Bangor’s outgoing chairman reflects on year

Bangor City Council Chairman Richard Stone (right) shakes hands with Councilor Hal Wheeler during the regular City Council meeting of Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. Stone, a two-term councilor who served as chairman this past year, did not run for re-election because he wants to spend more time with family. His daughter, Ella, 9 (middle) helped preside over Stone's last meeting. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO/ERIC RUSSELL)
Bangor City Council Chairman Richard Stone (right) shakes hands with Councilor Hal Wheeler during the regular City Council meeting of Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. Stone, a two-term councilor who served as chairman this past year, did not run for re-election because he wants to spend more time with family. His daughter, Ella, 9 (middle) helped preside over Stone's last meeting. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO/ERIC RUSSELL)
Posted Nov. 09, 2010, at 6:22 p.m.

BANGOR — Richard Stone has an analogy ready for just about everything.

So when the outgoing Bangor City Council chairman was asked how closely he plans to watch the council now that he no longer is one of its nine members, Stone didn’t have to think long before answering.

“When a coach leaves a team, do you think he sits home and watches all their games?” Stone asked during a recent interview. “That does no good.”

There are things Stone will remain interested in — namely whether the city finally pulls the trigger on a new arena — but he said he feels 100 percent comfortable with his decision to step down.

“The public sees all our public meetings and decisions, but they don’t see the four hours we spend ahead of those meetings,” he said.

The biggest reason behind Stone’s decision not to seek re-election to a third council term was his daughter Ella, who is 9. He and his wife, Sue, who also have three grown children, adopted Ella when she was an infant.

As a symbol of his priorities, Stone asked Ella to help him preside over his last council meeting late last month. She even got to bang the gavel a few times.

“It wasn’t difficult to balance my duties as council chair with being a parent. There just wasn’t enough time,” Stone said. “I could handle the pressure, but it wasn’t fair to put that pressure on my family.”

Stone, 62, has a lengthy history of public service. He served two terms on the City Council in the early 1990s, including one year as council chairman. He was re-elected to the council in 2004 and narrowly was picked last November to serve as chairman. Stone also represented Bangor in the Maine House of Representatives for one term in the mid-1990s.

During his most recent term as council chairman, Stone presided over a difficult budget, oversaw the search for a new city manager, formalized an agreement to draw down municipal support to the American Folk Festival and made several attempts to improve Bangor’s ability to communicate with other municipalities.

Some measures were not as successful as he would have liked. He lost his bid to keep the city’s tax rate flat, and the joint citizen committee between Bangor and Brewer failed to produce meaningful results.

But Stone doesn’t see either as failures. On the budget, he said the council was forced to have discussions it hadn’t had in years. On possible collaborations with Brewer, Stone said, if nothing else, the lines of communication are more open now than they were.

One of the things he’s most proud of is persuading the council to contract with Eastern Maine Development Corp. and CEO Michael Aube to help find alternative funding sources for a new arena.

Stone’s style as chairman was to find councilors with specific interests and let them lead those initiatives. One good example was Hal Wheeler’s ordinance change that increased the time limit for some parking spaces downtown from 60 minutes to 90 minutes. Stone was against the idea but later said it makes sense.

At his last council meeting, Stone cast a vote to move toward consolidating Bangor’s police and fire dispatch with Penobscot County. That debate has been going on for more than a decade but had never seen action until last month.

One of the drawbacks of being a council chairman is that Stone never really could advocate strongly for something he wanted to see changed. Historically, council chairmen do not actively initiate any policy changes or decisions. While other councilors were free to infuse the debate with sometimes partisan rhetoric, Stone’s job was primarily to serve as mediator, although he said that was fine with him.

Although he’s technically retired now, Stone plans to stay busy. He recently was asked to join Innovative Solutions Now LLC, a business and municipal consulting firm founded in 2005 by John Simpson.

Stone doesn’t know if he’ll ever run for council again.

“Someone said to me recently that if you add my two stints as a councilor, it equals 20 percent of my life,” he said. “That was kind of an eye-opener.”

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