Anne Kanter of the League of Women Voters moderated and some 75 people attended the candidates forum held Sunday evening in the Clifton Town Meeting Hall.
For a town with just 87 households, it was a great turnout. There, the 10 people running for office in Clifton's May 4 election presented their views on particular issues.
Mayoral candidates are incumbent Jim Chesley and challengers Wayne Nickum and Judy McNamara. Vying for a seat on the five-member Town Council are incumbents Mac Arnold and Margo Buckley and challengers Brant Baber, Lev Buller, Deb Dillard, Trisha Robertson and Bill Watts.
First, each hopeful gave a quick sound bite about themselves. For example, Buller said he's good at making decisions and solving problems. And since Dillard runs the town's farmers market, she told the crowd, "You know I can get up early and go to work."
The three mayoral candidates said they wanted to increase communication with the residents, calm the traffic and preserve the town's unique character.
When asked about their leadership style, McNamara said she'd want meetings in the round with elected officials and residents working together. Nickum said he'd seek townspeople's input, and Chesley suggested a town Web site and said everyone needs to "share the load" of town government.
All 10 candidates stressed the importance of preserving Clifton's historic nature and quality of life. Arnold expressed pride in the old buildings and the fact that all the town officials are volunteers. "The people make it unique — we're all neighbors," said Dillard. "People say hello and visit. I'd like to keep this going — bringing meals to sick neighbors and staying involved." And Watts said Clifton needs to maintain its identity and peaceful nature.
Asked what skills they bring to the table, Baber said he can "bring folks together" to solve problems. "It's hurt my heart to see folks fighting at Town Council meetings," he said. "It's important to get over it, get on with things and listen to what people say."
Robertson said she listened to people's concerns during her work on the town playground committee. "I created a friendly, welcoming environment where people could ask questions and express their ideas," she said. "Town Council should be the same." Buller said his experience as a union steward at work would help him skillfully solve the problems of Clifton's ever-diversifying population.
As for needed changes, Buckley said the balance between commercial and residential properties should be maintained, as well as Clifton's small-town atmosphere. Watts said, "We need to ask people where we go from here, and we can communicate by computer."
Regarding what they'd do for the town, Buller said Clifton needs a strategic plan about how to use its increased income. Robertson said the money could be used for brick walkways and gaslights to give Clifton a more historic feel.
To model appropriate citizen behavior, Buller said he'd encourage attendance at Town Council meetings. "I don't gossip," said Dillard. "Sometimes what we don't do makes us good citizens."
Asked how much time per week they'd devote to Clifton and if they'd accept appointments on outside boards, all the candidates said they'd do whatever it takes. Chesley said he spends 20 hours a week now as mayor and serves on numerous boards for the good of Clifton.
Robertson said, as a stay-at-home mom, she has flexibility with her time and would gladly do her part because "it's worthwhile and important and I'd like to contribute." Watts and Arnold said they, too, are readily available.
"I'm willing to work," said Baber. "I think it's important that Town Council members serve on outside boards because it gives you the scope of relationships you need and lets you know how other [entities] handle these issues."
Regarding how to heal divisions within Clifton, Dillard replied, "You have to start acting like kids — they argue with friends and make up. You shouldn't scurry around town spreading gossip. Wave to neighbors; little things will start to heal it."
"Common courtesy," said Robertson. "Remember to be friendly and neighborly, and have regular social functions. Most people have good intentions in their hearts." Buckley said volunteering together helps; added Baber: "Focus on the town, [rather] than the council members."