William Barton challenges incumbent Brent Todd for Ward 1 council seat

  • William Barton Courtesy

  • Brent Todd Monitor file

  • Concord city officials set up the voting booths at Ward 4 at the Boys and Girls Club on Friday afternoon, October 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 9/20/2021 6:09:35 PM

William Barton of Elm Street and incumbent Councilor Brent Todd are facing off to represent Ward 1 this fall, giving residents a choice between an outsider candidate who is new to Concord and a longtime member of the City Council.

Although all ten Ward Councilors and two At-Large Councilors are up for re-election on November 2, Barton is the only candidate challenging a sitting city councilor.

A senior environmental health specialist for Abbott Labs, Barton says he has nothing against Todd’s leadership, but wants to give back to the city where he and his wife moved 11 months ago.

“A contested election is a good thing,” Barton said.

Meanwhile, Todd, who works as a risk analyst for electric insurance, has served on council since 2014. He said he wants to complete some of the projects he started on behalf of his constituents.

“In an election, as we know, citizens, residents, go to the polls and they make a selection for someone they want to represent them. People just don’t have the time in their lives to devote to the intricacies and information to make large scale decisions on behalf of the city,” he said. “I’m grateful for the trust people have in me.”

Todd has lived in Penacook for 16 years and says his big three issues are housing, business development and quality of life issues.

“Penacook is the potential sleeping giant for economic vitality and development and we’re seeing that through,” he said. “It’s a friendly giant but the giant is awakening.” He has high hopes for the Exit 17 Whitney Road development and a second phase of affordable housing at Penacook Landing.

He also defended the city’s purchase of the former Employment Security Building, which the city paid $1.575 million to the state for in 2014 and will be selling to the John J. Flatley company for $350,000. He said the development of the South Main Street property ensured that the land could generate tax revenue for the city for the first time, while giving Concord control over the downtown area.

“I think this will prove to be a very good investment for the city of Concord,” he said. “In that particular instance, it’s a pretty obvious reason why the city purchased that property. That’s the only way we would’ve seen that building developed.”

He cited the incoming CATCH housing at Rosemary’s Way, which will have some market-rate and some affordable units, and the first phase of affordable housing at Penacook Landing as examples of options that will help ease the housing crunch for Penacook residents. Merrimack County currently a 0.4% vacancy rate for apartments.

When it comes to solving homelessness, Todd says building more housing is key.

“There’s an instinct to want to help, but I think what’s going to be important is to create some housing options for people. If we really think we should solve the homeless problem, we need housing in your neighborhood,” he said. “This is a long term malady that we need to continue to focus on.”

Barton agrees that addressing homelessness is important for the city, and he fears that unhoused people on the downtown streets will drive away tourists. He attributes homelessness in Concord to expensive rents and the high cost of building materials. But he also believes there are too many incentives for people not to work.

“If you’re strong enough to work and in good shape, then you should be working like the rest of us,” he said. “I would certainly like to paint pictures all day and play the banjo but someone’s got to pay the bills.”

Todd thanked Ward 10 Councilor Zandra Rice Hawkins for raising the issue of changing the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day at a recent council meeting and said he is looking forward to hearing public input on the proposed ordinance change.

“It’ll be a full and robust discussion and I think everyone’s going to learn a lot of things,” he said. “I would like to hear from all constituents and hear what their views are.”

Barton said he would vote against changing the name of the holiday. “I am not for that. I don’t like the dumbing down of American history, I don’t like pulling down statues,” he said.

A fiscal and social conservative, he said he prefers small government and would like to lower taxes.

“My taxes are actually pretty high, compared to what I was used to paying in Texas or Massachusetts,” he said.

One area where Barton would oppose cuts is police spending.

“I am against cutting the police budget. Right now salaries are the only way to keep policemen on their job,” he said. “Concord’s too nice a city to let crime take over.”

Todd said that after the police department has filled existing officer vacancies, he would be open to increasing staffing based on the requests he’s heard from constituents for more police presence.

“I certainly see the demand,” Todd said. “There are a lot of folks who would like to drive home from work and see an officer parked on the street. The reality is that I don’t think our police department right now has the capacity to do something like that.”

In fiscal year 2021, the city council increased Concord’s public safety budget by $1.3 million, with $516,000 going to the police department. That number doesn’t capture the increased pension costs that the city has to pay into the New Hampshire Retirement System, with contribution rates for police officers and firefighters more than double the rates for other city employees.

Both men have said they will be accessible to Ward 1 residents and make sure people are involved in the city’s decision-making.

“I work for you – any questions, issues, suggestions, contact me and I’ll do my best,” Todd said.

“I’m a pretty good judge of character, I usually catch on pretty quick,” Barton said. “I tend to listen first and then offer my opinion when asked.”

Ward 1 residents can vote at Immaculate Conception Church on Bonney Street in Penacook on November 2 or via absentee ballot. You can  find  your ward on the Concord city website.

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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