Candidates debate issues at Salisbury public forum | News

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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 candidates for selectman shared the same table Thursday night.

Incumbents Freeman Condon and Ronalee Ray-Parrott are both running for reelection to another three years on the Board of Selectmen.

Salisbury Lions Club President Michael Colburn is also running for one of the two available seats.

The three appeared together for a candidates forum at Town Hall. Former Zoning Board of Appeals member Susan Pawlisheck served as moderator and Boys & Girls Club of Lower Merrimack Valley Program Director Katie Beal was the evening’s timekeeper.

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 roughly 25 people in the Colchester Room on Thursday that Salisbury is a place with small-town values, good schools, parks to play on and an amazing 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 do so.

Condon is the former owner of Beach Plum Farms. He is running for a fourth three-year term as a selectman and said the residents of Salisbury are working to keep the town a wholesome, diverse and welcoming community.

Each candidate was asked if Salisbury should expand its affordable housing opportunities beyond the state recommended 10% of its housing stock.

Ray-Parrott said Salisbury is already close to 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 of, not only of affordable housing, but for the people who need to be able to age and stay in Salisbury and afford that,” she said.

As the father of identical twins, Colburn said he is an example of what affordable housing is but he also believes that the town should be able to weigh in on the matter once it hits 10%.

Condon said Salisbury is most likely under the 10% recommendation at the moment and he would rather see the town negotiate with the developer while a housing project is in the preliminary planning stage.

All three candidates said they would not be in favor of changing the town charter to allow for the replacement of the town manager with an elected mayor.

One issue that arose at the forum was the possibility of a perceived conflict of interest.

Condon has reached a purchase-and-sales 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 has been approved by the town 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 he has been “distressed” by people who say selectmen pressured the Zoning Board of Appeals to approve the project.

“The Board of Selectmen had no role in that project in any way and I had no role in that project,” he said.

Condon added that he has not spoken publicly about the project and has had nothing else to do with it, other than signing the purchase-and-sales agreement.

Condon said he has been disturbed by much of what he called “misstatements,” “hate,” “vitriol,” “bigotry and threats” he and his family have been subjected to over the past year and added that he takes issue with how affordable housing has been maligned.

Ray-Parrott agreed that selectmen played no role in the Forest Road project. As a member of the Affordable Housing Trust, she has voiced her opposition to the project’s location on a side road.

Colburn said neither of the incumbents has a conflict of interest in regard to the project but added that the fact Condon owns the land could cause some confusion and misunderstanding among residents.

“The appearance could show that there could be a conflict of interest,” he said.

Since Salisbury is expected to receive $1.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, the candidates were asked how they would like to see the money spent.

Condon said he would like to use the funding for sewer betterments, while Ray-Parrott said she would prioritize sewer, parks and recreation, as well as mental health.

“As a social worker, I wear that badge very proudly,” she said.

Colburn spoke of his passion for parks and recreation as well.

“Ronalee’s father and my father built Lions Park and it needs some updates,” he said.

The Salisbury Beach Betterment Association sponsored the candidates forum along with Salisbury Community TV and Media Center, which televised the event.

While SCTVMC fielded more than 25 questions from town residents for the forum, each candidate was also given the opportunity to question their opponents.

Colburn asked Condon why he and the board voted against allowing a slot machine parlor on Route 110 in 2013.

Such an issue should have been decided by voters at Town Meeting and not selectmen, Colburn said.

Condon replied that he would never have a problem taking such an issue to Town Meeting.

But the selectman added that he opposed the slot machine parlor because while the developer promised to build a 12,000-square-foot building, the plans showed the building would be 120,000 square feet.

“I gave him three chances to clarify that, we had a problem where we were under the gun and we had four or five days to decide whether we were going to let that happen,” he said.

Condon asked Ray-Parrott if she were happy with how the town was being governed. She answered with a simple, “Yes.”

Ray-Parrott asked Colburn that if elected in May, what does he think he could do better than the current selectmen?

Colburn said he has “an uncanny ability to get people involved.”

“It’s one of my specialties, I engage, engage, engage and I do it with kindness,” he added. “The one thing that I would do best is engage the people.”

Colburn asked Ray-Parrott if the town should push back more when it comes to its Triton Regional School District assessment.

Ray-Parrott said the town is at an unfair advantage because it has more aggregate wealth than the district’s other two towns, Rowley and Newbury, and ends up paying more than it should.

“Should we fight back? The problem is, all three towns in the regional agreement have to approve their assessment and, honestly, with the numbers I just saw, I can’t see it happening,” she said.

Condon asked Colburn to give him three specific changes he would make it elected.

Colburn said the board could engage with residents more but added that he would not make many more changes because that is not why he is running.

Ray-Parrott asked Condon why he believes he should be reelected and he told her he takes the job very seriously and would like to see the current projects through to completion.

“I believe that there is some benefit to my knowledge and experience that can help this town,” he said.

Ray-Parrott closed by saying she has accomplished much in her six years on the board and wants to continue to be a voice for the residents of Salisbury.

Colburn said he has “a true, deep love” for Salisbury and hopes to “step up for the town” by serving on the Board of Selectmen.

Condon said he understands when people disagree with him after certain votes but hopes they are never disappointed in his efforts, integrity and commitment to the town.

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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