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Aurora mayoral candidates debate
Chet Susslin / The Citizen The candidates in the Aurora mayoral race, from left, Alan Connors, Bonnie Bennett and George Farenthold, participate in a debate at the chapel at Wells College on Friday evening.

AURORA - Aurora's mayoral candidates had a spirited debate Friday evening at Wells College on the environment, business concerns and other village issues.

Independents Bonnie Bennett (Aurora Party), Alan Connors (Village Party) and village trustee George Farenthold (D) fielded tough questions from an audience of about 50.

Hydrofracking and problems with reducing the carbon footprint came first.

“I'm constitutionally against anything that messes with the water supply,” Bennett said. She said wind and solar power are ineffective power sources because of the village's location and said replacing light bulbs could save electricity in the village.

Connors stressed the economic feasibility and safety of any energy proposal. “There are a lot of nice ideas,” he said, “but what is the cost up front, the cost of doing it, and the payback?”

Farenthold said he is opposed to fracturing the Marcellus Shale in the Finger Lakes. “We've done this in Texas,” he said. “What goes down does not stay down.” He said Pennsylvania's outcome is “not going to be pretty.”

Village electricity mostly comes from a coal-burning plant 15 miles to the south, he said. Different types of wind turbines could “green” the village.

Candidates then tackled student involvement in village life. Farenthold, Connors and Bennett all support student involvement and student voting in village elections.

Farenthold wants permanent standing committees to interact between the village and college.

Bennett said student interns could be valuable in village connections with government or in areas requiring research.

Connors wants a college panel of students, administration and staff to meet with the village to discuss how to improve the village.

With about 279 registered voters in the village, between 25 and 42 are students, “a small percentage,” Farenthold said. Some say students aren't taxpayers, but Farenthold said most students put at least $20,000 each into the local economy.

Connors said he would like better communication between the students and the community.

Bennett said a proactive, strong board of trustees could deal with differing goals of the college and village and raised the question of a conflict of interest in the campaign.

Farenthold, married to the president of Wells College, said people have a right to question a possible conflict of interest. He said the college employs more than 200 people and that the village has only a handful of full-time and part-time employees, so to compare the two would be “supercilious.”

“The people who are elected have one vote,” he said, “and they are accountable to individual voters. People elect us to vote our conscience.” He said there is “some contention” where the college and the village meet and pledged to recuse himself from voting if an issue came up where there was a clear conflict.

Bennett called Farenthold's run for mayor “an outrageous consolidation of power, with the largest employer, landowner and taxpayer.”

“Put all of this in the same pot,” she said, “and in order to stem a conflict of interest, the village is going to have to pay a lawyer.” While she said that she considers Farenthold a person of integrity who has the best interests of the village in mind, she said that the board of trustees has to sign agreements with Wells.

“Can the husband of the president go in and sign an agreement?” she asked. “I'm sorry, George.”

Bennett said, “No matter how good a mayor George would make, I think the appearance of a conflict of interest is difficult. We've got to remain separate from Wells for us to be strong.”

Connors wondered aloud if talking to his wife, a Wells graduate, would constitute a conflict of interest.

Staff writer Kathleen Barran can be reached at 253-5311 ext. 238 or kathleen.barran@lee.net

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