Editor’s note: PortsmouthNH.com sent a questionnaire to all 18 candidates running for Portsmouth City Council in the Nov. 7 election. Some of the questions were suggested by readers, while others were generated by the PortsmouthNH team. For information on polling hours, voting locations, voter registration, and more, contact the city clerk’s office.
Name: Christine (Chris) Dwyer
Occupation: Policy research in the fields of early learning, literacy, education, and arts and culture
Years lived in Portsmouth: 32
Public service experience:
City Councilor, 12 years; Planning Board, 4 years; Economic Development Commission, 4 years; Legislative Subcommittee, 6 years; Chair, Prescott Park Master Plan, creating a vision for the park’s future; Co-chair of the Middle School Joint Building Committee, redeveloping the Middle School and building the youth recreation facility; member of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on the African Burying Ground, leading planning and fundraising to bring the memorial to life; Board Chair of The Music Hall during purchase and revitalization of the building; first Chair of Art-Speak; appointed by Republican and Democratic governors to chair the NH State Arts Council.
Q1: This year, the City Council has taken up several resolutions in response to comments or actions by President Trump.
A) Do you think it’s appropriate for the City Council to vote on resolutions concerning national/international issues?
Many national and international issues directly affect residents of Portsmouth and we councilors hear from them about their interests. In those cases, I look for the connection between the issue and the city’s jurisdiction. I try to make suggestions to strengthen the link between actions within the city’s purview and what seem to be primarily national or international issues.
B) Explain your position on the following resolutions:
- In April, in response to President Trump’s comments and executive orders regarding immigration, the council passed a “welcoming and diversity resolution.”
As a strategically located seaport, Portsmouth has been an open and welcoming city for hundreds of years — it is of critical interest to me and the many citizens the Council heard from that we affirm that status. The resolution affects the daily lives of people who live among us. The Council took action similar to the resolutions by other cities in New Hampshire to convey to residents, workers, and visitors that they would not be subject to police action based simply on their appearance or surname. Given the subsequent events in our country in Charlottesville and other areas, I think the Council resolution was prescient.
- In June, after President Trump announced plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Mayor Jack Blalock (with council approval) signed a letter supporting the goals of the accord.
For over a decade, I have strongly supported the city’s actions toward sustainability goals. We’ve always had strong backing from the community in actions taken to address and mitigate the effects of climate change. Portsmouth joined many other coastal communities in acknowledging that our collective work toward sustainability will continue. This international issue affects Portsmouth as much as any hyper-local issue.
- In October, the council passed a resolution denouncing President Trump’s recent comments criticizing professional athletes who choose to take a knee during the national anthem.
The Council took action affirming freedom of speech — not denouncing President Trump. Locally, young athletes had just been chastised by some for choosing a peaceful means of demonstrating their concerns about racism that goes ignored at the national level. Our Council acknowledged their right to be heard — giving a message to young people locally about the meaning of Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
Q2: Regarding the Prescott Park Arts Festival (PPAF), please share your thoughts on the following:
- Should there be fewer PPAF events each year?
The actual number of events is probably about right and that’s what the Advisory Committee that I serve on affirmed.
- Should there be limits on audience sizes?
By all measures of physical capacity, the park area holds about 3,000 people — that is enough room for people to sit on blankets and chairs. Much beyond that amount and the quality of people’s experiences starts to diminish, so there is a somewhat “natural” limit.
- Should PPAF events end earlier?
A reasonable goal should be that the park returns to being a quiet area around 10:30-11 p.m., which means events need to end about a half-hour before that time to allow exiting from the neighborhood.
- Should the volume of events be reduced?
Through the outstanding work of sound engineer Eric Reuter, the Advisory Committee has established a sound monitoring system that seems to be working. The remaining issue is sound dispersion — the manufacturers of the festival’s sound system have advised adjustment of speaker placement so that the cone of sound is aimed at the audiences in the park and sound spillover is minimized. In addition to reducing noise concerns, this adjustment will also improve the quality of sound for audience members. The changes should be made for next season.
- Is consumption of alcohol during PPAF events a problem that warrants stricter enforcement?
The Portsmouth Police Department does not seem to think that alcohol consumption is a problem in the park as observed by both uniformed and undercover patrolmen.
Q3: Regarding government transparency and accessibility:
A) Do you think the council has been transparent enough over the last two years? If not, what can be done to improve transparency?
I think the Council is very transparent: All meetings, including committee meetings, are recorded and televised; agendas, reports, minutes are posted online. Even emails to councilors are now included in the online packets. All votes/decisions of the Council are made in public session. I think the redesigned website makes it easier for residents to locate items. However, I have heard from residents who believe the Police Commission’s actions sometimes seem opaque, but the Council has no management authority over the Commission.
B) Do you think city government has been accessible enough for residents? If not, what can be done to make it more accessible?
Accessibility is a never-ending goal. While we have a lot of opportunities for involvement now, more ideas are welcome. There are always people newly opening up to interest in local government and always newcomers to the community. I am pleased that the “office hours” dialogue sessions seem to be working well and we’re seeing attendance from a mix of residents. Councilors have phone numbers and emails listed online and many people have discovered how to provide opinions quickly and efficiently.
Q4: Housing costs continue to rise in Portsmouth. Do you think the city should add more housing supply to ease pricing pressure? If so, what land could be used for this purpose?
