Gibson “Mike” Kennedy
Occupation: Retired chief information officer, BAE Systems, Inc.
Years living in Portsmouth: 5
Prior public service experience: Two years as Portsmouth Housing Authority Commissioner; two years on Portsmouth Historical Society Board; six months as Strawbery Banke trustee; six years in US Army National Guard; seven years on United Way of Greater Nashua Community Investment Panels; seven years on board of Karen’s Climb Foundation; member, Gov. Shaheen’s Commission on Information Technology Strategic Planning; participation on Dept. of Defense and Dept. of Homeland Security cyber security panels.
How often do you walk into downtown or use public transportation? What can the city do to encourage more pedestrian traffic and public transit use?
I walk downtown almost every day, because I am lucky enough to live two blocks from Prescott Park. To get people out of their cars and walking, we have to ensure they have safe sidewalks and/or a place to park. To encourage walking and biking, we need to provide good sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and bicycle paths out on Lafayette, Elwyn, and Peaverly Hill Roads. The master planning meeting on Sept. 28 led to generation of sound ideas for this. In the downtown, we need to continue efforts to “calm” the existing automobile traffic. I like the proposals to re-route downtown traffic and I like the idea of making some streets pedestrian-only on weekends, similar to what is done on Market Square Day.
How would you address growth and development throughout Portsmouth?
I believe growth is an essential part of a virtuous cycle that makes the city a vibrant place where people can work, raise families, and retire. We need to encourage development that is inclusive of working families as well as young professionals. Because the value of land itself is so high in Portsmouth, this is challenging. Larger cities have addressed this through increasing building density by building up. The city council has voted to restrict how high our buildings can go. However, many people (including me) told the consultants during the North End charette that trading increased height for green space or more affordable housing was an acceptable trade.
What can the city do to restore public confidence in the police department and the police commission?
In order to restore confidence we should very transparently either exonerate or sanction the police department leadership — doing less than that leaves a stain on city government and the department. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I recognize many in the city have made their minds up that “somebody’s gotta go.” If Officer Goodwin did ask his superiors for guidance before continuing to accept gifts and an inheritance from Mrs. Webber, then those superiors must assume some culpability. In order to restore confidence, we have to recognize that appearances are as important as letter-of-the-law details. The mixed official and public reaction to chief Dubois’ resignation and six-month separation agreement show just how important appearances are in restoring public confidence in government.
As a preventative measure, we should deploy an ethics ombudsman and “hot line” to enable anonymous reporting of known or suspected unethical behavior (see my website or Facebook page for more on this.) Had we had such a system, Mr. Connors could have used it if he was not satisfied with his chain of command’s response. There are two benefits to this: the complaint is documented and a neutral party or body can examine and, if warranted, investigate it. Because everybody knows the complaint is documented, they know their follow-up may be scrutinized.
How can Portsmouth encourage the development of more affordable and workforce housing?
We have to start with the reality that much of the buildable land in the city is privately owned. The landowner will rightfully expect a solid return on their investment and in the downtown area; we’ve seen the best return seems to come from building high-end condos. To turn that around we have to look to areas where the land cost is lower and zoning allows for a greater number of saleable units than we have traditionally allowed. If you work backwards from what a target “affordable housing” buyer or renter is able to pay, you can develop a calculation of how much floor space per unit you can build towards in a given location. I’ve spoken to some people just joining the workforce that believe they would be happy with as little as 300 square feet in a studio apartment if it could get them close to downtown.
What role should the council have in working with the Prescott Park Arts Festival to address residents’ complaints about noise?
The city council has fallen into the trap of becoming the complaint bureau for any and all citizen concerns. The proper process should be for the city manager, fire chief, or police chief to be the first stop. If no redress is granted, the council or commission ought to look into it but we have to let city staff do their jobs.
In this particular case, the council created a panel to work with PPAF. That’s a good approach, provided they have the time to collect factual data about the problem. The arts festival is and long has been a good thing for the city. We should not throw the baby out with the bath water. I live two or three blocks away from the stage at Prescott Park. I hear the shows, but I am not bothered by the noise. I like the fact that this activity is going on — it’s part of the city’s vitality. But I also recognize some residents that live closer to the park than I are put out by the higher decibel performances. The council can fill the role of honest broker in addressing the concerns of all of the parties. This is likely to be a case where everybody comes away feeling somewhat dissatisfied — but that is the nature of compromise.
How can Portsmouth respond and adapt to the impacts of climate change?
Portsmouth’s significant shoreline is at risk in general storm surge and “triple whammy” events where full moon, high tide, and storm surge all come together. The city planning department participates with regional organizations that predict the surge impacts to determine how best to allocate resources. Wetlands are the best “buffer” we have for temporarily absorbing surge and we need to ensure they remain protected. It may not seem obvious to all of us, but the effluent from the city’s wastewater treatment plant has an impact on the health of our wetlands. The city has also designed the recent seawall improvements in the South End so they can be built higher when the time comes.
What is one recent change for the better in the city, and one you hope to champion as a councilor?
The entry of several talented younger professionals into the council race is a wonderful opportunity for the city to develop its next generation of leaders. I am committed to helping the council be seen as purposeful, exciting, and rewarding. There should be as much emphasis on building a bright future as on preserving our rich heritage.
What was the most recent cultural event you attended in Portsmouth?
Both the John Paul Jones House garden party and the Vintage and Vine benefit at Strawbery Banke.
What is the most important issue facing the city that no one is talking about yet?
I haven’t seen much discussion on the question of what the next industry to sustain Portsmouth into the future might be. We turned successfully to tourism after Pease closed down, but someday tourism will wane. Portsmouth needs an economic plan for what to enable today to faci