog moving constructively
    c) Allowed all who wanted to participate to do so
    d) Did not appear to favor one candidate more than another
    e) Made a good use of everyone’s time
    f) ……..

    It wasn’t easy, and I don’t think we succeeded on all counts.

    I felt the same way about Sunday’s forum, but frankly, it would have been difficult to have “enough” time for each candidate to respond to Q&A even if the forum had been limited to the candidates for the special election at-large seat (since there are four of them).

    I give the organizers full marks for bringing the candidates together at the same place and the same time. This made the candidates readily accessible to the citizens, and gave us a chance to speak to the candidates face to face afterwards. I thought the event was useful.

  8. I have thought long and hard whether to comment about this or not… At the NESNA forum,
    Kris Vohs made an astounding statement that he *did not approve the hiring of Al Roder*. (I’ve used no quotes because I did not write down his exact words) He then went on to explain that he , as did all the other councilors except the mayor, first voted for the other candidate. He continued with a rather garbled accounting of what he considered to be the Mayor’s interference with the process. He implied that the mayor convinced the initial candidate to not take the job. Here’s the rub : After the initial candidates rejection of the offer, The council, I believe unanimously, ALL voted to hire Al Roder.

    Is a vote to hire not an approval?
    Was Mr. Roder not supported by Councilor Vohs? indeed for all the time of conflict with the Mayor?
    Was not Councilor Vohs, along with C. Pokorney, the severance agreement negotiators?
    When did C. Vohs start to say there should be no severance paid?

    Now, before you start to say this is a wicked attack on Councilor Vohs … I want to say that it is often difficult to understand his point as he speaks with a lot of strung together prepositional phrases. Kris Vohs has worked long and hard on the HRA, and they have accomplished many, many wonderful things. He has also given a LOT of time in peripheral issues to the council operations, various committees, conferences, etc. There is MUCH to his credit in his work as a councilor.

    My crucial point is: this last 18-24 months has been such a detrimental time to this community that the one incumbent running makes a (what I consider to be) outrageous statement, for what reason? to distance himself from the mess? Given his entire voting record of these months, should he be allowed to claim that distance?

    They ALL approved the hiring of Mr. Roder; they ALL supported that decision in their ongoing support of Mr. Roder, and they will ALL have to accept whatever fallout accrues to them because of those actions.

  9. Kiffi,
    I didn’t fully understand Kris Vohs’s statement, either, regarding the selection of Al Roder, but he did seem to say that he initially supported the other candidate. I also didn’t follow his narrative regarding the selection of Mr. Roder – except that Mr. Vohs believes that Mr. Lansing somehow dissuaded the initial candidate from accepting the job.

    There has been a rumor circulating about such interference, but as far as I am aware, there is no evidence supporting Mr. Vohs’s claim.

  10. Patrick : I FULLY understood Kris’s statement, because I have heard it before (when he was not holding the mike too close to his mouth as he was at the forum) ; the larger point is, and was, that he said he did not approve the hiring of Mr. Roder, as I think he did by voting to approve that hire.

    Do you think that vote, and all the ongoing support over the ensuing months, constitutes approval … or not? And then how do you evaluate his statement?

  11. I think that voting for a candidate indicates support for that candidate – at the time the vote was cast, at least. I evaluate Mr. Vohs’s statement this weekend as a reflection of how he feels now about the situation, with the advantage of hindsight.

    Kris may well have preferred the original candidate over Mr. Roder (is there some kind of official record on that?) However, if he was actually opposed to Mr. Roder back then, he should not have voted to approve him.

  12. I’d like to put in a plug here for having the council meetings (and other groups, such as commissions) posted online. When the information is available, there’s no need to try to recall what happened – or in our case, try to figure out what happened before we came to town. (Kiffi – I’m not saying you don’t recall correctly, just that there is no permanent record of what was said.) I suppose there must be some permanent record of votes, but I’m not sure how to call it up rather than going through old council meetings one at a time.

  13. There is certainly a permanent record of all votes cast by the council. All council votes are recorded on a copy of each resolution as passed, and kept in the permanent records of the city.
    There are multiple ways to get that information, i.e. by accessing the resolution by its key words (I’ve done this at city hall with Mary Grant before everything was on line) by looking back in the council records at the appropriate date in the library’s council packet notebooks, maybe others less easily accessible like going back in the LWV’s council observer reports, or in the newspaper archives.
    There is no matter of “recall” in Mr. Voh’s statement of how he voted, or for a matter of fact in my statement; the council’s position was a well known fact at the time.
    The issue is that after supporting Mr. Roder by all statements made, and council votes cast, for close to two years and up until the last few weeks in the election season, was Mr. Vohs’s statement at the forum one that should lie there as fact, and go unchallenged?

  14. Kiffi,
    I’m pretty sure that what Felicity was suggesting was that these public records should be available online in the future.

