SOUTH KINGSTOWN – This year, ten local candidates are vying for a seat on the five-person town council.

During an unprecedented election season that has shaken up the way candidates would usually canvass their fellow community members, candidates for town council and school committee were invited to take part in a question and answer opportunity. 

Responses from candidates whose names were on the primary ballot printed in September, and Independent candidates (and a lone Republican candidate running for town council) appeared in October. 

The following responses are being printed in the same order as their names will appear on the ballot on Election Day.

James Lathrop – Republican

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office? 

A: Public service is a necessary and honorable calling. The skills and knowledge I developed working in municipal government are assets that will improve South Kingstown. Too often politicians run for office by running down the very government they hope to lead. Public service has grown onerous and frustrating. South Kingstown needs to look at issues with a positive and fresh perspective.

South Kingstown is a great community with many positive attributes. We must stop attacking each other and focus on the issues. I am running to make South Kingstown better.

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing our community today?  

A: The growing economic divide among our citizens and the perception that out-of-towners are imposing their values on the community is the underlying cause for many of the issues facing South Kingstown. 

We must narrow this gap by increasing opportunities for all citizens and move the community forward. 

South Kingstown is fortunate in that it has excellent volunteer firefighter organizations. The ability to attract new volunteers and the increasing level of services needed adds pressure on these organizations. Many communities have gone to paid departments with annual costs in the millions of dollars. South Kingstown cannot afford this. These funds are needed to address other issues, including education. We need to provide support to these organizations and their volunteers. I have proposed a tax credit to those that volunteer and serve.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school? 

A: We need a new High School! Education provides our children with the opportunity to remain in South Kingstown. The school must be a symbol of our community’s values and a community facility. It must be an investment that improves the community. 

A great building does not mean a great education. South Kingstown must improve the system of education to meet the needs of all students. All students need to be provided a path to success. We must address the issue of why so many of our students are electing to attend out of district schools, taking our tax dollars with them.

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you? 

A: My work has been recognized by the Providence Business News as the 2019 Government CFO of the Year and RI Public Expenditure Council as the Goodrich Award recipient for Distinguished Public Service in 2015. I was the 2018 South Kingstown Park & Recreation Volunteer of the Year for my work at Hazard Memorial Garden. I serve on the Board of SK Wellness, and am an incorporator of Centreville Bank. 

I am a CPA, with degrees in Accounting from Bryant University, and Public Administration from NYU. My success is due my commitment to transparency and ability to communicate. You will know the facts and why I support/oppose an issue. I will listen to you, especially when you feel I should change my position on an issue.

My motto for this campaign is that I am fiscally responsible and socially conscious. We must address our issues, but this does not mean throwing money at them. We must be creative and find solutions that moves South Kingstown forward.

Rory McEntee – Democrat

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office?

A: I have lived in South Kingstown for almost all of my life and have a deep connection with this town. But as a young person I am concerned about the direction of South Kingstown. Our population is declining, our public school enrollment is decreasing and more and more of the younger generation are pursuing other areas to live and start a family. I want to work with the younger generation of SK and encourage them to get involved and interested in the policies that govern this great town. The young people are an integral part of the future of this town and their voices need to be heard. I intend to prioritize educating the youth on issues surrounding the town and listening to their input.

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing our community today?

A: There are many important issues facing the residents of South Kingstown. Keeping tax rates low while maintaining a high quality of life in a declining population, ensuring the highest quality education in our public schools and incentivizing the younger generation to continue to live in South Kingstown, encouraging new and existing small businesses to operate and expand throughout the town while at the same time, protecting our environment and coastline from the effects of climate change and delivering high quality services. If re-elected, I will work to ensure appropriate measures are taken to address these concerns.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school?

A: I am in support of the plans to relocate the high school as long as the project is economically feasible. Obtaining a 50% reimbursement from the state is of immense importance to moving forward with any school facilities projects within town. We need to ensure we invest in our infrastructure, especially our schools. But we need to do so in a way that doesn’t cause exponential increases in taxes in the future years to come. Obtaining reimbursement from the state allows the town to take on facilities projects in the amount of roughly $90 million for the cost of $45 million (net of reimbursement). If the state money is still available, and the state pays fifty cents for every dollar spent, a deal like this is too good to pass up.