The city certainly needs more housing supply. Most of the realistic places where housing could actually be built (i.e. not wetlands, not industrial or business zone) are not owned by the city — hence the various attempts to incentivize owners of private land to create additional units (i.e. through density bonuses, allowing garden cottage units, ADUs, creating gateway center zoning, reducing expected inducements for development projects, etc.). We will soon see if any of the teams proposing to develop the McInytre site believe that housing can be created there given the other challenges of the site. Otherwise the reasonably sized tracts of land are largely those that are in the corridors.
Q5: Regarding residential and workforce parking:
A) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a downtown parking program for people who work in the city? If so, how would it work?
The employee parking program the city has had in place at the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company has worked well — downtown employees sign up and get a low-cost ($25) monthly permit to park. Similar programs could be established in more outlying areas but would likely require shuttle service, which brings additional expense and therefore would either need to be somewhat higher rates or underwritten partially by employers. As we’ve learned, even with shuttles running every 10 minutes to the free lot on Market Street, it is difficult to get people to use a remote lot, so any plan would require input, discussion, and a level of commitment to participate.
B) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a neighborhood parking program for people who live in the city? If so, how would it work?
Yes, and the planning for such a program is currently underway. Usually neighborhood parking programs require registration for a permit for each car of a resident to be parked within a certain neighborhood area. There is some cost involved because enforcement is critical — we know that no one wants to add service costs to the city budget, but without enforcement, residential parking programs will be meaningless.
Q6: Do you think the city should cut spending in order to lower taxes? If so, where specifically would you make cuts?
Taxes pay for services. In recent years, we’ve heard from citizens about more and more services that they want from government — additional playing fields, stepped-up police enforcement for traffic calming, more transportation options, faster replacement of sidewalks, and so forth. It all adds up. The City Council needs to hear from citizens about where they are willing to live with the reduced services that budget cuts would represent. We have only one or two speakers at annual budget hearings and they typically don’t provide specific suggestions for budget cuts.
Q7: The council is attempting to take 4.6 acres of land containing a city sewer line from Toyota of Portsmouth owner James Boyle. In March, Boyle said he was seeking about $10 million in a settlement offer, but no settlement was reached.
A) Should the council have settled with Boyle at the amount he requested?
Certainly not. Mr. Boyle purchased a building on wetlands, which had been sold to him by the N.H. Department of Education; the building was sold because it was sinking. The wetland and the sewer line are clearly marked on the deed to the property. Ever since then, he has been trying to get the taxpayers of the city of Portsmouth to pay for his apparent mistake through filing various lawsuits. The city has repeatedly defended taxpayers against these lawsuits. Why would we give Mr. Boyle $10 million of taxpayer money simply to mollify him?
B) Should the city proceed with efforts to take the land by eminent domain?
Yes. In a ruling from one of Mr. Boyle’s lawsuit attempts to pry money out of Portsmouth taxpayers, the presiding judge suggested the eminent domain remedy to the city, apparently believing that it might end the controversy and stop clogging up the courts. The judge’s advice seemed like a feasible direction. The city can then manage that portion of the property, monitor the sewer pipe that runs under a corner of the property, and deal appropriately with the wetlands.
Q8: What is your stance on the regulation of short-term rentals, such as those offered through Airbnb?
I believe there are reasonable strategies to regulate short-term rentals similar to those that the city applies to bed and breakfasts — that is, licensing them in appropriate zones/neighborhoods, checking for compliance with basic health and safety standards, and ensuring adequate parking. Right now, the issues of regulation/authority to regulate are in the hands of the state Legislature.
Q9: What is your stance on allowing Keno gambling in the city?
I voted against Keno gambling for our restaurants/bars because no one in the city’s hospitality industry seemed interested in supporting it in their establishments.
Q10: Looking 10 to 20 years into the future…
A) What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Portsmouth?
- State context, which is more and more out of step with Portsmouth’s views and needs, leaving us so completely dependent on property tax and without the opportunity to create alternative sources of revenue.
- Aging of the population, which will bring about the need for more and different services — at a time when people may be reluctant to support those services.
- Creation of supply of housing that can flexibly respond to changing demographics.
- Overcoming the tendency toward negativity that has settled in and keeps seeping into any opportunities for change.
- Increased personal and public resources required to address weather events from climate change
B) What do you see as the city’s biggest opportunities?
- Reconceptualization of the city’s corridors and gateways with more forward-looking zoning.
- Redevelopment of the McIntyre property for economic viability and public amenities.
- Realization of the Prescott Park Master Plan.
- Engagement of more citizens in public process.
C) How can the city start preparing for these challenges and opportunities now?
- Staying on top of needs for zoning updates.
- Pressing the N.H. Legislature for flexible options for local municipalities in terms of revenue raising, which includes creating allies among other like-minded municipalities.
- Incentivize the development of varieties of housing types to figure out what works best.
- Continue to experiment with ways to engage with the public.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
I must be in Washington, D.C., for the entire week of Halloween for a work assignment, so I think I’ll be appearing as an unhappy bureaucrat.
See responses from other candidates
(Candidate Brenna Cavanaugh declined to participate, citing time constraints. Candidate Rick Becksted did not reply to messages left by phone or email.)