The Sound’s 2015 Portsmouth City Council Voter’s Guide: Jack Thorsen

Portsmouth Voters Guide
Jack Thorsen

Jack Thorsen
Software engineer, technologist, and entrepreneur. 
Years living in Portsmouth:
Prior public service experience: Two-term city councilor; president of Portsmouth Public Media board; community volunteer (food drives, painting food pantry and WSCA office, halfway house); church board and committees.

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 daily, and occasionally I use the bus, but not often. Portsmouth is well on track as a walking and biking community. Initiatives are in place to develop bike lanes along major streets. The only un-walkable development is the new Harbor Corp building design, which closes off a walking route from Vaughan Mall through Portwalk and onto Vaughan Street to 3S Artspace. This is very unfortunate. We would need a pedestrian crossing easement over the railroad tracks, of course, but I’d like Harbor Corp to reconsider its design and not block a Vaughan Mall to Vaughan Street walkway, which would be a tremendous public benefit.

How would you address growth and development throughout Portsmouth?
Growth and development are good for Portsmouth, but not unrestrained growth. We must continue to protect the historic character of the city, where it makes sense, and allow for more modern developments elsewhere. The North End is a good location for the latter, as are the commercial areas of the West End and Route 1. The key is to have clear and concise zoning ordinances with a lot of community input. We are doing that.

What can the city do to restore public confidence in the police department and the police commission?
Building confidence in the police department will require action by the police commission and police management to address recent controversies with honesty and transparency. If the past is merely covered over with calls to “move forward,” but without corrections, then the community will not be convinced that anything is fixed. Good character and integrity lead to respect and confidence. So, let’s see more of that. Also, the police officers themselves are caught in the middle and I think they do a good job and deserve the respect they are due.

How can Portsmouth encourage the development of more affordable and workforce housing?
For workforce housing to work, zoning ordinances must be adjusted to allow for denser residential development. Space has a cost, so if that cost is too high for workers, then we need to address the allowable sizes of unit, the height of buildings, and how setback is allowed. Also, if micro-housing is needed, we will have to change the ordinances to accommodate. Parking requirements may also need to be addressed.

What role should the council have in working with the Prescott Park Arts Festival to address residents’ complaints about noise?
I’ve written a memo to the city council on this subject. In it, I suggest that the city hire a negotiator to develop a proper contract, to ask the mayor’s committee to compile a list of contract terms, with community input, and to also open the management of the festival to competing event management organizations. Then, the council should review and approve the contract prior to granting it.

How can Portsmouth respond and adapt to the impacts of climate change?
Fortunately, climate change is very slow! If we see ocean levels starting to rise, we should consider protective barriers. But, that is just the impact side. The real question is what can the city do to mitigate climate change. But, this topic is starting to get confused. We used to call it global warming, but now it looks like that may not happen, thus the topic name change. But, all the things we were to do under global warming are still valid to undertake, such as a reduction in the use of carbon-based fuels, and recycling and reuse of materials.

What is one recent change for the better in the city, and one you hope to champion as a councilor?
This council put in motion and funded the development of bike lanes and other walkability projects. This is an important safety issue, besides encouraging non-vehicle and pedestrian traffic. But, the most important issue, in my opinion, and one that I will champion, is government transparency. We have a long way to go, but we have made some progress on the city council level. Transparency needs to be addressed in city departments and land use boards.

What was the most recent cultural event you attended in Portsmouth? 
The most recent event was the African Burying Ground ceremonies, which were profound. But, I also want to mention TEDx Piscataqua River. TEDx brings in several presentations on a variety of topics. One local presenter, Sara Curry, owner of Bikram Yoga located in the West End, spoke on the wide-ranging healing powers of hot yoga. I was intrigued. So, when my doctor, to paraphrase, told me to live fit or die, I thought of Sara and joined her studio’s yoga classes. My health is markedly improving!

What is the most important issue facing the city that no one is talking about yet?
The most important issue is government transparency, but that is already in discussion. An issue not yet being discussed, though related to transparency, is who controls city government. My view is that residents are in charge and I will always fight for that. But, in practice, there are many other influencers whose influence is not always in the best of interest of residents, especially when money is involved. We all complain about Wall Street and corporate influence in Washington, D.C., and even to a degree at the state level. But, it happens locally as well. We need an open and frank discussion on this. Perhaps it’s time for that.