Former councilor and council newcomer face off in Ward Five 

  • Stacey Brown Courtesy

  • Mark Coen Courtesy

  • Concord city worker Ed Bisson sets up the voting booths at Ward 8 at the Bektash Shrine Center on Pembroke Road in Concord on Friday morning, September 4, 2020 in anticipation of Tuesday's primary voting.

Monitor staff
Published: 9/19/2021 8:06:53 PM

In the race to fill the city council seat left by outgoing Councilor Rob Werner this November, Ward 5 will have a choice between former At-Large Councilor Mark Coen, 72, and council newcomer Stacey Brown, 49. The race boils down to whether residents of Ward 5 want an councilor who represents more of the same leadership or one eager to bring new ideas.

Brown has emphasized that while she is new to city government, she will bring fresh energy and a focus on local climate solutions and health. A 12-year resident of Concord and New Hampshire native who works for the Concord Public Library Foundation, she wants to bring the city together, bridging the segregation she said the river creates.

“I think creatively and I work collaboratively, I am very active physically in my community and I would seek out voices, seek out information and seek out solutions,” said Brown, a marathoner and bicyclist who means “active” literally.

Meanwhile Mark Coen, who retired from the council in 2019 after 13 years, touts his experience and success working with the current council, city manager and mayor. He said his background on the projects the city has been working on for years will help him jump back into the council’s work.

“It’s going to be a very short learning curve for me,” he said. “I hate the term institutional knowledge, but over the last 13 years I was on [the council], and I was on dozens of different committees over the city,” he said.

He said much of the background work that informs council decisions come the vetting of those volunteer committees, which makes those decisions stronger.

Background

Coen, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma but has lived in Concord for 50 years with his family. He said he appreciates Concord’s outdoor spaces and the value residents place on volunteerism and civic engagement.

“It’s been a great city to live in,” he said, and he enjoys being accessible to citizens. “I get a phone call, I’ll return it,” he said. “I do my best to follow through on any issue.”

Coen said he has a good relationship with the current city administration and praised the work of City Manager Tom Aspell.

Currently a member of the Ad-Hoc Beaver Meadow Golf Course Clubhouse Committee, Coen is ready to jump back in and serve after stepping down in 2019 to gain new perspective and take a break. His “sabbatical” during Werner’s term was so short that some residents didn’t realize he had even left the council, he said.

Brown feels Coen was right to recognize it was time for new blood on the council in 2019.

“He’s been on there for along time and I feel like we don’t have time to do the same old. We need to act on climate, we need to support families,” she said. As a mother, she said she understands the challenges that other parents with kids at home have experienced during the pandemic.

Brown feels that she has a greater sense of urgency than Coen when it comes to local solutions to climate change. “They lost 38.5% of the tree cover on his watch,” she said, referring to a report from the city’s Tree Subcommittee. “They were not enforcing when developers were supposed to put trees in and they died.”

A member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, she feels she can bring a focus on the community’s health and wellness, rather than solely economic development. While serving on the board of the Merrimack River Greenway Trail she donned green spandex to act as the trail’s unofficial mascot, one example of the creative thinking she says she’ll bring to the city. She has also been involved in her children’s schools, helping to found an Engineer Week at Christa McAuliffe Elementary School.

The current council

Brown thinks the current council could act more quickly to address problems. “I think they stall on a lot of things,” she said. “They kind of push things off to committees.”

She cites the experience of supporting her daughter, now a 6th grader, in her push for an ordinance allowing chickens in Concord. Brown said that process took 22 months, including 8 months during which the Public Safety Advisory Board didn’t meet.

One of her top issues is addressing the city’s loss of tree canopy, which she said makes it difficult for residents to get outdoors and raises tempers, increasing conflict that could escalate to police involvement.

“We need to always be looking at, how can we address this in terms of framing it through addressing the climate crisis?” Brown said. “We have a pandemic going on. We have a housing shortage, there is an opioid epidemic.”

She also thinks the council could do more to support the building of community through events and bringing different perspectives together to solve problems.

Coen said one of his strengths is that he can work with the knowledge that municipal government moves slowly, and make feasible projects happen.

He said he helped repair broken lines of communication on the city’s Conservation Commission to help that body work more effectively with the council. Some of his other achievements happened outside of city politics – like helping build a girls softball field where his daughters could play.

Coen believes the current council has done a good job in steering the city through the pandemic. He said people who run for city council with a certain “one-note” agenda are often ineffective because they lack interest in stewarding the city through the other 99% of governing.

“It’s really a good city, it’s well run.” he said. “And getting back to people who run on a one-note of changing something – it’s not a city of racists, it’s a very nice place to live.”

A top issue for him is maintaining the city’s financial integrity, which he says is currently strong.

“The key to, for the city’s health, is to continue having a strong fiscal policy and a strong fiscal policy committee. That’s boring,” he said. “But that’s how the whole thing works.” He attributes the city’s increasing budget to the rising costs of wages, benefits and retirement for employees.

Both share strong support for the Concord Police Department. Brown’s husband is a detective with Concord Police, and she has said she will recuse herself from issues involving police department funding if council decisions will directly benefit her family.

Coen said that recent calls in favor of reducing police funding were misguided when many of the problems the police deal with are rooted in longtime failures to provide adequate mental health care. “The issue is not that we overfund the police department, the issue is we underfunded mental health in society for the past 50 or 60 years,” he said.

“I think it’s in collaboration with the state of New Hampshire, saying you gotta come up with more money and a plan to do this. Maybe it’s, again, getting back to institutions, buildings where people are housed,” he said.

The two candidates differ on a recent issue put before the council: whether to call the October holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day.

“I think it’s great,” Coen said of the proposed change. “Why don’t we just find another date for them instead of trying to piggyback on Columbus?”

Brown is a quarter Italian, and says unequivocally that the holiday should be renamed Indigenous People’s Day.

“I think that is an example of the council dragging something out that doesn’t need to be dragged out,” Brown said. “It’s not Italian American Appreciation Day. It’s called Columbus Day. So why would we celebrate somebody who contributed to the genocide of millions of innocent people?”

Ward 5 residents can vote in-person on Nov. 2 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. at Green Street Community Center, or request an absentee ballot from the City Clerk’s Office.


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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