HAMPDEN, Maine — Voters in Hampden elected resident Shelby Wright on Tuesday to fill a Town Council seat left vacant when former council Chairman Matthew Arnett stepped down earlier this year.
Wright, who has run for the state House of Representatives as a Democrat and most recently was employed by the Maine Green Energy Alliance, received 665 votes, nearly double that of the only other candidate, Bernard Philbrick, who received 361 votes.
Tuesday’s election took place in a town still divided over a controversial update to its comprehensive plan. Many residents have felt that the 2010 plan, which town leaders worked for two years to craft only to find that they erred by omitting a procedural step, erodes individual property rights and mandates conservation.
The 2010 plan has not been officially adopted, but a newly formed committee is working to address some concerns levied by residents. Some critics have said the plan should be scrapped entirely and they also have questioned the validity of the 2001 comprehensive plan.
The town’s attorney said recently that he considers the 2001 plan valid and the town officially reinstated that plan last week until a more current plan is adopted.
Voter turnout was about 20 percent on Tuesday — considerably high for a special election, according to Hampden Town Clerk Denise Hodsdon — and the election results could be telling for Hampden’s immediate future.
Philbrick has been a vocal critic of the 2010 comprehensive plan draft and is active in a group known as the Hampden Association of Landowners, or HALO, which is committed to protecting property rights.
Wright also has attended recent meetings in Hampden and has listened intently to the sometimes heated debate over the comprehensive plan update. She has not, however, been vocally critical of town leaders.
Some townspeople have indicated that the comprehensive plan critics are an extremely vocal but relatively small group and Tuesday’s election results seem to support that.
Still, the critics are not going anywhere. Prior to the election, HALO sent out mailers to Hampden residents soliciting support for the group’s continued fight against the comprehensive plan. Recently, the group has alleged that town leaders, including Town Manager Susan Lessard, have conflicts of interest that affect their ability to represent the residents of Hampden.
The more telling election in Hampden could come in November when four of the seven Town Council seats will be up for grabs. Current Councilors Janet Hughes, Thomas Brann, Jean Lawlis and William Shakespeare are up for re-election, but it’s not certain that all, or any, will run again.