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January 2, 2005, 9:45 P.M.

Reality Bites: The unfortunate and untimely death of Fred Toll has left the City of Laconia with some big shoes to fill and no shortage of people willing to try them on, at least with respect to his role as Ward 3 representative on the City Council. The appointment of someone to fill Fredís seat is of paramount importance in many respects.

Whoever replaces Fred will directly influence the balance of power on the council and will set the course for the councilís actions on the Cityís budget, and it may directly impact the proposed school building projects. Perhaps more significantly, the appointment of a Ward 3 councilor should have a dramatic impact on the next council elections.

When I say that the councilís actions should impact the next election, I am being deliberately cautious. Since my election to the school board some eight years ago now, people have asked me what could be done to support our schools and our school building projects. I have always responded by reminding people to think about who they vote on to the council. In my experience, many of the same people who support positive momentum and progress for the entire city are not motivated to run in local races or to actively work to support candidates in those races, but they certainly talk a good game. The people who seem to get motivated in Laconia are the people who are against things. Letís face it, the single biggest issue facing the council in the next few years is going to be the school building projects. The need is simply too real, too great, and too visible. Anyone who thinks that we can continue to get by with our current middle and high school facilities simply isnít informed, or doesnít want to know how bad those buildings really are. Likewise, there is no viable solution for renovating either structure. The cost of renovation is too high in dollars and program sacrifices. To say that the schools are functioning well now is only a half-truth because they are functioning because of the quality of our students, staff and administrators, and in spite of the physical limitations of the structures themselves.

These are not new revelations, and anyone who says they are has not been paying attention. This was the conclusion reached in the city-wide facilities study many years ago, and it remains the conclusion today. New and continued growth in low and moderate income housing downtown and upscale development in the north will continue to burden our schools and matters of physical limitation should only get worse. Putting off these projects, as some of our current council seems to want to do, would be like sticking your head in the sand while reality comes up and bites you in the. . .well, you can see where Iím going with this. Now is the time. The funding is right, the state aid numbers are right and project costs will only go up. What remains is for the council to act responsibly.

Acting responsibly includes putting someone in Fredís seat who stands for something and not against everything. It is also time for us, the people who elect those councilors to pay attention to what is going on. Councilors Cowan, Krahulek and Bolduc clearly now have the power. Letís see how they use it. The way in which the power of appointment and the power to influence the council should, depending on how closely the rest of us pay attention, have a short term and a long term impact. If they choose the right person, their influence will be lasting and will survive next Novemberís election. If they act precipitously, the November election should be the end of them. The fact that three members of the council seem to be of a like mind (for example, they have all joined a lawsuit against the very City they represent) is obvious. It should be equally obvious to them that the voters are watching them closely.

I have signed a petition as a Ward 3 voter to support Scott Vachon for Fred Tollís seat. Scott, as he always does, is working hard to convince the councilors of the support he has among voters and that should matter. He is a supporter of the school projects, and he is a fiscal conservative. He supports many of the same causes as Fred, but from the other side of the aisle (one of his few faults). He has cultivated an interest in the management and future of our schools and our city among his friends and peers. Appointed or not, this guy will be involved in this city for the long haul. Appointing Scott Vachon at this time is the right move for many reasons, but whatever happens, whoever is appointed, letís hope itís because they stand for something, that they have a clearly articulated vision for the future of our city, and that they come to the table with more than sand in their eyes and a sore bottom.


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