May 26, 2018
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Hampden council, school board candidates speak at forum

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — Eleven candidates running for four open seats on the Town Council and three spots on the RSU 22 board of directors took turns giving their takes on the hot-button issues facing both bodies Wednesday night.

Not surprisingly, the economy and related issues took center stage.

Two separate, hour-long forums were held, with the council edition going first.

Incumbent Janet Hughes, Thomas Brann, Jean Lawlis and William Shakespeare are all running for re-election on the seven-member council with only Hughes, who is also mayor, running unopposed. Jeremy Williams is challenging Shakespeare in District 4, Mark Gray is opposing Brann in District 2, and Brian Duprey is running against Lawlis in District 3. Shelly Blosser initially filed to run but decided to pull out of the District 3 race.

When asked why he was running for office, Duprey said it was an unexpected move — even to him.

“I had no intention of running for council until one day I was having a family picnic,” said Duprey, a married father of five. “A town truck came by to empty a trash can and it took three people to do it. One opened it up, one took the bag out, and the other put a new bag in. I couldn’t believe it.

“I also caught a meeting on TV one night and the councilors were kind of at each other’s throats, and I was embarrassed to be from Hampden.”

When asked what he saw as his primary goal or role, Gray, who owns a small business in Brewer, kept his answer somewhat short.

“I want to bring the interests of District 2 to the council and advance projects that do what’s best for our citizens and the council,” said Gray, a Brewer High graduate who has lived in Hampden with wife, Kim, and two children for six years. “I’m fairly conservative.”

The candidates also were asked: How will you cope with a lack of state funding for Hampden? Would you cut back or ask taxpayers for more?

“The state has its own problems. If you look at our budget as it is now, there’s not a lot of fat on that bone,” said Brann, a married father of three who is also a University of Maine forestry professor. “School costs have gone up continuously and we’ve been able to absorb them, but we are going to see a tax increase with that new school. There’s no way to avoid it, unless you want to cut emergency services.”

“There are some things we can still do, but there’s not a lot left,” agreed Hughes, a 10-year resident who earned a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Maine. “We may have to close the pool, library, or the transfer station if no one is willing to cut other programs or to pay for the new school voted on by our citizens.”

Both Duprey and Williams said they would not vote for a tax increase.

“I think there are a lot of nonessential services that can be funded alternatively,” said Williams, a father and grandfather and longtime Hampden resident. “Cutting essential services would be a major mistake, but maybe make them more efficient.”

When asked if they believe Hampden needs more business and development, and if so, what’s the best way to get it, Shakespeare, a 37-year resident of Hampden and U.S. Army Vietnam veteran with two children, pointed to recent projects.

“Absolutely we should, to help with overall tax burden,” he said. “We’re doing that with the development of Cold Brook Road and future development of the L.L Bean property and other lots.”

The candidates also were asked about continuing to share services and costs with other communities such as Bangor and Hermon.

“I would break it into three parts: listen, think and act,” Lawlis said. “And listen to citizens and town employees without being led by partisan politics or special interests.

“We do a lot sharing and it’s natural. We also do some joint purchasing on stuff like salt and electricity to lower costs,” said Lawlis, a retired Bell Laboratories project manager who originally ran as a write-in candidate when no other candidates were running and has elected not to even erect any campaign signs. “We provide 30 percent of our services to 20 percent of the population, which is kids. And a seventh of this town are people over the age of 60, and we give very little service to them, so outside agencies like Eastern Area Agency on Aging are key in that effort.”

All seven candidates affirmed their support for individual landowners’ rights, a particularly intense issue in Hampden with the wrangling over the town’s comprehensive plan wording.

Candidates for the three spots on the 14-member school board are Amy Faircloth, Jenan Jondy, Niles Parker and Nick Winchester. None are incumbents.

In their forum, the first question dealt with what each candidate thought they could offer the board.

“We moved here because of the school district and I feel like I can contribute with my experience as I practice family law in Bangor and have experience with children’s advocacy law,” said Faircloth, a mother of two whose family moved to Maine in 1987 and has lived in Hampden for five years. Faircloth has experience in family law, child support enforcement and domestic violence legal advocacy.

When asked what he thought his role would be, Winchester noted the departing experience of four seasoned board members.

“My role is to be a new voice and creative thinker within the group and leverage my experience as a professional in the community and put that to use for the board,” said Winchester, a married father of two from Orrington who runs a local telecommunications company. “I can help us understand the benefits of communications technology for our schools.”

When asked why he was running for the board, Jondy said she had a passion for education.

“I have degrees in biology and chemistry,” said Jondy, a native of Flint, Mich., and mother of five who moved to Maine primarily for the education system. “I also have 17 years of teaching experience and working with UMaine in cultural studies and diversity.”

Candidates also were asked about how to cope with decreased funding.

“We can’t keep raising the tax bill, and for that reason, maybe we can tie in with some of the other RSUs on programs that would encourage outside students to come here and pay tuition,” said Parker, who works at the Maine Discovery Museum and has three children with his wife, a Hampden Academy graduate. “I think there are ways to be creative and look at all options.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the district number for the council race between incumbent William Shakespeare and challenger Jeremy Williams. They are running for the District 4 seat on the council, not District 1. The story also incorrectly referred to Amy Faircloth, a candidate for the RSU 22 school board in the Hampden area, as being married. She is not. In addition, Faircloth’s legal experience includes family law, child support enforcement and domestic violence legal advocacy.

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