Candidates for Orono council, school board vie to represent town during forum

Posted Feb. 22, 2012, at 10:23 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Four town council candidates, including three incumbents who lauded the council’s achievements during the past year, made their case during a forum Wednesday night as to why residents should vote for them at the March 13 municipal elections.

Three 3-year seats are up for grabs, with Lianne Harris of Forest Avenue, Thomas Perry of Bennoch Road and Judith Sullivan of Forest Avenue, trying to return to the council for new terms.

Harris, Perry and Sullivan cited projects such as the demolition of Webster Mill, which made way for new condominiums on Webster Point, and the deal with University Credit Union to build a new landmark building on the Katahdin Building site as signals of this council’s success in helping the town grow.

Sullivan said it’s vital that the town continue to try to draw businesses.

“We need to broaden our tax base. … We cannot continue to rely on property taxes,” she said.

Perry stressed the importance of a continuing relationship between the town and the University of Maine.

“It’s not something you can let go of even for a minute,” he said.

Daniel LaPointe of Kelley Road is the fourth candidate vying for a spot on the council. He has clashed with the council over its decisions in the past, most recently after the town banned the sale and use of fireworks. LaPointe started a petition effort to bring that ordinance before voters, but fell short of the number of signatures required.

LaPointe also is a member of an Orono group that is eyeing a withdrawal from the school district it shares with Glenburn and Veazie.

“Let’s take local control in our hands,” LaPointe said, adding that he’s concerned about potential loss of property rights and the loss of community control of schools.

Two Orono residents watching the forum on television called in to express concerns with the condition of downtown sidewalks and see how councilors would fix them up.

The candidates assured that sidewalk repairs were near the top of the list for town funding once spring arrives.

Two candidates running for three open seats on the RSU 26 school board also shared their thoughts on the future of the school district in difficult financial times. They stressed the need for open communication with residents, and expressed their desire to make board meetings available on television and documentation easily accessible.

Andrew “Willie” Gavett III of Forest Avenue is running for the two-year school board seat, and Francis Mary Neubauer of Forest Avenue is running for a three-year seat.

The third and final spot on the school board would be filled by a write-in candidate.

Gavett and Neubauer avoided offering specific thoughts on budget cut proposals in the school district because estimates of state funding have changed since the initial cut suggestions were made by administrators.

They did say that the schools in the district will have to determine what their educational objectives and priorities are and base future fiscal decisions around those needs.

“Things that we thought were essential maybe can’t be essential anymore,” Neubauer said.

Gavett said he’s “troubled” by what he called a “one-size-fits-all” approach that the school district takes toward the schools in each community because each school and each town are different.

The municipal election is scheduled for 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, March 13, at the town office.

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