Monday night’s meet the candidates event was not the heated debate some would imagine but rather an informative session, as the Ward 1 council seat is the only contested position in Kent.
All of the ward council members are up for reelection this year, but Garret Ferrara is the only councilmember who has been challenged. The challenger: Melissa Long.
Long is no stranger to city government as she served on city council for 12 years and as mayor for four years in Cortland. She currently serves on the Kent Planning Commission.
“I do feel that I know how [the] city is run, and I do know how to write and produce legislation,” Long said.
Ferrara has been on council for 12 years, and he says he feels very connected to the people and businesses of Kent.
“I try to keep my [finger on the pulse] of not only individual’s concerns but also corporate and business concerns,” Ferrara said.
The League of Women Voters of Kent presented Monday’s event, which was a laidback forum-style meeting. An audience of about 30 attended, and everyone was encouraged to submit questions for the candidates.
A topic that everyone wanted to know about was Issue 2 or Senate Bill 5. Inquiries included how it would affect Kent and whether the candidates support it.
Ferrara emphasized that he felt it was a state issue and not a city issue. He does not support the repeal of the bill because he thinks it allows for a more open negotiation environment among local governments and unions.
He said the taxpayers pay the salaries of these public employees, yet if the safety employees don’t get the pay increases they want, they can simply quit.
“I don’t think that a city employee should be able to hold city residents hostage to negotiations,” Ferrara said.
As far as the fear of unsafe equipment, Ferrara said that the city often uses grants to provide equipment to its safety services.
On the flip side, Long is in strong opposition of Issue 2. She said she understands both sides of the issue having served as a mayor and as a safety director, but she thinks that Senate Bill 5 is a step backward at a time when the city is moving forward.
“To take away the bargaining rights of any employee is taking us back to the ‘30s and ‘40s where we had workers who were scared to death of losing their jobs,” Long said.
In light of other issues, Long said that the community is very diverse and everyone needs to learn to live together. Both candidates agreed that senior housing was also an issue in Kent that should be addressed, as brought to light by the Silver Oaks situation.
“We need to definitely look at community housing and not warehousing the seniors,” Long said.
While Long came to Kent to “semi-retire” as she calls it, she said she has always had her finger in something; however, it was dissatisfaction with Ferrara that made her want to get back into city government.
“I felt that the person who is now my councilperson, because of some things that were said, is not the person that I want to represent me, and that’s why I’m running for council,” Long said.
She said she feels she could better serve the constituents through doing a better job of answering questions and concerns.
“I will be there for answers to questions, and if I can’t answer them, I will find the answer,” Long said. “ And if there’s something that is just absolutely impossible, I’ll make sure the constituent finds out and knows.”
Ferrara said that he is more open-minded and will continue to make decisions that are right for the city if reelected. He said he has no agenda and avoids the “politics.”
“I just want what’s best for the city of Kent,” Ferrara said. “I want Kent to be, you know, better than it is for me and better for my children when they grow up.”
Ferrara said he is OK with being the only contested councilmember because it keeps him on his toes. He said he understands it’s part of the poitical process, and through campaigning he learned more about his constituents and felt that he got closer to the community.
“Competition is always good,” Ferrara said.
Helene Miller is a city reporter.