Brookfield High School hosted a forum Oct. 26 for candidates who are running for Brookfield trustee. The school’s seniors and juniors and a few younger students sat in as incumbent Dan Suttles and candidates Catherine Hodge and Mark Ferrara made opening statements and answered questions.
There are two trustee seats available. The election is Nov. 2.
Student A.J. Bartolin asked for details about a proposed recreation center for young people. Hodge has campaigned on wanting to create one, while a rec center could emerge as a goal in the school’s discussions to create a community learning center, which is in the early planning stages. Township Trustee Ron Haun is a member of the learning center committee.
Suttles said talk of a rec center is in the preliminary stages. He noted that school Supt. Toby Gibson has talked about building the community learning center on school property. Suttles added that the township owns 10 acres that it has no immediate plans for.
Ferrara said he doesn’t know how anyone would get the money to build a rec center, something he said would be costly to build – “You’re talking millions and millions of dollars,” he said – and maintain.
“It takes thousands and thousands of dollars to maintain those buildings,” he said.
Ferrara also doubted there would be sufficient usage and cited Brookfield’s declining population.
“I think long term it wouldn’t survive,” he said.
Ferrara countered with the idea of finding money to transport students and community members to the Buhl Community Recreation Center in Sharon.
“It’s a much bigger bang for your dollar,” Ferrara said. “It’s a bigger return on investment.”
“And then we’d just be busing the kids out of Brookfield,” Hodge said.
She said she would like a rec center, which she said could have amenities such as a gym, a game room and counseling offices, to be centrally located, and specified vacant buildings and properties in the township.
“There’s land and buildings available,” she said. “There are grants that you can apply for that will help you.”
She suggested charging nominal membership fees, and also said a rec center could attract other development around it.
“You build that, maybe you can have another pizza place up there,” she said, referring to the empty property on which Valley View Department Store once stood. “You can have a Dunkin’ Donuts. Businesses will come if you have something. People will come to our community instead of going across the line to Sharon, to Buhl Club.”
Student Sam Godsave asked how the candidates would keep their personal opinions from circumventing the will of the people.
Ferrara noted that trustees do not run as members of a political party, and said that transparency and honesty are the keys.
“It’s a very delicate balance,” he said. “If you’re working for everyone, and in my life as a school superintendent, you don’t think I had to be honest with people? Absolutely, because the honesty will always come true. You can’t have it both ways. People, I think, understand that.”
Suttles said he has dealt with that issue throughout his first term. He said a trustee must not “get caught in the emotional end of things,” and remember “that we’re here for one reason: to serve the people.”
“It’s about serving people and forgetting about whatever your political influence is,” Suttles said. “If that is our main goal, to help people with problems, that’s how you succeed, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, Republican.”
Hodge responded: “Like they said, it is about the people. You have to take all the facts, weigh them for yourself, to make decisions. That’s taking in everyone’s opinions, everyone’s concerns and just the facts in the matter, whatever the topic would be.”
Student Reese Knoxville asked how the trustees will better educate their constituents. His question was based on his experience four years ago campaigning for former Trustee Dion Magestro, and encountering residents who believed incorrect statements about the zoning question that was on the ballot at the time.
“The correct information has to be out there,” said Hodge, who then talked about zoning, which she said is a “nonissue in Brookfield.”
“There’s a lot of information out there and, like you said, there’s a lot of wrong information out there,” she said. “Usually, it’s gonna come down to what the one person, themselves, feels and thinks about it. You can have all the correct information out there you want but, you can say the sky’s blue and somebody will say, ‘No. it’s not. It’s yellow.’ That’s how they feel and you can’t change their mind sometimes. All the correct information with other communities and how it works in their communities for the better, will change people’s minds. It doesn’t have anything to do with dog houses or cutting grass.”
Referring more generally to the dispersal of information, Suttles said the answer is to embrace old- and new-fashioned means, from social media and website posts to direct meetings and door-knocking campaigns in which members of the public can ask questions.
“The key to solving any problem or getting information out there is to expand your avenues of communication for all those things,” he said.
Ferrara started his answer with the preface, “I’m not throwing arrows or criticizing anyone. I’m not being Debbie Downer,” and then commented on the township’s website.
“It’s slightly outdated,” he said. “It’s about a year old.”
Ferrara said he knows it takes money to maintain a website, and suggested hiring students to do that for the township.
He said the township’s website should link to the school district’s website, which he said is much better in quality.
“We are one community,” Ferrara said. “We are not individual. We need to dispute that. We are together. We are better collectively than independent. Technology, working with the school. If the township wanted to get the word out right away, they (via the school district) could send an email to all of the parents and about 25 percent of the township would know immediately. It’s the approach. It’s getting to the 21st century and beyond to communicate.”