Tonina Says Struggles 'Will Help Me Connect With the People'
Republican candidate Theresa Tonina does have a history of small claims and recently settled debt - but she was the first to admit it and said her past struggles will help her understand the challenges residents face in a tough economy.
The struggles are behind her, however, and she says she's ready to move forward with a perspective and eye on those going through the same challenges in Berlin.
Tonina has taken criticism in recent weeks for her past record, one which includes 10 instances of small claims cases or legal filings related to debt or motor vehicle related matters between 1996 and 2012. Each of these, she said Monday, have been settled.
"My reason for running is that I have been there. The reality is we are continuing to struggle through a tough economy and I believe that I can be a voice, not only for the community but for those who are going through tough times as well."
It's been a difficult struggle for Tonina, who has dealt with a combination of family health issues and business challenges that led to many of the cases. She has had liens on both her home and business, Rich's Citgo on Main Street, and lengthy back taxes to pay.
As of April 2013, however, state and town records showed she completed a financial agreement and had paid back those back-owed taxes at an 18 percent interest - a total of more than $150,000 in all.
Five additional cases were heard in motor vehicle court and were settled the day the cases were completed, she said. Records show the cases have been closed out.
But with the struggles behind, the former vice chair of the Berlin Democratic Town Committee said she is moving forward and looking to give back to a community that has helped show her daughter new life after paralysis and one that continues to struggle itself with more than 24 foreclosures and 200 homes for sale based on recent data.
"The council, the members sitting, largely haven't listened to the voters in Berlin. I had too many people coming in, telling me they need tax relief. They need a break and a voice. That's why I decided to run," Tonina said.
That hasn't been enough to ward off concerns expressed by some in time, including Berlin Patch reader Lifelong Berlinite, who questioned why she was added to the ballot and given the chance to make financial decisions for the community.
It wasn't a question that members of the Berlin Republican Town Committee took lightly before nominating Tonina as a resident, Republican Bob Peters and Committee Chairwoman Anne Reilly each said. Riley said Tonina has always been focused on the people and brings a different perspective, one from a person who would be a member of a seven person team and help provide a different perspective.
"She could have filed for bankruptcy and she could have taken numerous other actions. She didn't," Reilly said. "Tonina took responsibility and she paid everything back in full and with interest."
Peters and Reilly also questioned the concerns, saying they know there is a history but pointing to the fact that several candidates, including a current Democrat, have also experienced problems including a lien as a result of an unpaid water bill.
Instead of focusing on these issues, however, the three said Tonina is taking the right approach in looking ahead and moving forward with her new mission: serving the people of Berlin.
"There are records of my cases and I have the complete records and have offered to discuss with anyone one-on-one the concerns they have. They only need to reach out," Tonina said. "I'm not going to have my family brought into this, but I am willing to sit with anyone who wants to talk about the public record."
"We all have problems, we all have debts. I am here to represent those who are struggling to make ends meet and let them know we know what they are going through."
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