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: Peter A. Whelan
Occupation: Retired executive at PepsiCo/Frito-Lay; currently own a fishing charter business, Shoals Fly Fishing and Light Tackle
Years lived in Portsmouth: 26 years
Public service experience: Served on FOSE (Friends of The South End Neighborhood liaison to city); state of New Hampshire Advisory Committee on Marine Fisheries, appointment 8 years; president of Coastal Conservation Association of New Hampshire for 4 years, board member for 14 years; Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Habitat Committee member for 2 years
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?
While some of these issues do affect the citizens of Portsmouth, I think the Portsmouth City Council has a lot on its plate just dealing with the local issues serving the public here in Portsmouth. The council is supposed to be a nonpartisan body which serves the residents of Portsmouth — we should stay focused on providing world-class service to our residents. When you start to politicize the local council, injecting national politics, you create discord in the community and the council becomes a body that makes political decisions that may not be best for the residents and taxpayers. It is important to note that this cuts both ways, whether you are a Republican, Democrat, or Independent. There is a reason Portsmouth’s City Council is a nonpartisan body focused on making the best decisions for its residents, whatever party they may follow. Let’s try and keep national politics out of Portsmouth. I think we all agree that we have a special place to live here in Portsmouth and are tolerant of everyone’s views and beliefs.
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.”
Portsmouth has always been the City of the Open Door and will continue to be moving forward.
- 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.
We are preparing our city for the future, which includes sea level rise due to global warming. Our focus should be on solid preparations for the future sea level rise in our land use boards and all building activities. This is more important than a symbolic gesture of a letter.
- 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.
Once again, Portsmouth has always supported diversity and respect among all its residents and visitors. Our city policies have always been directed toward denouncing racism and discrimination in all forms. This is a nonpartisan issue that we all agree on.
Q2: Regarding the Prescott Park Arts Festival (PPAF), please share your thoughts on the following:
- Should there be fewer PPAF events each year?
The same number of events.
- Should there be limits on audience sizes?
I believe the committees have agreed there should be limits on crowd sizes. I would follow the recommendations of the Police and Fire Departments who have been tasked to weigh in on this issue.
- Should PPAF events end earlier?
I think current end times are OK — this will be negotiated by the city manager.
- Should the volume of events be reduced?
I believe they already are controlled, and limits will be in the long-term contract for the PPAF.
- Is consumption of alcohol during PPAF events a problem that warrants stricter enforcement?
The Police Department has already weighted in on this issue. It is not a major problem in the park. They will be providing at least two officers at every event to enforce the rules at the park, along with crowd control. The Josie Prescott trust was clear about serving or consuming alcohol in the park.
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?
The council has met behind closed doors too often over the past two years in nonpublic sessions. I believe in transparency and openness — the only reason to have a closed session of the council would be a personnel issue or union contract.
B) Do you think city government has been accessible enough for residents? If not, what can be done to make it more accessible?
I think the city could do a better job of making government more accessible to its residents. A compressive plan of communicating major issues up front and with plenty of time would be great. Having more meetings at night would be a good thing so residents could attend.
For instance, when the city has a major discharge of sewer and storm water to the South Mill Pond there is no notification to the residents. Millions of gallons are discharged yearly with no prior notification while our residents work, play, and walk along its shores.
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 should not be in the business of building housing. They could provide incentives to private builders to do this in the future. There are just a few open parcels remaining to build on in the city. Frank Jones property could be used, along with some property along Route 1 and Woodbury Avenue
We will not solve the problem overnight, but we may help bend the curve in the right direction. This is a regional problem that all the Seacoast towns have here in New Hampshire.
Q5: Regarding residential and workforce parking:
We desperately need a residential parking program in our neighborhoods for the residents of Portsmouth. This would be a top priority for me.
Every time the city raises parking rates downtown, they drive more people to park in the neighborhoods. It must be a comprehensive city-wide plan to address this issue. The Band-Aid approach to just raising rates is creating problems.
We should use satellite parking areas for our downtown employees and tourists with a shuttle bus.
A) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a downtown parking program for people who work in the city? If so, how would it work?
Yes, there should be reduced rates at satellite lots with bus service or bikes where workers could ride in and out of the city. The first step would be to do an inventory of all the businesses in the downtown and determine how big the problem is in terms of parking. This should be a top priority.
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, a sticker program for residents in certain neighborhoods. Cambridge and other towns do the same thing. There would be a nominal fee paid each year at city hall. The program could be tailored for each Portsmouth neighborhood, allowing resident-only parking on certain streets. There are many homes which have no on-street parking. I happen to own such a home in the South End.
Q6: Do you think the city should cut spending to lower taxes? If so, where specifically would you make cuts?
Approximately $26 million of the budget is not a fixed expense. This is where I would start to look at every line item in the budget and find savings. One example is the consultant fees that we pay people to do things — survey traffic signs around the city, $45,000.
The other area is on the revenue side of the ledger. Renegotiating parking leases that are below market value in the High Hanover garages is anther example.
It all adds up when designing the city budget. The latest reassessment has people engaged now in the process.
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?
Mr. Boyle would have settled a long time ago for less money. The city has no business being in this lawsuit.
B) Should the city proceed with efforts to take the land by eminent domain?
No — they should reach a settlement with Mr. Boyle.
Q8: What is your stance on the regulation of short-term rentals, such as those offered through Airbnb?
There is no enforcement regulation on the books in Portsmouth; the city enforces it if someone complains. The policy on Air BnB should be clear as written as a city ordinance.
Q9: What is your stance on allowing Keno gambling in the city?
Not in favor of Keno or other types of gambling.
Q10: Looking 10 to 20 years into the future…
A) What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Portsmouth?
Keeping the charm and character that has made Portsmouth a great place to live and visit. A trip around this town shows some of the ways this town is being developed to be just like any other sterile New England town. We cannot afford to lose the character of this city, which are the people. Portsmouth has always been blessed with a great mix of artists, fishermen, shipyard workers. The influx of new development is changing this town. I am for smart, careful development where we recognize our past and embrace the future.
B) What do you see as the city’s biggest opportunities?
One of the biggest is the development of Portsmouth’s West End. The renovation of the Frank Jones Buildings and the development around that area will be the next up-and-coming place to live. We have a chance with careful planning and direction from the next city council to make that a great area to live and work in.
The McIntyre building is another parcel which, with careful planning, will transform Portsmouth.
C) How can the city start preparing for these challenges and opportunities now?
Careful planning and direction in the West End area. A missing puzzle is the Frank Jones Conference Center property. This is one of the last remaining open parcels. A comprehensive plan should be developed for the whole area in the West End, linking Islington Street to the downtown.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
Uncle Sam — I want to walk in the center of the road, not to the left or right.
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.)