    Unfortunately, her work schedule does not permit much time for perusing the paper records manually – and searchability is a wonderful function of the electronic age.

  15. Patrick : I hope you’re not getting in deep doodoo by replying for the felicitous Felicity…

    How far back would you think the public records should be available in on-line version? City Council only, or Planning Commission also? What other Boards; Charter Commission?

    It could be a monumental amount of material; at last week’s council meeting an issue arose that required records from the late 90’s… Staff said they couldn’t track them down; so pity the poor citizen trying to research.

    There are a bunch of resolutions and reports missing from the Dec.’05 to mid January ’06 council notebooks at the library, because they were all items noted on the agendas as “to be handed out”. Sometimes such items are never handed out because they change; usually the only way they can be tracked is by the resolution #, in the minutes as reported at later meetings.

    A great record keeping system would be great, but would cost what ???? to implement. Maybe the best way would be for everything to immediately go on-line. Would it take another staff position to manage it all?

  16. Kiffi,
    Speaking only for myself, I would suggest implementing electronic records going forward. If documents are entered into the public record, they could either be scanned, or included as .doc or .pdf or whatever.

    As for the level of availability, I’d start with what is covered at city council meetings (agenda, minutes, record of motions and votes, documents reviewed at the meeting, etc.), and work down. I would also suggest archiving the video feed of the meetings. It might well be a better use of the money that is currently used to broadcast this stuff on NTV.

  17. Patrick did accurately represent my feelings – and the reason for my slow response. I would think posting old material would get extremely unwieldy, so I’m in favor of posting all documents going forward. Much of it already is online; the real problem for me is how to find it if I don’t know enough about it to know what to search for, or (at the moment) when the meeting was likely held.

    Here’s a very rough idea which someone with knowledge in this area could probably improve dramatically:

    Develop a database intended to be searchable, with the following fields captured and associated with each pdf file that would be produced as a result of the search:

    • group that met (ie “city council”)
    • date of meeting (mm/dd/yyyy)
    • Keywords (“skate park” or “expansion of city area/land/map” or “library expansion”)
    • Intro (if the document has a short summary, include that word for word to help searching)

    The keywords would take some thought, so that they’d include enough buzzwords to catch a search by someone who didn’t know the typical keyword.

    All of this could be dramatically improved/removed if there exists software which automatically searches within pdf’s to find text there. For instance, if all the pdf’s were online, how much would it cost the city to implement a google search of the city website? That would be an easy solution in terms of staff time, since then simply posting all the material would make it immediately searchable. Keywords could be included inside the document, if needed.

    I’m strongly in favor of not limiting such capability to the council. Part of the problem I see now is the difficulty of following a project over its development through different groups. Too often citizens only jump in at the end, so lots of volunteer/staff time is wasted. This wouldn’t stop that problem completely, but it would make things easier for those who are interested.

    In looking back, I note that my original comment was about the videos from the council (and other groups, if available). Is there a plan to get those online (prospectively)? If so, whenever one can find the correct meeting date using a system such as the ones outlined above, one should be able to find the relevant video link.

  18. Good suggestions,Patrick and Felicity… I would hope you would pursue these issues with city staff, as to some practical responses to dollars, staff time etc.

    I certainly agree that anything which allows people to be more informed is a giant plus.

    Just as a point of reference for the current callup re: keywords (Avail to staff: I don’t believe any public access) the ‘keywords’ have to appear in the resolution, but that’s totally intuitive … usually.

  19. So now that there’s been a little diversion about researching on-line, let’s get back to my original question…

    If an incumbent candidate makes a statement that implies something that is just not factual, either by voting record or positioning of support carried out by their voting record, should that statement just lie there, unchallenged?

  20. In passing I asked Melissa Reeder, the city’s IT person, if streaming council meetings on-line would be possible – and if I remember right she said it was now possible technologically speaking (and that she thought it was a good idea), but needed some further direction or policy-making from Council.

    The other piece I’d like to see is better search capabilities for council minutes – it’s almost impossible to find when council took action on an issue from the website.

  21. Betsey, thanks for looking into this! For document searchability, maybe all we need is public access to the service the city staff can use? I’ve never seen it, but from Kiffi’s description it sounds much like what I proposed.

    Kiffi, I agree statements should reflect the actual vote/discussion; when they don’t match, the individual should be called on it. So I’m glad you’ve publicly called Mr. Vohs on this point.

  22. Many Sincere Thanks for answering my question , Felicity.

    All too often in both public and private interactions, the *hard question* is not dealt with for whatever reason … public official/staff: feeling that the less dealt with = the less controversy, until often too late, and then the ‘plans are already set’ card comes into play; and as to private/citizen … well, is it a fear of conflict?

    A lot of very strong private griping never gets made into public comment; my feeling is that only breeds feelings of resentment, and that a public discussion on matters of substance, properly talked through on both sides, has the possibility of an acceptable solution for all. Or at least all that participated.

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