GMF Mayor Rejects Debate Challenge


by Rick Langenberg:



Green Mountain Falls Mayor Lorrie Worthey and Mayor Pro Tem Jane Newberry can’t agree on anything these days.

The two mayoral candidates continue to square off, whether it deals with the future of local law enforcement, the hiring of a town manager, citizen input policies; or even now, how to argue with each other in a public forum.

Last week, an offer by Newberry to have a mayoral debate, sparked another flare-up between the two contenders in a race being dubbed as one of the most competitive in recent GMF history. Newberry, during the time reserved for official reports at last week’s regular meeting, challenged Worthey to participate in a mayoral debate at town hall. She suggested that the forum could be arranged by town officials during the week of March 17.

But before getting into the details of the possible format, her offer was immediately rejected by Worthey. “We have debated at every meeting for the last two years,” replied the mayor, in a response that surprised some political observers. “I don’t see the need to extend that.”

According to the mayor, the GMF citizens know how the candidates stand on key issues due to the extent of their frequent clashes for the last 24 months. In her social media posts and through letters to the media, the mayor has contended that the majority of trustees, including Newberry, have thwarted her desire for more citizen involvement and public transparency, and that she has found herself on the losing side of most decisions.

Instead, Worthey invited the mayor pro tem to participate in her own forthcoming meet and greet forum. However, this suggestion got a skeptical response by several trustee members, who questioned why the mayor didn’t want to participate in a public debate. One vocal resident, sitting in the back of the GMF council meeting room, expressed outrage at the mayor’s refusal to participate in a debate, and questioned Worthey’s platform of public transparency. For a brief period, tempers flared up.

In a later interview, Worthey said she was reconsidering this offer and would be open to some type of candidates’ forum, as long as it is conducted by a third-party moderator and the participants receive the questions in advance and the rules are established ahead of time. As for her initial reaction to Newberry’s challenge, she again stressed that the two have debated on most issues during the first and third Tuesdays of the month for the last two years. “People know how we stand,” said Worthey.

The mayor also said she didn’t appreciate the way the mayor pro tem presented this offer, viewing this as a direct challenge at a public meeting. She noted that in most communities, these types of debates or candidate forums are conducted by separate organizations, not associated with the town government, such as a chamber of commerce, rather than being organized by individual candidates.

Newberry, in an interview last week, said she was surprised at the response her offer received from the mayor and hinted that Worthey was acting overly defensive. “It was just an invitation,” said the mayor pro tem. “It would allow people to hear the different views of the candidates. It will be a chance for more of a broad-based view,” added the mayor pro tem, noting that this would provide more specific and concrete information than what citizens receive at public meetings or through social media. And contrary to Worthey’s view of such a gathering, she didn’t think it would be appropriate to have a mayor’s forum in which the candidates received questions in advance. “We pretty much know what the issues are,” added Newberry.

But if such a format is arranged, the clock is ticking. The GMF municipal election is scheduled for April 1, with voters choosing a mayor and three trustees.

Based on the latest certification of candidates, the contenders are Worthey and Newberry for mayor; and seven trustee candidates, including Chris Quinn, Margaret Peterson, David Cook, Don Ellis, Barbara Gardiner, Michael Butts and Michael Brown. Out of this list, Peterson is the sole incumbent. This far exceeds the number of candidates for most municipal elections in GMF.

In other election updates, the GMF board of trustees agreed last week to set a special election for May 20 to decide the fate of two recall petition efforts and to vote on a referendum repealing an ordinance establishing a town manager position. GMF officials have confirmed that sufficient signatures from registered voters have been obtained on these petitions, asking for the removal of trustees Howard Price and Ralph LoCascio, and for a referendum against the town manager law. GMF recently approved a new ordinance establishing a town manager position and okayed a contract, giving this job to Public Works Director Rob McArthur.

Due to deadline requirements not being met, these issues couldn’t be decided during the regular April 1 election. Some concerns were raised about the costs of having an extra election. But Richard Bowman, a representative of the Green Mountain Falls/Chipita Park Fire Protection District, commented that the democratic spirit must be preserved. “It doesn’t matter what the cost is, it is the will of the people,” said Bowman.