By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — One challenger says the current City Council is "embarrassing." The other believes councilors are "in over their head." The incumbent is proud of the work the council has completed over the last two years.
On Tuesday, voters in the city's West District will elect two of the three candidates on the ballot. They are incumbent Council Chairman Sean Fountain, former School Committeeman George Kazanjian, and former School Committeeman, councilor-at-large and mayoral candidate Kenneth Willette, Jr.
Current West District Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo, a consistent fiscal conservative during her last six years on the council, will be forced to leave office at the end of the year due to term limits.
Both Kazanjian and Willette are critical of the current council and, if elected, said they will take a hard line against residential property tax increases. Fountain, who is wrapping up his first term on the council, said he has been a vocal leader and boasts a track record of listening to his constituents and getting things done.
"I feel that the current council is effective," said Fountain. "We've made a lot of good decisions and we've made some progress. I feel that I do my job adequately."
Fountain, 41, works as a firefighter in North Andover. During his first term in office, Fountain said the council has increased the city's cash reserves and boosted revenue by raising ambulance rates and instituting a local meals tax.
Fountain believes Methuen needs a youth center. If reelected, Fountain said he will explore grant and private fundraising opportunities in an effort to provide young people with a facility for tutoring, mentoring and sports programs.
"Methuen has nothing for these kids," said Fountain. "We need to step up."
Willette criticized the council for its actions regarding the ambulance rates and meals tax, as well as for raising residential property taxes — which Willette pledged not to do during his first two-year term if he is elected.
"I am a fiscal conservative," said Willette, 39, who works as staff director for state Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford. "I'm definitely going to rein in spending."
Willette is a veteran Methuen politician. He last served on School Committee in 2011 before launching an unsuccessful bid for mayor. Prior to that, he served three terms as a councilor-at-large and another two terms on the School Committee.
Willette criticized the current council for failing at a number of reform efforts.
"Some people criticize the council as dysfunctional," said Willette. "I think they're well-intentioned people. I just think they're in over their heads."
Kazanjian, 65, works as an accountant with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He served a four-year stint on the School Committee before losing reelection in 2009 by six votes.
Kazanjian has also served on the Conservation Commission since 1996 and is currently a member of the School Building Committee overseeing the ongoing expansion and renovation of Methuen High School.
Kazanjian did not go as far as Willette's anti-tax-hike pledge, which he called an "irresponsible statement because you never know what's going to happen" when it comes to fiscal emergencies. But if elected, Kazanjian said he will be a strong advocate against higher property taxes.
As a councilor, Kazanjian said he will work hard to identify waste within the municipal operating budget.
"That's my whole mission," said Kazanjian. "To take a look at everything (in the budget)."
Kazanjian said he will push to reinstate the city's health director, which will allow the city's economic development director to concentrate solely on bringing in developers to Methuen. Overall, Kazanjian said residents want change on the council.
"It seems like they really don't know what their purpose is," said Kazanjian. "Walking door to door, this is what people are telling me. They say it's embarrassing."