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you?

As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), I believe I have a lot of credible business

experience to bring to the council. Working with different businesses of different

industries on a daily basis has allowed me to gain insights into the existing and future opportunities and/or threats affecting business owners. My experiences can translate directly to understanding local business issues to alleviate these problems to help encourage business growth and development. Furthermore, my ability to understand budgets will allow me to immediately assist the council in analyzing spending and create a more efficient town budget.

Jessica Rose – Democrat

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office?

A: I have chosen to run for office for several reasons. While I am best known for my support of our public schools, I am also passionate about affordable housing and creating a sustainable community where families who have been here for generations can afford to stay, and where new families can afford to plant their roots.

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing our community today?

A: There are so many issues facing our community today that it is difficult to say which is the biggest. Racial equity in our schools and in our community, and the lack of affordable housing in South Kingstown are both critical issues that need to be addressed simultaneously and with a sense of urgency.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school?

A: When I first heard the plan to relocate the high school I was enthusiastic, as it seemed to draw support from many different groups of stakeholders. However the more I researched the more skeptical I became. While I truly appreciate all of the time and effort that people have poured into examining this possibility, at this time there are many too many uncertainties and potential roadblocks for me to support such an expensive project.

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you?

A: I would ask that voters put their trust in me, knowing that I am committed to engaging respectfully with all, even those whose views are different from my own. I value information and insight from all of my constituents.

Deborah D. Bergner – Democrat

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office?

A: I have been an engaged resident for over 20 years. I ran for Town Council in 2018 and was truly changed by the experience. I campaigned by knocking on thousands of doors, meeting fellow residents. The chance to meet with people and listen to what is important to them gave me a clear perspective about our community - residents are greatly concerned about taxes, schools, and being able to afford to live here. After that election, I stayed involved and continued to pay attention to the decisions and actions of our elected officials. In 2019, the Council president said “the community can afford it” and they passed a 3.8% property tax increase.This year, in the midst of the pandemic, they approved another budget increase and took money from our town’s rainy day fund to cover it. Their actions ignored the economic uncertainties we all are facing and helped me to decide to run again. 

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing the community today?

A: The pandemic has changed all of our lives. Residents are concerned about their health, their jobs and their family’s future. Does the community want to pause right now to give us all time to breathe. We haven’t been asked. The School Facility project has changed focus, expanded in costs, and ironically, shrunk in scope. This proposed $85M+ bond will be decided at a future special election, may prevent future borrowing, and commits an increase to our property tax baseline for the next 20 years. Trying to balance that with the many other important decisions that will have long term consequences requires a Council that pays attention to the local issues that impact us - responsible growth of our town, housing that is affordable for both young and old, and support for economic drivers that can enhance revenue but still keep the community feel we know and love.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school?

A: With a potential vote on a $85,000,000, twenty year mortgage, the community needs to be confident that this is the best decision. There was no community input regarding the relocation before it was approved by the current School Committee. Now, with the deadline to submit the application just three weeks away, there are no formal plans for the community to review/give input. Are they asking us to trust them with a blank check? This should concern all of us. The Columbia Street location is the most unique high school location in RI, nestled near Main street, providing walkability for many students before and after school. We need to be aware of all that our community loses if the high school is relocated. The plan appears to build redundant additions to a facility that the state has identified in greatest disrepair and not address those repairs. Our students and the entire community deserve better.

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you?

A: As a Democrat with an independent perspective, I hold the values we expect from those who serve. Ahead of us are many important decisions with long-term consequences and the community has a right to provide input on all the matters that impact their lives and pocketbooks. The current elected officials are not welcoming to residents who express their opinions and concerns. We need to embrace community participation, not disregard or dismiss it. We need a Town Council who will listen to all of us, not just some of us. We rely on the Town Council to see through the rhetoric and make the right decisions. I am an honest, straightforward voice who will advocate for our community and pay close attention to the local issues that impact us: responsible growth, housing that is affordable, and mindful spending of our tax dollars.

