NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Nine candidates – five Democrats, three Republicans and one Independent – are vying for the North Kingstown Town Council’s five seats. Five challengers, both new and familiar faces to the local political scene, and four incumbents have been making their case to North Kingstown voters on why they should be on the legislative body for the next two years.
The candidates of both parties are running jointly among themselves, with Town Council President Greg Mancini, Kim Page, Katie Anderson, Jack Kliever and Brad Artery making up the “Five Forward NK” team of Democrats, while Councilor Mary Brimer, Councilor and President Pro Tempore Kerry McKay and Randy Wietman running jointly again for the Republicans. Independent Kevin Maloney, who joined the Town Council in July to fulfill the remainder of Councilor Stacey Elliott’s term, is also vying for re-election after previously serving on the Town Council from 2013 to 2018.
Incumbent Democrat Richard Welch, who finished sixth in the September primary, is running a write-in campaign, as is fellow Democrat and seventh-place finisher Rickey Thompson.
Of the Five Forward NK team, Mancini is the only one with Town Council experience, but not the only one who’s served in town government. Page previously served on the North Kingstown School Committee from 2006 to 2014, having served as chairwoman for the last four years. Mancini and Page are both attorneys: Mancini is an associate at Sinapi Law Associates, Ltd., working in education law, employment law, construction law and real estate law. Page works as an attorney-at-law in contract mediation and estate planning. Mancini also serves on the Board of Directors of the Quonset Development Company, while Page serves as president of the North Kingstown Food Pantry.
Kliever, a retired Newport police sergeant and co-owner of New Deal Horse and Carriage, has ran twice before; while Katie Anderson and Brad Artery are running for the firsrt time. Anderson is a licensed independent clinical social worker and licensed chemical dependency professional working in community mental health and Artery is a Navy veteran and CEO of Rhode Island-based health care tech startup My MOC Inc., which runs the MOCingbird software platform to help physicians and other health care professionals keep track of their certifications, licenses and continuous learning.
One of the central platforms of the five candidates is ensuring that the North Kingstown School Department is a top priority of the town budget and keeping it within the top five school districts in the state.
“Our family moved to North Kingstown because of the highly-ranked schools,” Page said in her platform statement. “The value of our property will rise and fall with the reputation of the school district.”
They also support the continued development, progress and eventual completion of the Wickford El and Town Hall projects and want to support commercial development on Post Road and economic development in the Quonset Business Park, which will in turn create more jobs and expand the commercial tax base. They hope to improve labor relations with the town’s unionized employees, protect and ensure the local environment and town water supply and work to root out racism and bigotry in North Kingstown.
“(We need to) uplift and empower a diverse array of voices to ensure we are committed to anti-racism at the individual and systemic levels,” Anderson said in her platform statement.
For Mancini and others, the biggest problem facing the town in the years ahead will be the uncertainty regarding federal and state aid to the town budget.
“We will have to wait until after the election to know how challenging it will be, but make no mistake, we are going into challenging financial times,” Mancini said. “We will have to review our spending and tighten our belts. We will have to do this while giving our kids the education that they deserve. We will also have to do this while tending to COVID-related matters and the town’s other needs.”
Anderson agreed, but added that the town must stay vigilant regarding environmental challenges.
“We cannot lose sight of cost-effective opportunities to ensure we are preparing for or preventing the effects of rising seas and changing climate,” Anderson said. “Within our limited scope as a municipal government, we must look to best practices in coastal resilience and environmental preservation.”
For Artery, another reason to run was his concern with the current Town Council’s handling of business.
“What I have seen to date with this and previous councils has been very disappointing,” Artery said. “For example, how can any elected body leave an asset like the Wickford Elementary School vacant for 15 years? Is there another town you know that had to vacate its town hall because it was too dangerous for the employees to work? And what is so outrageous is that these buildings are still vacant.”
“Our first priority must be to continue to be vigilant in our efforts to reduce the spread of (COVID-19),” Kliever said. “Our second priority must be to provide our schools with all the resources they need to provide the best education possible under these difficult conditions. Last but not least, we must provide flexibility and resources to help our businesses weather this storm.”
Over on the Republican side, McKay, who co-runs McKay’s Furniture with his brother and sits on the Quonset Development Company Board of Directors, will look to continue his eight years on the Town Council. Brimer, a producing general agent, and broker and president of Ginger Green Financial, LLC, seeks a second term; and Wietman, a retired Navy Commander and current chairman of the North Kingstown Zoning Board of Review, looks to join the Town Council.
Brimer and McKay both point to ensuring zero property tax increases over the past two years as one of their biggest successes on the current council and want to continue ensuring fiscal responsibility in the town government.
In particular, Brimer’s biggest financial concern is the lack of a budget from the state.
