SALISBURY — A possible conflict of interest, American Rescue Plan Act money and a slot machine parlor were among the hot topics of discussion when the three draft pick candidates shared the same table Thursday night.
Incumbents Freeman Condon and Ronalee Ray-Parrott are both up for re-election for another three years to the Board of Selectmen.
Salisbury Lions Club President Michael Colburn is also a candidate for one of two available seats.
The three appeared together for a town hall candidates forum. Former Zoning Board of Appeals member Susan Pawlisheck served as moderator and Katie Beal, program director for the Boys & Girls Club of Lower Merrimack Valley, timed the evening.
Ray-Parrott works as a social worker and is running for her third three-year term on the Board of Selectmen.
She told the crowd of around 25 in the Colchester Hall on Thursday that Salisbury is a place with small town values, good schools, parks to play in and a wonderful beach.
Colburn, the owner of 5 Elements Property Maintenance Inc., said he is running for the Board of Selectmen because many residents have asked him to.
Condon is the former owner of Beach Plum Farms. He is running for a fourth three-year term as manager and said the people of Salisbury are working to make the town a healthy, diverse and welcoming community.
Each candidate was asked if Salisbury should expand its affordable housing options beyond the state’s recommended 10% for its housing stock.
Ray-Parrott said Salisbury already accounts for almost 10% of affordable housing and she would like to see that number rise to 15% or 20%.
‘That’s not where we should stop, it never meets the needs, not only of affordable housing but of people who need to be able to grow old and stay in Salisbury and afford it,’ she said .
As the father of identical twins, Colburn said he’s an example of what affordable housing is, but he also thinks the city should be able to weigh in on the issue once it hits 10 percent.
Condon said Salisbury is most likely under the 10% recommendation at the moment and he would prefer to see the city negotiate with the developer while a housing project is in the preliminary planning stage.
All three candidates said they would not support an amendment to the city charter to allow for the replacement of the chief executive with an elected mayor.
One issue raised at the forum was the possibility of a perceived conflict of interest.
Condon has entered into a buy-and-sell agreement with developer Steve Paquette to sell 28 acres he owns at 6 Forest Road. Paquette plans to build a 56-unit condominium complex on the property.
The plan was approved by the city, but the decision was appealed to Essex County Superior Court.
Condon said he and his wife, Maureen, bought the land as an investment 35 years ago, but was “distressed” by people who said elected officials lobbied the Zoning Board of Appeals to approve the project.
“The Board of Selectmen had no role in this project and I had no role in this project,” he said.
Condon added that he hasn’t spoken publicly about the project and had nothing else to do with it other than signing the purchase and sale agreement.
Condon said he was disturbed by much of what he called ‘inaccuracies’, ‘hate’, ‘vitriol’, ‘bigotry and threats’ to which he and his family were subjected over the past year and added that he disputes the affordability. the accommodation was decried.
Ray-Parrott agreed that the selectors played no part in the Forest Road project. As a member of the Affordable Housing Trust, she voiced her opposition to the location of the project on a secondary road.
Colburn said none of the incumbents had any conflicts of interest with respect to the project, but added that Condon owning the land could cause confusion and misunderstanding among residents.
“The appearance could show that there could be a conflict of interest,” he said.
Given that Salisbury is set to receive $1.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, applicants were asked how they would like to see the money spent.
Condon said he would like to use the funding for sewer improvements, while Ray-Parrott said she would prioritize sewers, parks and recreation, and mental health.
“As a social worker, I wear this badge very proudly,” she said.
Colburn also spoke about his passion for parks and recreation.
“Ronalee’s dad and my dad built Lions Park and it needs some updating,” he said.
The Salisbury Beach Betterment Association sponsored the candidates’ forum with Salisbury Community TV and Media Center, which televised the event.
While SCTVMC fielded more than 25 questions from city residents for the forum, each candidate also had the opportunity to interview their opponents.
Colburn asked Condon why he and the council voted against allowing a slot parlor on Route 110 in 2013.
Such a question should have been decided by voters in the town hall and not by elected officials, Colburn said.
Condon replied that he would never have a problem bringing such an issue to Town Meeting.
But the coach added that he objected to the slot show because while the developer had promised to build a 12,000 square foot building, plans said the building would be 120,000 square feet.
“I gave him three chances to clear that up, we had a problem where we were under fire and we had four or five days to decide if we were going to let that happen,” he said.
Condon asked Ray-Parrott if she was happy with the way the city was run. She replied with a simple “Yes”.
Ray-Parrott asked Colburn that if elected in May, what does he think he could do better than the current elected officials?
Colburn said he had “an incredible ability to engage people”.
“It’s one of my specialties, I get involved, get involved, get involved and I do it with kindness,” he added. “The only thing I would do better is get people involved.”
Colburn asked Ray-Parrott if the city should back down further on its assessment of the Triton Regional School District.
Ray-Parrott said the town had an unfair advantage because it had more overall wealth than the other two towns in the district, Rowley and Newbury, and ended up paying more than it should.
“Should we retaliate? The problem is that all three cities in the regional agreement have to sign off on their assessment and honestly with the numbers I just saw I don’t see that happening,” she said.
Condon asked Colburn to give him three specific changes he would get elected.
Colburn said the council could engage more with residents, but added that he wouldn’t make many more changes because that’s not what he’s running for.
Ray-Parrott asked Condon why he thought he should be re-elected and he told him that he took the job very seriously and would like to see current projects completed.
“I believe my knowledge and experience can bring benefits to this city,” he said.
Ray-Parrott concluded by saying she has achieved a lot in her six years on council and wants to continue to be a voice for the residents of Salisbury.
Colburn said he has a “deep and genuine love” for Salisbury and hopes to “stand up for the town” by serving on the board.
Condon said he understands when people disagree with him after certain votes, but hopes they will never be disappointed with his effort, integrity and commitment to the city.
Writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.