Portsmouth’s municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Below, City Council candidate Josh Denton responds to PortsmouthNH.com’s candidate questionnaire.
Occupation: A Portsmouth Naval Shipyard lead negotiator.
Civic experience: Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #168 (2021 – present); President of the 501(c)(3) PopUp NH Board of Directors (2020 – present); Portsmouth City Councilor (2016 – 2020); Chair of Renewable Energy Committee (2017 – 2018); Member of Sustainability Committee (2013 – 2019); Army Officer (2003 – 2007); and Eagle Scout (1998).
Years living in Portsmouth: I moved here after returning from Iraq in 2007.
1) Do you think the city should impose any new measures or mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic at this time?
Covid will persist until all elected officials listen to the science, lead by example, and become proactive. Despite overwhelming support from medical experts, the current City Council failed to enact a mask mandate until September 14 of last year. Worse, in a complete disregard for the health of all residents and staff alike, Mayor Becksted and Councilor Huda not only voted against that ordinance, but currently refuse to wear masks during City Council meetings. Being the seacoast’s slowest City Council to allow outdoor dining resulted in last year’s PopUp and this year they were incredibly reluctant to approve outdoor dining again. If elected, I will listen to the science, lead by example, and proactively codify outdoor dining in an ordinance to ensure that Portsmouth becomes even more vibrant!
2) Do you think the Prescott Park Master Plan should be updated in any way? Specifically, do you think the stage should be temporary or permanent? Covered or uncovered?
Although it was defeated by an 8-1 vote in 2017, I am proud to have offered an amendment to the Prescott Park Master Plan, which would have allowed for a permanent stage with a cover. The summer of 2020 barley felt like Portsmouth without the Arts Festival and I was ecstatic to see concerts in the park again last summer. However, this past season was just like the 2019 season, with large financial losses due to the increase in significant weather events. I would again support a permanent covered stage for the shows to go on when safe.
3) How do you feel about the current pace of development in Portsmouth?
Responsible development is needed to increase the tax base to offset what would otherwise be significant property tax increases. The current City Council’s inability to deliver on their 2019 campaign promise to reign in development epitomizes the urgent need to restore competency and respect to the City Council. Policy is set by passing ordinances. For example, two years ago, my climate change focus pushed enacting the flood plain district zoning ordinance before any North Mill Pond development was submitted. By contrast, instead of setting policy by amending our zoning ordinances, this City Council harasses our talented staff that simply enforce existing ordinances. This has resulted in the former Deputy City Manager, Planning Director, and Traffic Engineer all quitting in an unprecedented loss of institutional knowledge. Additionally, not only do current City Councilors inappropriately speak before our quasi-judicial zoning boards, this City Council risks lawsuits by replacing our thankless quasi-judicial board volunteers with ones not abiding by existing zoning.
4) What, if anything, do you think should be done to increase access to affordable housing?
Affordable housing is the pressing issue I hear raised most often. I lived our affordable housing crisis waiting tables while I earned my Masters of Public Administration and again after using the GI Bill to graduate law school. However, Covid has exacerbated our hot housing market that already negatively impacted everyone relying on fixed incomes, aspiring first time home buyers, and the half of our population that rent. To help residents and businesses alike, the City Council should proactively change our zoning to both encourage our housing stock to increase and further incentivize the building of more affordable units. The City Council should also be encouraging the Portsmouth Housing Authority to break ground on more projects, like the one that is about to open on Court Street, that I am proud to have voted to waive up to $160,000 in fees for during the previous term.
5) What changes, if any, should be made to the city’s bike lanes?
As someone who commutes to work via bicycle year-round, I fully acknowledged during the 2019 election that the bicycle lanes in their previous configuration had to be adjusted with the guidance of experts. However, given the predicament that the current City Council has gotten us in, I believe that whatever changes are necessary should be made to ensure that we do not have to pay back the $225,000 grant that we received to construct them.
6) Regarding the McIntyre building, what do you feel is the best path forward to avoid litigation and get the project done?
Governance cannot effectively restart every two years as demonstrated at taxpayers’ expense by the current City Council’s McIntyre efforts. They overpromised on the Post Office returning, have been so reckless with lawsuits that they voted against every councilor hearing legal advice before a key vote, and voted to list the associated costs as $0 in our FY22 budget, despite the building costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands annually. The next City Council should avoid another restart and I like the public’s conceptual redesign. However, it remains unknown if the National Park Service will uncharacteristically approve building above the old Post Office, remains uncertain if it would be economically feasible for the development partner to build whatever gets approved, and the most crucial unanswered question is how many millions the McIntyre redevelopment will now cost taxpayers.
7) What additional measures do you think the city should take to slow climate change and prepare for its impacts?
I conceived, recruited, and chaired the Renewable Energy Committee that created our 2018 Net Zero Energy Policy and the framework to achieve it. These led to many of my past mitigation initiatives. The committee should be reinstated to update both the policy and framework. Meanwhile, the downtown Electric Vehicle fast chargers that the current City Council removed from our Capital Improvement Plan should be restored. Further, in concert with codifying outdoor dining, I would push enforcement of our 2019 ordinance that requires businesses serving food on public property to compost, because food waste is the third largest greenhouse gas emitter.
8) Do you support the idea of seasonal road closures and/or barriers to accommodate outdoor dining at restaurants — even after the pandemic has (hopefully) subsided?
Again, outdoor dining should be codified in an ordinance so businesses can plan for the future and Portsmouth can continue to become more and more vibrant!
9) What do you think the council can do to cultivate an environment of respect and collaboration and minimize hostility in local government?
I had not planned on running again for City Council. However, the same understanding of the City Council’s proper role as a policy board that made me an effective City Councilor, is needed more than ever to stop the ongoing loss of the institutional knowledge that Portsmouth needs to stay vibrant. Respect has to be restored towards our volunteer boards. Again, City Councilors need to stop speaking in front of them. Respect has to be restored towards our staff by recognizing the staff work for the City Manager. Again, City Councilors should not be harassing staff until they quit, like the Deputy City Manager, the Planning Director, and the Traffic Engineer all did. Most importantly, respect has to be restored towards our residents. Never again should a unanimous conviction by an Ethics Committee, that consisted of community stalwarts like Dickie Gamester, be overturned like this City Council did for Councilor Kennedy.
10) Aside from the issues already raised in this questionnaire, please outline ONE other priority you would address as a city councilor over the next two years.
If this City Council does not pass it, I would prioritize the resolution that I have been speaking at City Council meetings since VFW Post #168 submitted it in July to create a $500 residential tax credit during the year(s) Portsmouth members of the New Hampshire National Guard and Reserve Component are called to active duty in combat service. As a matter of context, before I was elected to the City Council, Portsmouth’s longstanding $500 veterans tax credit was only allowed for veterans that served during specified times of conflict. During my first term as a City Councilor in 2017, I introduced and passed a $500 All Veterans Tax Credit and during my second term in 2019, I introduced and passed a resolution doubling the Disabled Veterans Tax Credit. Our resolution would close a loophole that currently exists for our heroes that have not served the legal prerequisite time to qualify for the other tax credits.
BONUS: What are you going be for Halloween?
I have a Cobra Kai Halloween Dance skeleton spandex onesie that I love to rock.
To see other candidates’ responses, click here.