Vancil, Renna square off up north

The incumbent and challenger clash over credentials, ongoing ordinance debates.

Incumbent councilwoman Debbie Vancil and challenger Frank Renna sharply disagree.

But it’s not over the issues.

“I agree with everything my opponent says about what’s important,” said Vancil, who is hoping for a second four-year term representing the North Ward. “The distinction is that I’ve had 26 years of civic experience on this island. (Renna) hasn’t had that opportunity yet. He’s been in New Jersey.”

Renna, who moved to the island seven years ago, believes he has a strong handle on what residents value most: managing growth, protecting the environment and maintaining the island’s quality of life.

While he knows Vancil has also put these issues at the forefront of her campaign, Renna believes he’s more qualified to carry them out.

“There’s a lot of disharmony on the City Council right now, and it needs my leadership to get on the right track,” the retired general manager of a Newark, N.J. electric and gas company said. “I have a lot of experience developing long-range plans to meet rapid growth while protecting the environment and addressing the divergent concerns of business, the neighborhoods and the unions.”

Renna blames council discord on the prolonged update of the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance, which protects wetlands, streams and other environmentally sensitive areas.

“Look at the Critical Areas Ordinance, which has fallen into a quagmire and and is a process that’s broken down,” he said. “A couple of selfish interests have sabotaged” the ordinance with proposed measures that would allow greater development density near wetlands and compensate landowners for “protecting fragile pieces of our environment.”

While not specifically faulting Vancil, Renna said he is better suited to develop “win-win situations” between divergent parties and speed the ordinance’s implementation.

Vancil disagrees with Renna’s characterization of the ordinance’s 14-month update process.

“Unfortunately, it has become the tar-baby of issues during the campaign,” she said. “The CAO affects every parcel on the island. So why wouldn’t we want to take a little extra time to do the best we could?”

She said criticisms of the update “lack credibility and are a distortion of the facts,” while saying that the finished CAO “will be an excellent document that truly protects critical areas.”

Both candidates also expressed strong support for the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which sets guidelines for growth, but again disagreed over who can best manifest its values.

“The Comprehensive Plan is an essential ingredient,” Renna said, in protecting the island from further developments like Island Crossing on High School Road, which he said is aesthetically and proportionally out-of-sync with the island’s values.

Vancil has stationed the Comprehensive Plan at the forefront of her campaign.

“‘Let’s pull it all into action’ is the slogan of my campaign,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk about how we need to manage growth.

“Well, now we have a plan. We don’t want to be ‘Anywhere USA.’ We have our own values and our own vision for the future expressed” in the plan.

Vancil said nobody on the council knows the plan as well as she does. She spent seven years on the Planning Commission and four years on the council developing the plan.

“I helped craft all parts of it,” she said. “I understand where things link together and why parts were created.”

But Renna believes the council will need his negotiating skills to successfully navigate the plan and many tenets of the Winslow Tomorrow project past diverging interests.

“We need more harmonious collaboration on the council,” he said. “Without it, there’s a good chance the plan and Winslow Tomorrow won’t look anything like the way we want it to.”

Vancil isn’t so sure Renna’s motives for running are fully vested in the community’s interest.

She points to Renna’s quick withdrawal from the race after he learned advertising professional Jeannie McMacken had entered, necessitating a primary election.

Renna re-entered the race shortly after learning he had come in second in the race and could advance to November’s general election.

“He’s not very consistent,” she said. “Most people, when they run, are running because they’re committed to a set of values. But he changed his mind. And then he changed his mind again. Maybe it’s more about winning for him.”

Renna said he initially withdrew because he planned to spend much of the primary season in New Jersey and would not be able to run an effective campaign leading up to the September election.

He said he “honestly withdrew” and was surprised that he advanced. Counter to Vancil’s assessment of his motives, Renna insists he is driven by a desire to improve the council and manage growth.

“I think running is benefiting the island and is well worth it,” he said. “It’s clear we’re getting the issues out there and, even if I don’t win, if it leads to more harmonious leadership on the council, it will be good for the town.”

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