These were my responses to Foster’s questionnaire sent to all City Council candidates. Originally published here: https://www.fosters.com/news/20191024/somersworth-city-council-candidate-crystal-paradis
Name: Crystal Paradis
Address: 73 Noble St. Apartment B
Education: Graduated, Portsmouth Christian Academy; 2 years at Carson Newman College, Jefferson City, Tennesseee; additional classes at Granite State College, Rochester
Civic experience: Organizer, Somersworth Dog Park Project; Vice Chair, Somersworth Democratic Committee; Chair Grassroots Garden Club (helped secure $9k for VFW project); Co-Founder Tri-City Repro Justice 4 All Coalition; Founder, Feminist Oasis; Field Organizer, NH Democratic Party 2016; Volunteer, Planned Parenthood; Organizer, TEDxPortsmouth (6 years); Volunteer, Families First Health & Support Center, Portsmouth; Volunteer, Greater Seacoast Homelessness Coalition; Volunteer, Rights & Democracy Trans Rights Picnic; Founder “Let’s Talk” series on opioid epidemic and poverty; Volunteer, RESULTS to end Poverty; graffiti cleanup task force, Honolulu; Volunteer Obama reelection 2012.
Campaign website (if you have one): crystalforsomersworth.com
- Why are you running?
I’m running because the city needs leadership with a shared vision for what our future can be, who will put smart policies in place to protect what is working and prepare for the coming growth. We need representatives who will do the extra work to authentically engage the community — not just making municipal information technically available but making concerted outreach efforts to make information easily accessible and offering a variety of ways to make your voice heard as a community member. I have decades of experience in community outreach and engagement, and I have a deep love for this city that includes an exciting vision for our future as a thriving community.
Somersworth is on the brink of the growth that Dover and Portsmouth have experienced over the last few decades. I believe an Exit 10 to Somersworth is in our future, and more people are already moving to Somersworth, drawn by our affordable housing and growing reputation for our community values. We need smart and creative policies in place to ensure that we keep property taxes and housing costs down, while investing in sustainable community infrastructure and community-building efforts that will pay off in the long term.
I’m running to advocate for my community, to represent our residents and businesses, to seek creative solutions and to foster smart coalitions to keep our city moving forward.
- If you are an incumbent candidate, what do you feel are your biggest accomplishments in office? If you are running for a position you haven’t held, what accomplishments and experience make you qualified for office?
I have decades of experience as a community organizer across a wide range of issues, campaigns and civic causes, building coalitions of folks with shared values around common goals. I would bring this depth of experience in community engagement and a coalition-building approach to the council at a critical time in both Somersworth and the Granite State.
In my years of activism and community organizing, I have built strong relationships with statewide leaders in our government, nonprofit, advocacy and business sectors. I will bring these relationships to the council as I continue to advocate for Somersworth.
My accomplishments have included: helping to secure a $9,000 grant from Home Depot for the Somersworth VFW as Chair of the Grassroots Gardening Club; elected Vice-Chair of the Somersworth Democrats, the fastest-growing local Democratic Committee in the state; recruiting and organizing the highest number of active volunteers in the state of NH in the 2016 campaign; leading the TEDx event in Portsmouth from its founding in 2013 into a sold-out 7th year at The Music Hall; organizing an at-capacity conversation on the opioid epidemic, convening advocates from law enforcement, treatment and recovery sectors; founding a feminist business and placing as one of eight finalists out of 90 statewide businesses in UNH’s 2018 Social Venture Innovation Challenge.
Relevant experience includes: Running a business, leading volunteer teams of 5-75 people on community events, creating and executing digital marketing strategies (key to good municipal outreach) and being a renter in Somersworth (underrepresented on the council).
- Do you feel the tax cap is still working for the city, and how would you help manage the tax rate?
Somersworth’s best tax cap are the nine elected officials chosen to represent the city every two years. An arbitrary cap on a tax rate is incapable of assessing the complex factors that build a stronger community. Managing the tax rate so that folks — especially seniors on a fixed income, low-income folks and working-class young families, all of whom contribute much to our community — can afford to live and stay here should be a top priority of all municipal representatives.
Our increased assessments have resulted in an overall increase in value of our community, thereby decreasing our property tax rate — but we can do more to offset the city budget.
First, we must bring in more businesses to Somersworth. I support my fellow candidate Matt Gerding’s proposal to establish a public-private partnership with a composting company, and I agree with Ward 1 candidate Dan DeSantis that we must invest in infrastructure as part of a bold approach to attract more businesses here. It was recently announced that Somersworth will receive $273,216 from the state. I propose that we strategically divide these funds between immediate property tax relief for qualifying residents and infrastructure investments that will result in lower property taxes years into the future.
We should also take note of creative solutions of communities like Massachusetts, who allows seniors to volunteer for the city, answering phones or shelving library books, for a reduction in their property tax bill, decreasing the city payroll while decreasing taxpayer burden.
- Please provide at least one concrete idea for how you can play a role in responsibly managing the city’s development, protecting the interests of residents, families, businesses and overall taxpayers in the process?
