BANGOR, Maine — New City Council Chairman Nelson Durgin says Bangor has grown substantially in recent years but now has to tackle its growing pains while continuing to move forward.
The City Council unanimously selected Durgin to serve as chairman during an organizational meeting Wednesday morning. Newcomer Pauline Civiello, David Nealley, who is making a return to the council, and incumbent Patricia Blanchette also were sworn in at the meeting.
“We’ve done a great deal of things here in the city in the past few years — we’ve grown,” Durgin said after taking his new spot behind the chairman’s podium. “But we, as a growing city, also experience some of the problems that go with a growing city.”
The council often has aired concerns about crime and drug use in the city as possible negative side-effects of development. It’s among the most important problems facing the city in the coming year, Durgin said, adding that the council is dealing mostly with anecdotal information about crime and needs to get numbers and statistics as it moves forward.
Civiello, Nealley, Blanchette and other councilors have stressed the importance of trying to stem crime in the city as well.
“My other goal is to continue to maintain fiscal stability and accountability to our citizens,” Durgin said. “Our books are in good shape. We have weathered the storm over the past few years.”
Durgin also stressed the need for improvements at City Hall to make it more accessible for Bangor residents. The former federal building has a difficult-to-find handicapped access ramp on one side, and a sometimes-confusing directory of city services in the building, Durgin said.
“We want this not to be a fortress on the hill, but a place where everyone can come and get their questions answered and get their business taken care of,” he said.
Nealley nominated Durgin, introducing him as “Major General Nelson Durgin,” a man who has served his nation, state and community throughout his life.
Durgin retired from the Maine Air National Guard with the rank of major general after 24 years of service. He served as Maine’s adjutant general as well as commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.
After retiring from the military, Durgin was appointed executive director and administrator of the Phillips-Strickland House, a not-for-profit corporation that provides residential care and independent living services to elderly Bangor residents. He retired after 15 years in June 2010.
The downside to his new place behind the chairman’s podium: There’s no chair, Durgin joked.
After the council adjourned, the Bangor School Committee held its own organizational meeting, at which Sarah Smiley and Marc Eastman were sworn is as the newest members of the committee.
The committee then selected Phyllis Guerette to retain her post as committee chairwoman, 5-1, with Eastman casting the dissenting vote. Guerette is beginning her 10th year on the committee.
She said many of the challenges facing the committee this year are similar to what they were last year. Decreasing state funding over the past four years has meant the school system has had to learn to do more with less.
Guerette said she’s concerned that the state’s funding of charter schools might cut further into funding for schools throughout the state, but she believes Bangor schools will continue to draw and retain students after charter schools begin pulling from the pool of Maine students.
“I think we will more than hold our own in that environment,” she said.
The school committee will recognize Superintendent Betsy Webb for being honored as Maine Superintendent of the Year during a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the City Council chambers.