Abel Collins – Democrat

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office?

A: I am running for office because I love this community. I want it to be on a sustainable path towards a thriving future for the coming generations. It has been the honor of my life to serve on the Council for the last six years. We have accomplished much that I am proud of, from clean energy initiatives to protecting civil rights and maintaining our public schools. Now in a time of crisis, I believe it is even more important for me to devote time to ensuring our town meets the challenges of the moment and is in a position to prosper into the future.

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing our community today?

A: So many issues we face right now are at a State, national or global scale. The biggest issue facing SK today which the Council has some power to fix is the lack of affordable housing. We’ve taken some initial steps to help address the problem and have begun discussions that will lead to more impactful policy changes with the ongoing affordable housing study. If I am reelected, I look forward to updating our zoning ordinances to allow for more mixed use development and greater density in our village centers. Creating conditions that encourage the building of workforce housing is key to future health of our local economy.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school?

A: I support the hard work that the Building Committee and School Committee have put into developing a plan that puts our students first. The Curtis Corner High School Plan would offer a much better space to learn than the current high school, and I believe it would draw in students interested in Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways. The Curtis Corner site has the added benefit of having the bulk of the schools’ athletic facilities close at hand. However, there are clearly benefits to the current Columbia Street location, especially its proximity to the center of town.

Without knowing the true cost of the Curtis Corner option, I think it’s premature to choose one site over the other, but one thing is clear: The State’s willingness to pay for 50% of the construction costs is an opportunity to improve our dilapidated school buildings that we can’t pass up.

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you?

A: Holding elected office is a serious responsibility at any level of government, and I endeavor to govern to a standard befitting the good people and long history of South Kingstown. After six years on the Council, four as President and two as Vice-President, I have a record of steady leadership on which voters can depend. I am a reliable voice for reason and compassion in addressing the challenges that we face as a community, and the people can count on me continuing to live up to the oath of office.

Deborah Kelso – Democrat

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office?

A: My campaign for re-election to the South Kingstown Town council is centered on the unfinished business currently before the Council and the following goals: I want to be sure South Kingstown continues to be focused on supporting all residents while keeping the tax rate affordable. The Town Council needs to lead the way to help businesses and citizens recover from COVID-19. I want to be sure the budgeting process continues to support policies that make necessary investments to upgrade and maintain our roads and infrastructure and provide residents with safe, attractive, bike-able and walkable streets. High on my list of priorities is the need to maintain public access to the shoreline and to preserve our first-class parks and protect our historic districts and structures. We also need to continue to adequately fund our Schools, EMS and Police. I want to work toward a town that is welcoming and equitable to all and recognize that we have work to do to achieve that goal.

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing our community today?

A: South Kingstown is struggling with attracting entry level home buyers due to the high median home price in our town. We need to re-examine our current planning and zoning policies and ordinances to be certain that we have made every tool available to address the dearth of workforce and entry level housing. I truly believe that a diverse community - economically, culturally, racially and generationally - makes for a strong community.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school?

A: As a member of the School Building Committee, I support the idea of moving the High School to Curtis Corner. The question I endorsed in January of 2020 is “Is the proposed budget of 85 million dollars more wisely spent on a plan that includes relocating the High School to Curtis Corner rather than spending the same amount on the original plan that included the renovation of the existing Columbia Street Facility?” I cannot give a definitive answer as of today (8/20) on whether or not I support the final plan until the cost estimates are received. The cost estimates from the architects, RGB, and the owner’s project manager, The Peregrine Group, are due to the School Building Committee on September 3rd . Once I have an opportunity to delve into the estimate, I will be able to offer a more nuanced answer to this question.

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you?

A: I have served on the Town Council for the last two years never being afraid to speak my mind, always striving to listen closely to the public and to give due consideration to alternate points of view. The residents of South Kingstown will always get an honest answer and opinion from me.

Dorald Beasley – Independent 

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office?

A: Because South Kingstown desperately needs new leadership on the town council and school committee. People with ideas and honesty who are not beholden to the State’s Democratic party and the unions that fund it.

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing our community today?