“This creates an inability to project and plan for North Kingstown accordingly,” Brimer said. “Additionally, our governor has withheld Federal Emergency reimbursement from us as well as the rest of the state. She has failed to justify her actions. She is one of three governors nationally to not disburse federal aid to cities and towns. It is imperative that we have fiscally responsible leaders familiar with our existing budgets and needs. Our local and state leaders need to stand united and firmly demand funding of no less than last year. This Council sent a resolution up to the state last month along with other cities and towns demanding our state leaders to take action on our behalf.”
This ties into Brimer’s biggest concern as laid out in her platform: the COVID-19 shutdown.
“The most pressing issues in the upcoming term will be leading our town out of a ‘state of emergency’ and back into ‘normal operations,’” Brimer wrote. “We need proven leaders with a backbone, courage and willingness to lead by example. I believe community support for our youth, disabled and seniors is critical. Until we are fully operational again, our youth of all ages, particularly our high school students, will require mentors and community advocates to keep them engaged and focused given the uncertainty of in-person learning and cancellation of extracurricular activities. Our seniors and disabled residents continue to need community volunteers to assist in companionship, meal delivery, grocery and pharmacy runs, transportation to (doctor’s) visits, etc. These three groups always need support from the community – but more now than in previous years.”
As per the issue of stimulating economic activity on Post Road, Brimer said the town should take a different approach.
“We can all agree that the Post Road Corridor Plan is a failure. The lack of interest in the Post Road facade program is disheartening,” Brimer said. “The popularity of online shopping and working from home creates lower demand for retail and commercial workspace. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. I don’t believe tax incentives will help in this situation.”
Instead, Brimer believes, the town should speak with property management companies to figure out why vacancies haven’t been filled, who has passed on them and why. Brimer says the town should also designate an economic development director to focus on Post Road, identify vacant buildings and structures that should be removed and identify the costs of demolition while using available funding methods to assist owners.
Maloney, owner/principal of Maloney Designs working in the professional service sector, believes that with a strong fund balance, the town is in good fiscal shape for the current year, but worries about the years ahead.
“COVID-19 has caused businesses to close, workers to be laid off, and many people living on the edge,” Maloney said. “If possible, I would support seeking a delay in the revaluation this coming year. We will need to work with our state representatives and coordinate with the League of Cities and Towns to impress upon them the hardships and seek temporary relief for the taxpayers, including state or federal assistance. We will need to keep a vigilant eye on watching expenditures in this year’s budget. We need to be even more proactive in seeking grants for local programs and to coordinate more with surrounding towns for better purchasing power.”
On Post Road, he points to his proposed Post Road Corridor tax incentive.
“The town would phase in taxes over five years on new buildings, additions, or upgrades of over 50 percent assessed value,” Maloney said. “This would not affect their current taxes on existing buildings and land value. We need to make it more lucrative to redevelop existing lots on Post Road, where sewers and infrastructure are, than to build over our groundwater aquifer, farm land and open spaces.”
Additionally, he said, the town should support better street lighting and trees for upcoming sidewalks to beautify the area and encourage property owners to do the same.
“We need to somehow encourage current property owners to freshen up their properties to attract more growth,” Maloney said. “Who wants to build a new store next to run-down property? We could possibly establish a Freshen Up Post Road week for a little peer pressure and competition among businesses.”
Maloney says he represents the residents and taxpayers of North Kingstown rather than any special interest group, and encourages voters to check out the Board of Elections’ campaign finance filings as proof. He wants to ensure the budgets are properly funded while also being kept in check.
“I would like to see that the school CIP account is funded annually so buildings, buses and turf are properly and adequately maintained and budgeted,” Maloney said. “I would like to see the council pursue enforcement of our groundwater ordinances to protect the quality and quantity of our drinking water.”
Maloney also supports limiting the town’s undesignated, or “rainy day,” funds, to 10 to 12 percent and lower the tax burden on North Kingstown residents as a whole.
Maloney also worries that with rising COVID-19 cases, we may return to a lockdown, in which case he is particularly concerned for the town’s senior citizen population.
“I would like to see our Senior Center develop a more proactive program with volunteer participation of healthy younger citizens to communicate and get frequent assistance out to seniors, like buying and delivering food and pharmaceutical supplies, doctor visits or possibly just regular friendly check-in phone calls,” Maloney said. “There are lots of caring and giving people in North Kingstown. We need a way to coordinate those efforts to assist one and other.”
Election Day is this Tuesday, but in-person early voting in North Kingstown is available Thursday, Friday and Monday at the Board of Canvassers Office at 100 Fairway Drive from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. One voter at a time will be allowed in and face masks are required. Voters are encouraged to bring their own pen from home, but a disposable pen will also be provided.