NEWBURGH, Maine — The rancor that has permeated town business at times was mostly absent Monday as five candidates for two abandoned seats on the Board of Selectmen gathered to share their views.
The two vacancies were created last month with the resignations of Selectmen Leonard “Buddy” Belcher and Leona Smith, who cited constant criticism from some residents for their decisions. One week before those resignations, Mike Burns defeated incumbent Stanley Smith, meaning that after the election on Wednesday, Newburgh’s top elected board will have all new faces.
Monday’s two-hour question-and-answer session, which attracted about 60 audience members, covered topics from which roads should be paved when to what the candidates do for fun in their free time. The tone of the discussion was for the most part positive and issues-based, a departure from the controversy of the past year.
Steven Burgess and Cynthia Prescott are vying for a two-year seat and Charlie Gibbs, Jeff Watson and Craig Toothaker are competing for a three-year seat.
Many of the questions from Town Manager Rick Briggs, which he said he gathered from townspeople, elicited similar responses from the candidates. For example, four of the candidates said they are in favor of major changes made by voters at last month’s town meeting. Those changes, which were forced onto the ballot by resident petitions, created a method to recall elected officials, increased the number of selectmen from three to five and switched from a town manager to a town administrator form of government. The latter two measures go into effect at the 2012 town meeting.
Gibbs, who is a farmer among other things, differed from the other candidates when he said he opposes a larger Board of Selectmen and the recall petitions because he thinks they could be abused.
“With the recall, if somebody is in the way, a special interest could call the question on somebody,” he said. “I think that’s not needed.”
Burgess, a lifelong Newburgh resident who was a selectman for six years in the 1990s, disagreed.
“Without the recall we as citizens have nothing to do. With the recall you can get together to get rid of somebody,” he said.
All five candidates said they are in favor of the change to a town administrator form of government with reasons ranging from a town administrator being cheaper to the belief that elected officials should run the town.
“The selectmen should be the ultimate decision-makers,” other than the voters, said Toothaker, who owns a metal fabrication business.
Watson, a member of the planning board who runs a meat processing business, agreed and said, “An administrative assistant would be cheaper for us to hire on less per hour.”
Prescott, a former licensed practical nurse and business owner, said her opinion on the matter means little in light of the fact that the three measures were approved by voters. That the will of the townspeople would guide her in most decisions was a theme for Prescott.
“All three passed,” she said. “That was the town speaking.”
The issue of Cindy Dunton, who pleaded guilty in Penobscot County Superior Court on Monday to embezzling nearly $200,000 from the town when she was deputy town clerk and treasurer, came up occasionally but did not dominate the discussion — though all candidates said they would watch financial records carefully.
“The books need to be watched,” said Toothaker. “Things need to add up.”
Road maintenance was another topic that generated a lot of discussion, with most of the candidates mentioning either Lindsey Road or North Road Extension as topping their priorities. Past that, some of the candidates said road maintenance activity would be controlled largely by how much money there is to pay for it.
“We’ve only got so much money to work with,” said Burgess.
Gibbs rebutted him to some degree.
”There are things to do that don’t break the bank,” he said. “It’s about what we want as a town.”
The polls will be open from 2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the town office, which recently moved to the former Newburgh Elementary School.