A: I believe S.K. has two major issues. First, the takeover of our town council and school committees around 2000 by the public employee unions - chief among them the NEA (National Education Assn). Over the last eighteen years the taxpayers of this town have overpaid between $60-120 million dollars for a bloated school district workforce while our school buildings have deteriorated and the quality of instruction declined. Our school district is no longer on par with Barrington and East Greenwich as it was a quarter-century ago. Today we’re mid-pack at best. Our school district withholds information from parents and taxpayers which proves what I just said is true.

The second issue is our stagnant tax base, which will begin to contract around mid-century because of the effects of global-warming. Coupled with the exorbitant cost of buildable land and the lack of “worker’s housing” these factors are making South Kingstown unaffordable for every socio-economic group beneath two-wage earner middle class families. Especially hard hit are young working families which may have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan payments from the day they graduate.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school?

A: YES, but I want two major changes made to our Stage II application before it’s resubmitted to RIDE in February.

1. Our student enrollment projections don’t support adding two new wings onto Broad Rock Middle School. Adding only one will save $10 million. Put those savings into our four elementary schools instead.

2. Hire a new architectural firm for the high school project and build an entirely two-story new high school on Curtis Corner. (For more information please read the response I gave to the South County League of Women Voters to the same question elsewhere in this edition.)

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you?

A: Because I’m not a politician and I love this place that’s been my home for sixty-five years. From November 2017, when I first got involved in the school building project, to today, I’ve spent literally thousands of hours working on ways to improve the work our school building committee is doing to bring our schools up to 21st century standards – for free. While doing this work it became clear that the compensation costs we’re paying, which makes our per-pupil expenditure among the top three in RI (and top 10 in Massachusetts) are not producing comparable outcomes in our classrooms. I want to help reverse this, by encouraging our school district to change the way they do business and make students priority number one. If rational persuasion doesn’t work then there’s a state law which allows communities with declining enrollments to calculate their financial aid on a per pupil basis that will. It’s time for NEARI to pay-it-forward to this community by increasing our students to FTE (full time employee) ratio from today’s 6:1 to 7.5:1 by FY2030. Retirements alone would get us close to the goal. Let’s work together for the betterment of our community.

Now here’s a question for the readers to contemplate: How is it possible for a town, that’s the home to the state university and has the best community hospital in RI, to have a 30%​ drop in the number of school age children since 2000? Help elect me and I’ll work tirelessly to solve this dichotomy.

Charles G. Sweet – Independent

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office?

A: The past several years have been very expensive for taxpayers of South Kingstown. We need to do better with our spending decisions. If we continue down this path many of our elderly and young families wanting to move in won’t be able to afford it. Our school budget continues on an upward trend while enrollment continues to decline. We have a communications system that leaves our responders without proper coverage. We have an EMS system that is not adequately manned. I want to address these problems so that we can make South Kingstown a better place for all residents

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing our community today?

A: The town's poor financial decision has led to an increasing divide in town. Our taxes have increased 13%, not including compounding, in the last 6 years which is making it more difficult to live in our town. This year alone we had over a 3% increase while in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and financial crisis. We can’t continue with this irresponsible spending. Town leaders need to come together and work for the good of the entire town. Put issues on the table so we all know where we stand. Then address the issues. Honestly I don’t know if this would work but we need to try. We, as a community, can get so much more productive if we can work together.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school?

A: I preferred a new high school be built but that’s not an affordable option. What is being proposed now is a $65,000,000.00 addition on the existing building and sprucing up the remainder of the building which has numerous deficiencies. The administration building will be torn down for parking. Millions spent on site work which adds no value to the student’s education.

The present high school is an older building that is in the best shape of all the schools. A few years ago the price to bring the building up to what is needed today was approximately $35,000,000.00. Also keeping the high school at its present location will help preserve the recreational land on Curtis Corner Rd. If you have not been up there I urge you to, it’s a hidden gem to be used by all.

For me the best project is the project which gives the students and teachers what they need at a price that won’t hurt residents financially.

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you?

