By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- A candidates forum held at Town Hall on Saturday morning gave residents an opportunity to meet this year’s election seekers up close and personal.
Both residents and members of the local media were invited to participate in the fourhour event, which was also broadcast on the local access cable channels. Despite forecasts of snow and freezing rain later that afternoon, around 20 residents attended the event.
During the forum, moderated by former town councilor Joe Paradis, reporters and residents had a chance to ask the candidates questions.
This year’s three Town Council candidates, Deborah Shimkonis Nowicki, Tom Freda and Joe Green, were present at Saturday’s forum. Nowicki, Freda and Green will vie for the two open council seats next month.
The council candidates answered questions about various hot topics, including the pending Woodmont Commons development, the town’s open space program, maintaining a level budget, and the change to official ballot voting that’s being considered by voters this year.
Nowicki, who ran unsuccessfully for town clerk/tax collector last year, said her goal as a new councilor would be to “ignite the flame” among fellow residents.
“When I watch the meetings time after time, the same people are standing up for everyone else,” Nowicki said. “I’m hoping to help others get away from that apathy.”
Asked how the town can best plan for the future, Nowicki suggested her fellow citizens instead “live for today, though they have to envision their tomorrow.”
“What we already have is right at the airport,” she added, suggesting an international trade hub at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport would be a great place to start.
Candidate Tom Freda, who previously served on the budget committee, said that the town’s number of foreclosures is a testament to the challenges faced by many residents.
“More and more of our fellow citizens are suffering, so we need to bring some fiscal conservatives here in town,” said Freda, who is an attorney and certified public accountant.
Asked about the question appearing on this year’s warrant, where voters will be asked if traditional town meeting should be replaced with official ballot voting, Freda said he’d favor such a change.
“I think its better to have more people participate and better for our democracy,” Freda said. “It doesn’t hurt anyone voting that way, while the town meeting method does hurt people. Some people are out of town, some are in the military serving overseas .”
Candidate Joe Green, who serves on the Zoning Board and previously on the budget committee, agreed on the need for fiscal conservancy. This year marks Green’s third time running for Town Council.
“I see many people suffering out there wondering how they’re going to pay next months’ bills,” Green said, “We have to end this.”
Asked about the town’s priority of preserving open space, Green agreed on its importance but noted that around 13 percent of the town is preserved under conservation easements or other protective methods.
“The 13 percent we have already is a lot,” Green said. “I think we need to consider what we’re going to do about it.”
Four School Board candidates — incumbent John Robinson, Glenn Douglas, Nancy Hendricks and Todd Joncas — attended the Feb. 5 forum. Next month the four residents will vie for the two open School Board seats.
Robinson, who has served on the School Board for the past three years, previously served on the town’s Budget Committee and had spent one year in the state Legislature.
With the district’s deliberative session quorum requirement being challenged by a resident lawsuit, Robinson said he disagreed that the quorum prohibits community input.
“But it does put a threshold to putting motions to the floor,” Robinson emphasized. “Still, we have public meetings, which gives people a chance to speak out. I think getting citizens to come out to those meetings should be like jury duty, even though you don’t get out of work.”
Douglas, who runs the Londonderry Town Underground website, said a longtime career in international high tech has given him a glimpse of how other nations handle education.
Asked about the district’s changing demographics, particularly the consistent decrease in enrollments, Douglas said he felt “things are going to need to be cut and changes made.”
“I think we’re going to have to talk, a lot, about exactly what’s going on,” he said. “Down the road, Woodmont Commons might change things, might balance things out, but for now, it needs to be discussed and needs to be discussed soon.”
Hendricks, who previously served on the Jaffrey/Rindge School Board, moved to Londonderry about five years ago. She said she favors the district’s existing deliberative session quorum of 500.
“I recognize getting people to go anywhere is a challenge, but I think a quorum will protect our budget and bond issues from any group of people that can dramatically alter it,” Hendricks said.
Joncas, who currently serves on the budget committee, said he believes education is an important key to community success, but at the same time “there needs to be a fiscal approach.”
“We need the objectivity to look at everything,” he emphasized. With that, he noted that despite the trend of declining enrollment, future development could change everything.
“As the economic conditions tend to trend outward, this could mean more younger families move to town,” Joncas noted. “So there’s need for balance. Let’s not do something in the short term, if indications are it’s going to cost us more in the long term.”
This year’s town openings also include two three-year terms on the budget committee, two three-year terms on the trustees of the Leach Library, and one three-year term on the trustees of the trust funds.
On the Budget Committee, just one of the three incumbents, Dan Lekas, is seeking re-election. Residents Chris Melcher and Tom Dalton have also filed for budget committee.
Seeking to fill two library trustee positions are John Velliquette, William Bringhurst and Karen Goodman.
Velliquette and Donald Moskowitz will both vie for the sole opening on the trustees of the trust funds.
All of those candidates were present Saturday morning, with the exception of Goodman, who was unable to attend.