Mayor Jo Brown challenged by two candidates in Franklin election 

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 09-30-2023 2:00 PM

Born and raised in Franklin, Jo Brown never thought she’d be at the helm of city politics. Now, the fourth-generation air-force veteran is running for a second term as mayor. Desiree McLaughlin and Samuel McLaughlin, who have no relation, are challenging her for the seat.

During her first term, Franklin’s downtown continued to evolve with new businesses opening and the development of Mill City Park. She’d like to continue this “forward momentum” in a second term, she said.

“With the Whitewater Park, we’ve had a significant investment of $70 million plus in downtown Franklin. We’ve worked closely with those investors and the city manager’s economic team, to know to recognize Franklin for the the wonderful place that it is,” she said in an interview with the Monitor.

However, Desiree McLaughlin, who serves on the Franklin school board, disagrees with Brown’s assessment of New Hampshire’s smallest city. As one of Franklin’s small business owners, who runs the 24-hour Central Street Laundromat, she said businesses and residents are being asked to foot the bill for misguided policies.

Like Brown, she said she had no intentions to get into local politics but felt compelled to do so after city leaders did not listen to the voices of their constituents, she said.

“Never had I been so motivated to represent a people as I was with the repeal and replace of the trash ordinance and then again with the introduction of a possible $20 million bond,” she said at a candidates forum hosted by Choose Franklin.

The trash ordinance, which was passed by the city council in March on a 6-3 vote, changed the collection policy so that business and multi-family homes are excluded from curbside pick-up and instead have to pay to dispose of their trash.

In opposition to the policy, McLaughlin collected over 100 signatures from Franklin residents and presented them to the city council on two separate occasions.

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She had more luck with her staunch opposition to a $20 million bond, proposed by the city’s Economic Development Task Force.

While the task force argued that the bond was necessary to catch up on deferred maintenance in the city and help revitalize downtown with further development of the whitewater park, the group decided against bringing forth the policy to the City Council.

Instead, the projects – road repairs, and maintenance on the Opera House and Trestle Bridge, and completing the second and third phases of Mill City Park – will be brought individually to the council.

“The current city council is heavily weighted in councilors with a much different definition of progress than many of our resident’s definitions, including my own,” said Desiree McLaughlin.

To help define his sense of progress for Franklin, Samuel McLaughlin had to leave the Three Rivers City and return. The 24-year-old, who went away for college and returned to work with his dad as a painter, now views this election as his chance to give back to the community.

“I saw a lack of good leadership and good things happening in the community and I thought I could help be the person who would push the community forward,” he said in an interview with the Monitor.

Part of that forward momentum comes from attitudes surrounding Franklin, he said. To move the city forward, leaders need to promote a positive future, which he doesn’t see from current leadership, namely Brown.

“There’s no limit to what Franklin can become. Over the past 10 years, its trajectory has been going upward, a lot,” he said.

As a young person who chose to move back home, he also emphasized his love for New Hampshire and the outdoor recreation the state has to offer.

Although Brown and other city leaders see the outdoor recreation – namely the rivers – as a way to harness economic opportunity in Franklin, Desiree McLaughlin wants to ensure the cost of this development doesn’t price residents out of the city.

Her laundromat often serves as a community hub for resources. Not to mention that she gets to know residents’ stories in between loads of laundry.

“I am a community-based person and collaborator among residents. Crowd-sourcing and being a resource is second nature to me,” she said.

When Brown was elected in 2021, voter turnout was a mere five percent among city residents. But with strong public input and attendance at city council meetings and public forums, Brown hopes residents take to the polls, regardless of which candidate they choose.

“You hope there is more turnout because if the majority of people want direction in a different way, well, that’s how they do it, through the ballot box,” she said. “I would always encourage everybody to get out there to vote.”

There are also a pair of contested city council seats. In Ward 1, incumbent Jay Chandler will be challenged by Timothy Johnston. In Ward 2, Susan Hallett-Cook is running unopposed for Robert Derochers’ seat. In Ward 3, city councilor Paul Trudel is not running for re-election, leaving four candidates to vie for his seat – Ed Prive, Gerald Bennett, Bradley Camley and Michael Lombardo.

Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the following locations:

Ward 1: The Franklin Elks, 125 South Main Street

Ward 2: Franklin City Hall, 316 Central Street

Ward 3: Franklin Middle School, 200 Sanborn Street

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