A: I’m not one to puff myself up to for votes or any other reason. This is so important, and I have seen in person and at every Zoom meeting that trust has eroded with our town. I guess my answer is read the above and look at what I have done in South Kingstown. You can't run a business in town for over 20 years if your customers do not trust you. I’ll bring that same ethics to my service. If you agree with my beliefs then I’m the person for you. I will do my best to represent everyone in town.

Dave Laudati – Independent

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office? 

A: I have chosen to run for public office because I feel that emergency services (specifically EMS and fire) in South Kingstown are operating as they did decades ago and are in dire need of change and updating. The fact is that 75% of calls to fire departments today are for medical aid, and the system in South Kingstown is not designed to handle this situation. This is due largely to the fact that there are three governments operating in this town- the Town of South Kingstown, the Kingston Fire District and the Union Fire District. This has created a culture where fire operations and EMS operations are handled by two completely separate organizations. This is both costly and inefficient for the taxpayer.

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing our community today?  

A: I feel that while the school system is a much larger operation budget wise, and of course children's education is an extremely important issue, emergency services can affect virtually any person at any moment. Since this is the field that I was in for my 34 year career, I feel that I have a base of knowledge that can be helpful to the town and its residents.

The fact is that our fire/EMS system must be updated to meet the needs of the public today. Our town is about 58 square miles and while the census bureau lists our population at 30,000, there are in fact far more people living in South Kingstown. Between the University of Rhode Island and summer residents and beachgoers, I feel that our population is actually closer to 50,000. We have an overabundance of firefighting resources and an inadequate town operated EMS system. Fundamental changes in how these two systems operate must be made in order to better serve the needs of the public.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school? 

A:: I do not feel that I am ready to take any position on the high school question at this time. There are simply too many unanswered questions on fundamental issues, and I refuse to commit to something that I do not feel has been fully researched, planned or explained. For example, what will be the cost of the new high school? How much of this amount will the state DOE reimburse the town? What is the number of students  that the new school is being designed to hold? With declining enrollment in the school system over many years, will the new building be a white elephant before it opens? A large addition was built onto the present school within the past 15 or 20 years. Is it truly obsolete? Can renovations be made at a lower cost to the taxpayer that will make the existing school serviceable for many years to come? I need to have confidence that I know what I am voting for, and I am not at that point at the present time.

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you? 

A: I have lived in South Kingstown for 28 years, and Narragansett for 18 years prior to moving. I was a Narragansett fire fighter for 34 years. I have operated a landscaping business since the mid 1980's and still have many customers dating back to the beginning of the business. I graduated from the University of Rhode Island. I have loved South County since my parents first brought me here when I was about age 5. There is no place that I would rather live. I believe I have lived my life being honest and trustworthy. I ask for your support on November 3. Thank You.

Alex Petrucci – Independent

Q: Why have you chosen to run for public office?

A: I have decided to run for public office because I watch the incumbents seeking reelection to the Council failing to see what it's like to start a family in South Kingstown during these times. I also know we need more balance on the council. There are a lot of independent minded people in South Kingstown and I feel it is important for them to have a voice at the table.

Q: What do you view as the biggest issue facing our community today?

A: The biggest issue facing South Kingstown today is without a doubt, housing. With the average home price north of $350,000, and a half acre of land just under $200,000, people just starting out and those who make less cannot afford to live here. Even rentals are too costly for many people, if they can even find one. Government planning has pushed the market to respond this way, and I have not seen decision makers willing to change this thinking.

Q: Do you support plans to relocate the high school?

A: I do not support the plan to relocate the high school. The Curtis Corner building is in terrible shape and we cannot afford to fix it the proper way. Relocating the high school to Curtis Corner is a bad plan for both the taxpayers and the students. How are we going to tell our students they have a new high school when most of the current CCMS building won’t be remodeled? Remodeling Columbia street in phases makes the most sense for both the students and the entire rest of town footing the bill.

Q: Why should voters place their trust in you?

A: Voters should place their trust in me because I believe in representing all 30,000 South Kingstown residents and not a select few. I believe in working hard for what you have and understand the value of a dollar. I understand what it’s like living life on a budget. Most importantly though, I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing it for those that feel like they are not being heard. I have no other political dreams after this. I just want to do the right thing, not benefit myself. 

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