Concord at-large candidates focused on public safety, spending, Rundlett

  • Concord City Hall GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Sunday, October 29, 2017

The at-large city councilor race is between three candidates, two with nearly two decades of experience combined and a newcomer to politics.

Fred Keach, Amanda Grady Sexton and George Jack are all vying for the same two seats.

Each term lasts four years.

Amanda Grady Sexton

Amanda Grady Sexton sees the city as being at a crossroads.

On one hand, she said the city’s tax rate being lower than some of its surrounding communities (Pembroke, with $29 per $1,000 of assessed value, and Chichester, with $27.31 per $1,000 of assessed value, had higher 2016 tax rates than Concord’s $27.67, according to the state’s Department of Revenue), the level of public services the city provides and the development of Main Street are indicators of the city’s success.

On the other hand, Grady Sexton said senior citizens are concerned about being priced out of their communities. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen with the Steeplegate Mall, or what’s next for development on Loudon Road. And there’s the issue of what to do with Rundlett Middle School, a project with a potential price tag of $84 million.

“People are very happy with Concord in general,” she said, “but they’re concerned about the direction we’re heading in.”

In particular, Grady Sexton said the city’s tax rate is a challenge because of the amount of tax exempt properties located in its borders. Combating that means being aggressive about recruiting developers and bringing in mixed-use facilities, hotels, health care facilities and small businesses to broaden the city’s tax base, she said.

But Grady Sexton is less sure about the way forward with Rundlett; while she said she didn’t know too much about what issues exist with the current building, she said she knows it’s a “tired building that needs more than a facelift,” and felt the discussion should be centered on what the schools needs versus what people might necessarily want.

“I would encourage people to be very involved in the upcoming discussions about Rundlett,” she said. “We need to make sure kids have the things they need and the best education they can get, one that’s consistent with other communities.”

Grady Sexton has remained coy about her exact feelings about whether keno, should it be approved on Nov. 7, would be good for the city. She identified herself as not being “a betting person,” but has heard excitement from some of the city’s restaurant owners about the potential increase in revenue the Lottery Commission promises keno will bring.

Still, she said, “I don’t think it’s going to pass on the ballot. I wish we had the resources to fund full-day kindergarten fully, because kids deserve access to a full education. ...But the legislature decided keno was the best and only way to fund it, and here we are.”

State House lawmakers legalized KENO 603 earlier this year, when it was pitched as a way to help fund full-day kindergarten; officials project that keno could bring in $9 million in revenue.

Starting next school year, every school with a full-day program is set to receive an extra $1,100 per kindergartner. If keno revenues exceed expectations, however, schools statewide may receive more.

One area Grady Sexton is firm on is the need to continue to improve the city’s public safety. The current chair of the Public Safety Advisory Board, she said she’s familiar with the problems the state’s opioid epidemic is causing in the city and would like to see more treatment facilities, but also a stronger focus on prevention.

And while Grady Sexton praised what she sees as the city’s “community policing” model of interaction and enforcement, she said the police department’s vacancies are a cause for concern. “We need to ensure we get back up to the number we need,” she said. “In the vein of community policing, we need to do more with our young people by going into schools and educating kids … because that’s where prevention starts.”

Fred Keach

After 10 years of serving on the city council, Fred Keach said he had to think hard about whether he wanted to run again.

“I had to take a look at my motivations,” Keach said, “and see if I thought I could still do a good job.”

Ultimately, Keach said he found he did have gas in the tank for another go around, attributing his desire for public service to his upbringing in Concord: his mother worked for the Executive Council for 30 years, and his father had an equally long career as the director of Concord’s Parks & Recreation department (Keach Park is named after his father).

Keach identifies himself as a being fiscally conservative but socially liberal. But while he said “there’s always room for improvement,” in how the city spends its money, he didn’t have any specifics. He said the city’s manager, Tom Aspell Jr., has done a good job with the city’s resources, but also said there could probably be room for improvement in some of the city’s departments.

And while Keach said he is always concerned about the state’s downshifting of costs to the local level and the city’s tax base, the biggest issue he said the city is facing is public safety. A former police officer in Portland, Maine, he feels the key to maintaining public safety is proactive policing.

“When policing becomes reactive, neighborhoods are negatively effected, crime increases and overall quality of life suffers,” he has previously said.

A big issue, Keach said, is a lack of adequate mental health resources in the state, which he said leads to homelessness, crime, an over burdened EMS and a hospital emergency department that has unfairly and inadequately become the de facto solution for those affected.

But there’s concern at the local level, too, with Concord police’s staffing levels, although Keach said all police departments are struggling to find qualified candidates. While he said the city pays its police officers fairly, he said, “You get what you pay for. You don’t want marginal individuals having the power of arrest and carrying a gun. ...If finding qualified candidates is a problem, then maybe we should consider paying them more.”

Keach’s own brush with the law has had an impact on the state: He was arrested for aggravated driving while intoxicated at Memorial Field in October 2010 and pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated, first offense, a misdemeanor, in November 2010. That charge was later reduced to a violation, and Keach paid a $500 fine and briefly lost his license.

Following his arrest, Keach’s lawyer, Jim Rosenburg, sent a letter to the city questioning the amount of information the police department includes in arrest reports, according to Monitor archives. In his letter, Rosenberg said the information the city released in Keach’s case went beyond what was required by the state’s right-to-know law and “directly implicated Fred’s right to fair trial.”

The city then scaled back the amount of information it released in arrest reports in 2011. As a result, State Rep. Brandon Giuda of Chicester sponsored legislation in 2012 that standardized the kind of information police reports should contain, including the identity of the person arrested, the alleged crime and a statement about why and how the arrest was made.

Keach said the incident was not specific to himself, but was important to anyone facing prosecution in the city. He said the concern was more about making sure the police department was following the letter of the law, which the city solicitor found at the time it was not.

“I wouldn’t do anything different in regards to that,” he said. “...Subsequently, changes were made to the legislature, which is a good thing.”

Keach differs greatly from his incumbent opponent on the subject of keno. “It’s my personal opinion that it will pass,” he said. “I don’t believe it will create a class of gamblers that will be detrimental to the community.”

And while Keach said he thinks Rundlett needs to be improved, he was skeptical of whether the projected price tag was worthwhile in a city where enrollment has been declining. “I’m not convinced the size and scope of the project is needed considering enrollment,” he said.

George Jack

George Jack was unable to be reached for interviews for this story, but did send the Monitor a statement.

According to the statement, Jack has lived in Concord for over 10 years, and is married with two daughters. He is a children’s book author and a client services representative.

Jack says he would be an ideal candidate because he been an “At Large citizen of Concord” during his time in the city, living in neighborhoods close to downtown as well as on East Side Drive and in Penacook.

He also says he’s aware of the different challenges the city is facing.

“From the way we collectively deal with the opiod problem – including making sure those on the front lines doing so have and continue to have the full support of our city; making sure our children are getting the best education; furthering projects that provide assistance to – and enhance the lives of – all of us, not just those that live and work near Main St.; making sure you’re the money that you invest in Concord is well – and not overly – spent,” his statement reads.

Jack continues: “My experiences as a Concord citizen give me a unique perspective that would continue inspiring me to speak for you as well as to think locally while acting municipally. Thanks for having taken the time to let me introduce or re-introduce myself and for your consideration for myself seeking to serve you At Large.”

Jack previously ran unsuccessfully for school board in 2013.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)