SOMERSET – The city will elect a new voter in a special election on Monday as sharpness over the fate of Brayton Point and concerns over the city’s sources of income continue to rise.
Selectmen’s board of directors has had a vacancy since April when then-Selectmen Holly McNamara abruptly announced her resignation, citing alleged bullying and harassment by members of the Save Our Bay Brayton Point neighborhood group. Since then, the board has consisted of only two members, Chairman Lorne Lawless and the new addition Allen Smith, President of Save Our Bay Brayton Point.
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Two candidates are on the ballot to fill the seat for the remainder of McNamara’s term, which ends in April: Kathy Souza, a familiar face at city council and committee meetings and a leader of Save Our Bay Brayton Point, and Melissa Terra, who previously served two terms on the school committee.
Souza, who currently serves as the director of environmental health and safety at Roger Williams University, said her top priority as Selectman is promoting the city’s economic development. Since the shutdown of the Brayton Point power station in 2017, the city has faced an uphill battle to raise enough tax revenue to keep the services going.
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“We’re looking at some big bills right now,” including the newly approved Somerset Middle School construction project and a possible overhaul of the city’s sewer system, Souza said. “It’s not about how many ways you can cut the cake to make it work? This is how the cake can grow. “
Souza said she wanted to encourage small businesses to set up in Somerset, including by lowering the city’s business tax rate. She suggested jumping into the city’s stabilization fund temporarily to do so without raising property taxes for homeowners.
Regarding Brayton Point, Souza said the Department of Conservation and Recreation must step in and block the company currently using the land to store and ship scrap because the state technically owns the dock there and the land behind it is metal . Local residents have complained of water pollution, scrap metal scattered on streets and lawns, and loud noises as a result of activity at the point. Last month, the EPA fined Patriot Stevedoring & Logistics for violating the Clean Water Act and instructed it to change its scrap metal loading system to avoid being thrown into the water.
“You have to come in and regulate your property,” Souza said, referring to the state government.
Souza denied McNamara’s allegations of bullying by the group Souza leads, saying that she was unaware of the inappropriate behavior of members of the group and that the former pick himself targeted the group with insensitive signs on their front yard. She also pointed to Smith’s election to the Board of Selectmen this spring, in which he won 70% of the vote, as an indication that the city does not have a broader problem of divisive politics.
“This city is not divided in my opinion,” she said.
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Terra, whose career focused on working with people with special needs, mental disorders and drug use prior to retiring this summer, says she will focus on economic development as well as greater transparency and teamwork in the city administration.
“I felt I could bring a fair, balanced point of view,” she said of her decision to run for office. “I had no conflict of interest and I’m someone who, based on my history, listens to everyone before I make a decision.”
She said she will work to make Selectmen’s meetings more accessible to residents, for example by ensuring that meeting minutes are published quickly and by improving the dissemination of information to residents across the city. And she would work closely with the city’s economic development committee to help bolster the city’s financial position.
Potential new residents and business owners she spoke to have raised concerns about moving to Somerset because they fear city policies can be too bitter and controversial, Terra said. In order to attract large numbers of new residents and businesses to Somerset, that belief must be dispelled by encouraging stakeholders and government agencies in the city to work together in harmony.
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“The only way to do that is to show the people who want to move to town that we’re not so complicated, that we don’t have all this discord,” she said.
Terra said she understood the concerns of Brayton Point residents about the impact the scrap company’s presence had had on their neighborhood and that she drove to the area late at night to witness the disruption herself.
“It shouldn’t be cleaned all night. There has to be some accountability, ”she said. “But do I think it should be the main theme in town? No … I want to talk about other things that were somehow on the back burner. “
She said her review on the school board showed she was well positioned to hear concerns from residents of all backgrounds. She helped increase the transparency of school-related items from the city council and revised the process of periodic inspection of school buildings by committee members after residents raised concerns that the new regional high school was overshadowing other neglected buildings.
“I represent the voice of people who may not be able to speak out,” she said.
A state law that allowed early voting by mail during the pandemic expired last month. This means that, unlike the May special election for the new Somerset Middle School, the only option not to vote in person on this election is to vote by post.
Assistant town clerk Kathy Maiato said they knew in the town clerk’s office that the law would expire in late June and would proactively reach out to voters who had previously registered by mail to alert them of the change. Postal voting is only possible for voters who are out of town or who have a disability or religious belief that does not allow them to vote on election day. However, this also includes people who are uncomfortable coming to the polls because of COVID-19, Maiato said.
“There won’t be a problem. Everyone was informed, ”she said.
Votes will be open this Monday, July 20, from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM at Somerset Berkley Regional High School. Postal ballot papers must be handed in in the mailbox in front of the town hall by 8 p.m. on Monday.
Audrey Cooney can be reached at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.