MACHIAS, Maine — Five of the seven men running for two seats on the town’s Board of Selectmen appeared at a candidates night Friday at the University of Maine at Machias Portside Lounge.
For nearly two hours, topics such as a regional airport, street and road repair, economic development and even the structure of town government were discussed among two dozen residents, town officials and candidates.
The candidates running for office:
• Stephen Berry, 54, a retired correctional officer, police officer and shellfish warden.
• Glenn Davis, 57, a maintenance mechanic supervisor at Downeast Correctional Facility.
• Allen Devericks, 39, a sergeant at Downeast Correctional Facility.
• Leslie Haynes, 62, a current board member, works at the Ellsworth Building Supply store. Haynes was unable to attend the event, but Town Manager Betsy Fitzgerald read a prepared statement by Hayes outlining his position.
• Danny Manchester, 47, a self-employed lobsterman.
• Stephen Smith, 55, owner of Smitty’s Trading Post and a former police officer. Smith did not attend the forum.
• Daniel Swain, 21, a student at UMM, employed by Aramark Food Services at the school.
Moderator Jon Reisman, a UMM politics professor, provided the candidates with questions and then opened up discussion to the public.
Much of the evening was spent on two major topics: a regional airport and economic development.
Most of the candidates expressed the view that an airport would not bring new business to the area.
Local businessman and former Selectman Edward Pellon challenged the candidates to work for the town to “present a better image” to attract new businesses.
All the candidates present addressed Pellon’s comments, but were divided on the topic of keeping small local businesses and not big-box-type stores.
“I’m not against any business coming to town,” Berry said. “We need to get our people working and raise the economy.”
Manchester agreed, saying, “There are some benefits to those big businesses. I don’t foresee a Wal-Mart or Lowe’s coming here, but maybe something like a Renys. With new business, jobs and increased taxes come along.”
Swain said the town needs to encourage young people to remain once they leave UMM. “We need to revitalize programs for youth and young adults,” he said. “We need to hire a recreation director.” He agreed with a suggestion to create an Economic Development Committee that could spearhead these issues.
Regarding the siting of a regional airport in the Machias area using federal funds and local matching money, all the candidates indicated they wanted proof that such a facility would benefit Machias before they jumped on board.
“I don’t see one thing that an airport will do for Machias,” Davis said. “It is not going to bring in a lot of business.”
“They can fly into Bar Harbor,” Berry said.
Swain suggested a fall referendum to allow residents to vote on a five-year moratorium on a regional airport to give Machias time to research and assess the benefits and drawbacks.
All the candidates present agreed that Machias needs to pressure the state to pay its full share of education, and state excise taxes should remain with the individual communities.
Davis said he felt “there is a lot of waste and no accountability” in town government and was critical of the town’s public works department.
Devericks agreed. “Every year I open my tax bill, and it has gone up. We really don’t get anything for our money. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’m here to learn,” he said.
Manchester said he would take a very conservative stand if elected. “This is not vacationland anymore,” he said. “It is taxationland.”
Swain said his candidacy was based on getting townspeople more involved in local government. He was among the few residents, outside of town officials, who attended last year’s town meeting. He has suggested holding monthly forums to allow residents to question town officials and make suggestions to improve Machias.
Berry said he is running with “no ax to grind. My door is always open.”
Voting will take place Tuesday, June 2, at the Machias town office. Residents also may vote early using absentee ballots by calling the town clerk, 255-6621.
The annual town meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 3, at the Machias Memorial High School gymnasium.