Montgomery voters got their one and only chance to see their Village Board candidates share the same stage and answer the same questions Thursday night.
The Greater Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the only candidates forum before the April 5 election, and six of the seven trustee hopefuls made their way to Village Hall, where they responded to questions and elaborated on their ideas for more than two hours.
Current trustees and were joined by four challengers: , , and . Incumbent was unable to make it, and had initially intended to send a representative to read a statement, but that representative did not appear Thursday night.
The remaining six candidates dug into several issues, from taxes to attracting and retaining businesses, and even to the role of the village manager, and whether that role should be changed.
Reader-submitted questions were provided by Montgomery Patch and chosen by chamber members. The forum was moderated and broadcast live by WSPY Radio.
The theme of Thursday’s conversation was development and growth. All six candidates agreed the village needs to come up with ways to kickstart the local economy, but all had different ideas on how to accomplish this.
Bond and Salisbury both said the village needs to revisit some of its ordinances and codes, including those that cover signs and landscaping, since they feel these laws are driving businesses away. Flowers touted regional planning initiatives, and said the Douglas Road and Route 30 corridors are ripe for redevelopment.
Brolley suggested making better use of the , which he called the village’s “biggest fan.” Bond said the village should turn to the business already here for ideas, while Watermann said Montgomery could raise money by looking for creative solutions to smaller problems. He specifically mentioned his idea to sell ad space on the village’s website.
“How many people hit the Lotto?” he asked. “You didn’t. It’s about the little things.”
All six said keeping taxes in check is key. All rejected the idea of a vehicle sticker system, Watermann going so far as to say the village would enact such a plan “over (his) cold, dead body.”
Watermann and Brolley both praised the idea of a park-and-ride station downtown, a plan that has been in the works for years. Salisbury noted that the Western Electric property on South River Street is cleaned up and waiting for development.
The biggest disagreement of the night came over what Watermann called “the most important question in this election”: that of the role of the village manager. Heinz and Salisbury have said the village needs to return to an earlier form of government, in which the trustees are in charge of day-to-day operations.
But Flowers, Watermann, Brolley and Felten roundly rejected that idea Thursday night, saying the current system works well. Watermann said the village would open itself up to corruption by allowing politics into the everyday workings of the village, and Felten pointed to a recent revision of the human resources manual, for which staff found 14 instances of new and updated laws with which the village needed to comply.
“I don’t think any of us on the board would say we have the knowledge or experience to deal with the day-to-day operations of the village,” she said.
Bond did not take a hard stance one way or the other, but said the exact duties of the village manager have not been precisely defined. He said this is the cause of the friction between that office and some of the trustees.
The final question turned to ways to get residents engaged with their government. While some offered specific ideas—Bond and Salisbury said village board meetings should include an open comment session, and Watermann and Flowers suggested making more use of technology like Facebook and Twitter—some candidates asked the audience for their own ideas.
“All of us want to serve you, but we need your help to do it,” Flowers said.
Come back to Montgomery Patch this weekend for a full video of Thursday’s forum. Early voting is underway, and runs through March 31. The election is April 5.