Toward the end, the two candidates had an opportunity to ask each other two questions directly. Kezer took the opportunity to ask Gray how he would balance an increase in the housing base with the additional cost burdens that it would place on the city’s services, and then he followed that up by asking what he believes his credentials are to run Amesbury.
On the first question, Gray responded by clarifying that what he wants is increased demand for housing, and that he’d like to see more people pounding on the doors to get into Amesbury and fewer people trying to get out. On the second question, he emphasized that he is a problem solver and pointed out that there are plenty of qualified people in City Hall whom he could rely on.
He also took Kezer to task for implying that because he has no public sector experience, he can’t do the job.
“My first observation is that question is representative of the new bureaucrats who think they’re the only ones qualified to run a government, and I reject that notion,” Gray said, prompting applause from the audience.
Gray asked Kezer what metrics he was using when he sent out a recent mailer that claimed that Amesbury’s schools are the best in the region, despite the school’s MCAS and graduation rankings being the lowest. He then followed up by asking how he would fund the school system without cutting additional services or raising the tax rate absent new commercial growth.
Kezer explained that schools are assigned a ranking of Level 1, 2, 3 or 4, with Level 1 being the best, and at the time of his remarks, three of Amesbury’s four schools were Level 1 schools, with just the middle school scoring Level 2. That compared favorably to other schools in the region, and the school’s MCAS scores have seen great improvements too, he said.
As for the second question, Kezer said his plan is to continue fostering economic growth, but in the short term he is also working with the school administration to try to identify areas where savings can be achieved, thereby making the schools more cost-efficient and freeing up money for other important areas.