April 30. 2013 11:09PM

Hooksett councilor-at-large candidates debate differences in forum

Union Leader Correspondent

HOOKSETT -- Contenders for Vincent Lembo's councilor-at-large seat in Hooksett, Marc Miville and David Ross, squared off Tuesday at a forum in the town's public library.

Ross, a former councilor from 2006-2010, spoke to his ability to engage with people with politeness, propriety, and understanding, noting that since resigning in 2010 he had "never really shaken the desire to serve."

"I pride myself on being able to deal with people from all facets of life," he said. "Being quick to listen, slow to speak is an important thing. . I will handle each question by itself, not looking through a particular prism."

Miville, budget committee chairman, described himself as a "data driven guy," a "natural problem solver," and a stickler for process, going so far as to suggest that an assigned parliamentarian should sit on the board, observing and enforcing the council's process.

"If they're making decisions, they need to be doing them the right way," he said. "Whenever the town gets in trouble and ends up in the papers, it's because we're not following process . I'm sitting in the audience watching this stuff, and I want to shout out 'point of order Mr. Chairman!' and I can't."

Ross disagreed, feeling that rigid process was counterproductive.

"Politeness comes first before parliamentarian," said Ross. "It's not a court of law. It's a town council. . They key is having a chairman can bring a gavel down when it's time. . There comes a point where if you get too bogged down in this formality, and nothing gets done."

One hot-button issue the candidates were asked to address was the Police Commission, an often controversial body in the town with its fate currently resting in the hands of the voters.

A petition warrant to abolish it is set to appear on the town ballot.

Miville has been a vocal support of the current Police Commission, and while critical of its previous incarnation, believes in the body's value.

Ross spoke in favor of increasing the size of the commission, arguing that a board of three opened itself up to perception of being a "good ol' boys club," placed excess pressure on its members, and cited difficulties inherent in the commissions being unable to meet and discuss issues without technically forming a quorum and potentially opening themselves up to open meeting law violations.

Miville agreed with Ross on the question of increasing the body's size, but Ross went one step further: should that measure not be successful, a point he was skeptical on, then the commission should be abolished.

Another difference between the two was the possible creation a of a public cable access channel for the town. The proposal, which is a part of the proposed operating budget, takes 1 percent of the 3 percent taken by the town out of Comcast cable fees to establish a public access television channel through Manchester services. The fee currently go into the town's general fund.

Miville is a member of the Comcast Cable subcommittee, and has been a vocal supporter of the plan.

"We're trying to use that (money) for the purpose for which it was intended to be used," Miville said. "We've collected, just in Comcast subscribers alone, well over a million dollars that has not been used at all, not a dime, towards cable access."

Ross, however, argued that public access television was an archaic service.

"I was a big proponent of this 8 years ago. Times have changed. Who watches TV? You can get it on your smart phone now. You can go to the town website and watch meetings right there. I think it's an unnecessary use of funds."

He also described cable franchise fees as "unseemly" and a "protection racket," arguing that more emphasis should be put on the quality of service rather than the revenue for the town that he believes is currently the case.

Three council candidates running unopposed were also allowed to make brief remarks at the beginning of the forum.

Nancy Comai, running to retain her seat on the council, stated that her "platform is this: I wanted to become a part of local government because I think one person can make a difference. I also feel that when I'm ready to sell my house, I want it to be worth something."

Michael Downer's seat has been left open after the councilor announced he would not seek re-election. Don Winterton, who has served on the planning board and the CiP committee, is running for that seat.

Rob Duhaime, a planning board member recently appointed to serve as an interim councilor in the wake of John Danforth's resignation and running for that same seat, spoke of the balance between economic growth and the maintenance of the town's rural character.

The Hooksett town election are May 14 at Cawley Middle School. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.