Election hopefuls answer voters’ questions at “Meet the Candidates” event
October 6th 2022
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – Candidates for Town Council and the Chariho School Committee answered voters’ questions Monday at a “Meet the Candidates” event, organized by Town Administrator Karen Pinch and moderated by the League of Women Voters of South County. Attended by about 80 residents, the forum took place in the Chariho Middle School auditorium.
Voters’ questions, submitted shortly before the event began, were posed by League President Christine Martone, with every candidate given an opportunity to respond to each question.
The questions were familiar, reflecting previous election platform themes in the town: lowering taxes, attracting businesses, preserving the town’s rural character, the need for a community center and controlling the Chariho budget.
Participating candidates for Town Council were: Republican incumbent Richard Nassaney, former Republican council member Mark Trimmer who is hoping to return, and two Republican challengers: Jeffrey Vaillancourt, a local business owner who currently serves as Vice President of the Zoning Board, and political newcomer, psychotherapist, Helen Sheehan.
The participating Democratic candidates were incumbents Ronnie Newman and Lauren Cacciola Parmer, and challenger Samantha Wilcox. The unaffiliated candidates were current council Vice President James Palmisciano and Mark Reynolds, the Town Moderator, who also serves on the town’s Tax Assessment Board of Review.
School Committee candidates at the event were incumbents Ryan Callahan and William Day, both of whom are unaffiliated, and Democratic challenger, Jessica Purcell.
Several candidates did not attend. Unaffiliated council candidate Daniel Madnick, who currently serves on the Planning Board, was out of town but provided a statement, which was read by Pinch.
Republican Michael Colasante, who is running for council, was expected to attend but was absent, as was his wife, Kathryn Colasante, also a Republican, who is running for a seat on the School Committee. A second Republican School Committee candidate, Patricia Pouliot, was also absent.
Contacted Wednesday, Colansante said he and his wife could not attend because they had another engagement.
Conflicts between some Republican candidates have spilled out into public view in recent weeks. Colasante is endorsed by the Republican Town Committee, while Nassaney, who has clashed with committee leadership, has seen his name taped over on campaign signs and wiped from the committee’s web page.
Monday’s event proceeded smoothly, without any sign of the behind-the-scenes drama.
Several questions required candidates to talk about how they would encourage businesses to locate to Richmond, how they would preserve the town’s rural character, and communicate more openly with residents.
All of the council candidates pledged to work together for the town regardless of party affiliation, including the four incumbents, who acknowledged that the current council has been divided at times.
Several candidates, including Sheehan and Palmisciano, said they would establish focus groupsto discuss economic development in the town.
“I would ask the Town Council to have a joint meeting with the people from planning, zoning, economic development, for all of us to talk together in a kind of a round table.”
Palmisciano had a similar proposition.
“…Identifying two members of council, members of planning, zoning, the administration, and making sure that we can create a focus group,” he said.
Trimmer, Vaillancourt and Wilcox joined the other candidates in promising to foster a united council.
Reynolds said that if elected, as a newcomer to the council, he would first learn what he could from the town staff.
“I think one of the first things that I would do is get a feel from the staff in Town Hall, what’s going on,” he said. “Even though you might be at Town Council meetings and see what’s going on at the council, you don’t necessarily have an understanding of what projects might be in progress, what are the current issues that the town is facing that you might not be aware of.”
The School Committee candidates were asked how they would control rising costs in the CharihoRegional School District and whether they would provide oversight over school curriculum and library policies.
Callahan, Purcell and Day agreed that the district was required to comply with state mandates, leaving the committee with little real authority to make meaningful changes.
“We are being held hostage by the State of Rhode Island, because they control the budget that they send forth to Chariho,” Day said. “If we choose to deviate from their curriculum and other things that they have requested us to do, they withhold state aid…The State of Rhode Island and the legislature, they’re the super school committees for the state of Rhode Island, any way you look at it.”
Trimmer, who served two previous terms on the council, brought up the timing of the Public Forum segment of council meetings, which he stated used to take place close to the start of each meeting but was moved to the end of the meeting.
He criticized holding the public forum at the end of the meeting, because the council has already discussed and voted on agenda items before members of the public have had a chance to ask questions or comment.
“They completely cut out the most important member of the team, which is all of you,” he said. “If you have no opportunity to comment before a vote, to comment before a decision is made, you’ve been rendered useless.”
Newman said he would also support restoring the Public Forum to the earlier segment of the meeting.
Asked whether they supported the proposed senior/community center, the council candidates allfavored a multi-use facility, built and operated in conjunction with another entity, such as the YMCA, because it would be financially impossible for the town to operate such a facility on its own.
All three School Committee candidates said they would be open to considering a one-year teachers’ contract to replace the usual three-year agreement.