Special election scheduled for July 12 to fill vacant Somerset coach seat
SOMERSET – The city will choose a new manager in a special election on Monday, as acrimony over Brayton Point’s fate and concerns over the city’s sources of income continue to rise.
The Selectmen board of directors has been vacant since April, when Holly McNamara, then Selectmen, abruptly announced her resignation, citing allegations of intimidation and harassment by members of the neighborhood group Save Our Bay Brayton Point. Since then, the board has operated with just two members, chairman Lorne Lawless and newcomer Allen Smith, chairman of Save Our Bay Brayton Point.
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Two candidates are on the ballot to take the seat for the remainder of McNamara’s term, which expires in April: Kathy Souza, a familiar face at city council and committee meetings and leader of Save Our Bay Brayton Point, and Melissa Terra, who has already served two terms on the school committee.
Souza, who currently works as director of environmental health and safety at Roger Williams University, said his top priority as coach would be to foster the city’s economic development. Since Brayton Point power station closed in 2017, the city has had to face an uphill battle to generate enough tax revenue to support the services.
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“We are currently looking at some big bills,” including the recently approved Somerset Middle School construction project and a potential overhaul of the city’s sewer system, Souza said. “It’s not ‘how many ways can you slice the pie to make it work?’ This is how you can grow the pie.
Souza said she wanted to encourage small businesses to locate in Somerset, in part by lowering the city’s business tax rate. She suggested tapping into the city’s stabilization fund temporarily to do so without raising property taxes for homeowners.
Regarding Brayton Point, Souza said that since the state technically owns the wharf and the land behind it, the Department of Conservation and Recreation must step in and block the company that is currently using the land to store and ship the scrap metal. . metal. Residents complained of water pollution, junk strewn on roads and lawns, and loud noises resulting from activity at the peak. Last month, the EPA fined Patriot Stevedoring & Logistics for violating the Clean Water Act and asked it to modify its scrap loading system to avoid dumping it into the water.
“They have to come in and regulate the property they own,” Souza said, referring to the state government.
Souza has refuted claims of McNamara bullying by the group Souza helps lead, saying she was unaware of the inappropriate behavior of group members and that the former manager herself had targeted the group with insensitive placards on their lawn. She also pointed to Smith’s election to the Board of Selectmen this spring, in which he won 70% of the vote, as an indication that the city does not have a larger problem of political division.
“This city is not divided, in my opinion,” she said.
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Terra, whose career before her retirement this summer focused on working with people with special needs, mental disorders and substance use disorders, says she will focus on economic development as well as increasing transparency and teamwork in municipal government.
“I felt I could bring a fair and balanced view to it,” she said of her decision to run. “I didn’t have a conflict of interest and I’m someone who, just by my record, listens to everyone before making a decision.”
She said she would work to make selection meetings more accessible to residents through measures such as prompt publication of meeting minutes and improving the way the city disseminates information to residents. And, it would work closely with the city’s economic development committee to strengthen the city’s financial position.
Potential new residents and business owners she spoke with have expressed reluctance to relocate to Somerset over fears that the city’s politics may be too bitter and controversial, Terra said. Attracting large numbers of new residents and businesses to Somerset will require dispersing this belief by encouraging stakeholders and city government agencies to work together in harmony.
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“The only way to do it is to show people who want to move to the city that we’re not that complicated, we don’t have all this discord,” she said.
Terra said she understood the concerns of the residents of Brayton Point over the impact of the junkyard’s presence on their neighborhood and that she traveled to the area late at night to assist herself to the disturbance.
“There shouldn’t be housekeeping all night. There has to be some accountability, ”she said. “But do I think that should be the main topic of the city?” No… I mean other things that have kind of been put on the back burner. “
She said her record on the school committee shows that she is well placed to listen to the concerns of residents from all walks of life. She helped increase the transparency of school-related Town Meeting articles and revamped the process of asking committee members to regularly inspect school buildings after residents expressed concern that the new regional high school eclipsed other neglected buildings.
“I represent the voice of people who may not be able to speak,” she said.
Last month, a state law allowing early postal voting during the pandemic expired. This means that unlike the May special election at the new Somerset Middle School, the only option for not voting in person in that election will be postal voting.
Deputy Clerk Kathy Maiato said at the city clerk’s office they knew the law was due to expire at the end of June and that they were proactive in contacting voters who had already registered to vote by mail alerting them of the change . Postal voting is only open to voters who will be out of town or who have a disability or a religious belief that will not allow them to go to the polls on Election Day, but this includes those who do not. feel uncomfortable going to the polls because of COVID-19, Maiato said.
” There will be no problem. Everyone has been informed, ”she said.
Polling stations will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on Monday, July 20 at Somerset Berkley Regional High School. Postal ballots must be deposited in the drop box outside the town hall before 8 p.m. on Monday.
You can reach Audrey Cooney at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.