2018-08-30 / Front Page

Q&A with Candidates for City Council’s Second Ward

The primary election for the Newport City Council’s Second Ward seat will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 12, and voters will choose from three candidates on the ballot, including Liam Barry, Valerie Larkin and incumbent Lynn Ceglie.

Alliance for a Livable Newport (ALN) prepared a list of 17 questions for the candidates, and with the primaries rapidly approaching, Newport This Week wanted to share a few of the candidates’ answers from ALN’s questionnaire. Read the questions and answers in their entirety at newportalliance.org.

Q #12: Newport City Council has approved beginning discussions with developers for potential changes and/or new use of the current Gateway Visitor’s Center. As a council member, what specific actions will you take to ensure that citizen input and involvement will be part of the decision-making process?

Liam Barry: I think the proposals should be put forth first, a public form to discuss these proposals should follow (as is happening with the Pell bridge off ramp contract) and the final proposal should be sent out to bid to a number of contractors/developers to achieve the best price.

Lynn Ceglie: The council endorsed a process to look at the Gateway Visitors Center for redevelopment and to find a best use. I will promote a process that includes workshops and various forms of public input via email and questionnaires. I understand why people would be frustrated but public input does shape the council’s decisions. The council needs to communicate more effectively … and work on efforts so that residents better understand the city’s processes as we look forward.

Valerie Larkin: One of my overarching concerns is that city government must be open and transparent. Many people believe that important decisions that affect the entire city are made “behind closed doors.” Any significant decision such as this needs to have a process for soliciting and collecting public input, and the decision process must be completely out in the open. I would make it one of my highest priorities as a council member to ensure that NO important decisions are made without open engagement of the citizenry.

Q #15: Construction on the Sheffield School Tech Innovation Center is scheduled to be complete in 2019 with a goal of attracting startup companies that could help create jobs in Newport. As of now, the only set tenant is the Newport County Chamber of Commerce. If the center does not produce the results sought by city planning, what steps will you initiate and support to learn from the Sheffield experience and to assure that the North End Innovation Hub does not suffer the same fate?

Liam Barry: That's a very negative hypothetical question based on the assumption that this project will fail. When construction is complete, we can assess where things stand then.

Lynn Ceglie: The Sheffield “Innovate Newport” Center construction is now underway and the city has seen substantial interest. The city is finalizing a partnership with Boston’s “Workbar” and looks to partner with this leader in shared workspaces for entrepreneurs in the management and operations of the Sheffield facility. The hiring of a program manager is underway who will build an “Innovate Newport” brand to promote and build relationships with organizations interested in bringing their businesses to Newport.

Valerie Larkin: The Sheffield School project is just gearing up. Hopefully, with the establishment of Innovate Newport, we will see startup companies attracted to the center. But if it does not achieve the desired results, I would say that the Innovation Hub would need to put more effort in promoting the project and engaging potential partners. We should look at successful similar projects such as the innovation center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and learn from their successes.

Q #16: Within two years, Newport residents will have an opportunity to vote on a local bond issue to fund school construction as a proposed remedy for overcrowding at the Pell School and unacceptable structural conditions at Rogers High School. What will you do to assure voters are well acquainted with the facts of the bond issue? Will you support or oppose the ballot question?

Liam Barry: I will need to see the bond question, proposal, costs and how much of the cost will get picked up by the state before I determine voting for or against it. Information being advertised about the bond prior to voting is paramount.

Lynn Ceglie: I am the council liaison on the Rogers building subcommittee, and replacement costs of a new high school are staggering. Even more staggering are renovation costs. According to the state, Rogers leads the list of schools that need to be replaced. A new school must be safe and have the infrastructure for students to access today's technology. Any passage of a bond will take an incredible amount of work but I believe we really have no choice but to support the building of a new high school.

Valerie Larkin: While I can't commit to a ballot question prior to knowing exactly what it is, I do believe that maintaining our schools is a priority and that we really have to address the problems at these two schools. I would ensure that we use all means of communications including internet, mailing, etcetera, to make sure that voters have all of the information.

Compiled by NTW Staff

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