My campaign’s cornerstone proposal has been a Somersworth Dog Park. This not only builds a great amenity into the city for our dogs and dog owners, it also acts as one of what I hope will be many new community hubs — places that people across community demographics gather. These kinds of activation spaces build community, attract area visitors and keep our residents here in Somersworth who otherwise are driving to surrounding communities for dog parks — and spending money in other communities while they’re there. Thinking ahead with new ideas like this is what the city needs for responsible management — not just responding to immediate issues but looking ahead with a vision of what Somersworth can be, and choosing to make the investment.
My preferred approach to establishing a dog park is rooted in engaging the community from its creation, including location selection, fundraising and ongoing management. By requiring the community to raise a percentage of the funds, it not only saves in the city budget, it also allows folks to get engaged and take ownership for the park. This engagement of the community from the very beginning is important to having a thriving and engaged group of people who will regularly volunteer to maintain the park, as has been the case in neighboring Dover at Longhill Dog Park, whose volunteers regularly save the City on maintenance and have been critical to its success. This is the approach I believe Somersworth should take with our dog park, too!
- How can the city do more to address the opioid crisis and the people impacted by it?
It’s important that we look at the broader health crisis of addiction, as alcohol kills more people each year than opioids. I support a comprehensive approach to addressing this crisis, including harm reduction strategies. Evidence-based harm reduction strategies such as syringe service programs are effective at reducing deaths and building relationships with folks who then have a connection to get help when they are ready.
I also strongly support Somersworth creating a LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program, as has already seen success across the country, including here in New Hampshire. LEAD enables police officers to divert folks struggling with substance use from the criminal justice system (a system which is unlikely to provide them with helpful tools and strategies to become well). There would be no cost to the city for this program, and there is capacity in our local partners at SOS to expand into Somersworth, after their success in creating the program in neighboring Dover and Farmington.
I support a budget for our police department that includes training on effectively dealing with folks with addiction and substance use disorder, and increasing our community policing capacity. Having members of our local police department who have good standing relationships with community members helps in overall policing that is effective at keeping our communities safe and well.
Finally, we simply need more recovery services available to those seeking help. I would advocate for state and federal grants to increase our community wellness while mitigating the impact on our budget.
- As housing authorities throughout the region report lengthy wait lists and area shelters grapple with insufficient space to meet demand, how can the city further the affordability and availability of housing?
I am appreciative to Fosters for framing our homelessness epidemic as a housing issue, as it should be! There are families in homeless shelters right now who are there because they’ve simply been unable to find housing that they can afford. Educating the public, developers and landlords on the benefits to accepting Section 8 vouchers and other housing vouchers would help these families find housing.
However, the lack of housing stock, period, is our largest barrier to increasing affordable housing. I support zoning that allows for the building of microapartments and other high-density housing solutions that would allow developers to realistically build affordable housing. Investing in public transportation contributes to a holistic community-building approach that decreases vehicle and parking demands, further enabling affordable housing development.
To enable and encourage private workforce housing development, our city must invest in planning, zoning and land use policies that make affordable housing possible — that means regulations that are flexible and incentivize workforce housing into mixed-use projects. We should also be assessing municipally-owned property for opportunities to partner with nonprofit housing providers. (Thank you to Seacoast Workforce Housing Coalition for their work in this area and sharing it in their Housing Resource Guide!)
- Do you believe the city’s government is open and accessible to the public, and what specific steps would you take to make it more open and accessible?
I believe our city meets the minimum requirements of being open and accessible — in that if you know who to ask and are able to take the time to find out, most of our municipal information can be found. Our City Hall staff to be incredibly helpful and knowledgeable — but not everyone is able, due to work schedule, family commitments, etc., to make it to City Hall each time they need information.
To increase our accessibility and transparency, I believe Somersworth needs a serious investment in digital communications including an improved website, increased social media use and management and a comprehensive community outreach plan. I would propose a Coffee with the City series similar to Coffee with a Cop, which brings municipal officials into closer and more regular contact with the community.
Physical accessibility is important, too — the majority of our public library is not accessible to everyone, and currently this is being addressed by giving Somersworth residents with mobility limitations a Rochester Library card. We can do better!
Accessibility also means better wayfinding signage in our city, from promoting our vibrant, historic downtown from Route 9 to signage that show our pride in public spaces like parks and riverfront walks. All of these physical improvements have digital counterparts and campaigns that would better serve our community by making sure everyone knows about our city’s offerings!
- What other key issue(s) does the city face, and what specifically would you do to address it/them if elected?
Building a resilient community means addressing our community’s trauma. Trauma is a leading cause of addiction, substance use disorder and many other challenges — including, as School Board candidate Coty Donohue has pointed out, education and the ability of students to learn. We need to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) through trauma-informed community-based resilience programs that help combat toxic stress — not just in our schools, but in primary care, pediatrics and in the community with connection and mentorship strategies. Our community health centers can be another great partner in this effort.
Our downtown is reviving with new businesses, and I’d expand this by specifically supporting Somersworth’s exciting prospect of being the first city in the nation to be home to a Little Indonesia! I would support economic incentives and a smart partnership with the Indonesian government to make this vision a reality.
In addition to making our library more physically accessible, I would propose expanding our programming and resource offerings. I would advocate for a proposal process for local professionals, enthusiasts and service providers like NH’s Small Business Administration to offer classes and workshops to our community, and for community members to both request and vote on which programs they’d like to see. Community-driven and community-supported approaches should be our starting point for any city effort.
I look forward to the chance to serve my community on these issues and more on the City Council, and I hope to earn your vote!