In the final scheduled mayoral debate of the campaign, Republican hopeful Ken Johnson came out swinging.
Vowing to bring greater honesty and integrity to government, Johnson said that he is "not satisfied that all contracts are done properly and completely above board" at City Hall.
Democrat Art Ward, who’s served on the City Council for 14 years, said he took exception to the charge.
It’s unclear what caused Johnson to question the propriety of municipal contracts, but he said after the debate at the Little League complex that he would provide specific information on Thursday.
During the faceoff, sponsored by the Democratic and Republican parties, both candidates sounded themes and touched on issues they have rehashed frequently during the campaign, but a few intriguing, new items came to light as well.
Among the new issues raised were whether to collect extra conveyance taxes, whether to build a public safety headquarters, how to avoid a decline in the city’s fortunes and how best to deal with an open government complaint filed last summer challenging a “scripted” city meeting in January that led to the creation of the downtown corporation.
Johnson said he would “do away” with the extra conveyance tax charged when property is sold, a move that would immediately drain more than $1 million from the city’s revenues.
Ward said the money is needed for costly, one-time purchases and that failing to collect the money would hurt most taxpayers.
Though both candidates said there’s a growing space crunch at the police and fire departments as well as City Hall, Johnson’s answer for the problem was to seek a creative answer that would mesh together with downtown planning.
Ward said that he believes it is time to consider a police and fire safety complex that would combine the headquarters of both the police and fire departments.
Both Ward and Johnson, who face the voters on November 6, said that Bristol is at a crossroads.
“We are at a very, very critical junction," Johnson said, because Bristol is no longer a little town.
"It would be very easy for us to slide down that slippery slope" and face the woes that afflict New Britain, Waterbury and Meriden, he said.
The way to avoid it, Johnson said, is that “we must aggressively market the city of Bristol" to attract new businesses to expand the tax base.
"Perception becomes reality," Ward said, adding that is why revitalizing the mall site and opening the new industrial park are so important.
Ward said they would bring jobs, places to shop and more "along with preserving our neighborhoods."
He also said he wants to take up the "clean and green" policy of former Mayor Gerard Couture that focused on neighborhood improvements.
Johnson said that he would like to see the Freedom of Information complaint filed against the city over the meeting last winter that city Councilor Ellen Zoppo “scripted” beforehand.
He said the pending FOI complaint "does not serve the best interests of the people" and was only intended "to poke a stick in the eye" of Zoppo, Ward's primary opponent.
Ward said he is committed to open government.
But Johnson zinged Ward for participating in another “scripted” session in 2005 before the approval of a new housing code. Ward did not respond to Johnson’s prodding on the issue.
More details of the debate are available online on reporter Steve Collins’ Bristol Blog at bristolpress.com.
The debate is going to be shown twice on cable channel 21 by Nutmeg TV, at 6 p.m. Sunday and again on Monday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.
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Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org