PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — There’s going to be a new face in town at Presque Isle City Hall. And while he’s only 28, his amount of government experience might surprise you.
Galen Weibley began his new job earlier this month as Presque Isle’s director of economic and community development.
Weibley said the newly created position in Presque Isle city government interested him because it allowed him to work full time on the issues he cared about: land development, economic growth and agriculture policy. His ultimate goal is to create a “business-friendly” atmosphere in Presque Isle.
The economic potential of the outdoors in the Presque Isle area is an untapped market that would appeal to nature-loving people, especially millennials, who could be brought to the Star City to “get away” from city life, he said.
“There’s a great potential for Presque Isle to really market itself to millennials who are looking for outdoor recreation,” Weibley said. “A community that really speaks to them and their way of life.”
Weibley previously served as a member and later chairman of the board of supervisors in Hellam Township, located in York County, Pennsylvania. He said he was the youngest person to occupy either of those offices.
The Presque Isle City Council had long sought to create an economic director position to help revitalize the city’s economy. With Weibley’s knowledge of economic development and legislative affairs, they found someone capable of creating growth across Presque Isle.
Weibley has known agriculture practically since the day he was born. In Hellam, he helped take care of his family’s vegetable garden, along with more than 100 rabbits. In high school, he was active in his local Future Farmers of America group.
It was his involvement with this group that propelled him to public office. After he graduated from high school in 2009, local farmers he met within the program began to urge him to run for the board of supervisors.
Concerned by their belief that the township board was over-regulating their trade, farmers saw in the 18-year-old Weibley a whiz kid whose brains and initiative could help their cause.
Weibley declined the offer. He wasn’t thinking about public policy at the time. He wanted to study the agricultural sciences. And that’s just what he did in his time studying horticultural science at Delaware Valley College (now Delaware Valley University), a private college in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
But every time he came home to Hellam, at least one farmer would urge him to run in the next election. Initially dismissive of the idea, he warmed to the plan as he finished his final semester at Delaware Valley in the spring of 2013.
“I thought, ‘Why not?’” Weibley said. “I’ll put my hat in the ring, and I’ll see what happens.”
After a summer of campaigning, Weibley, running as a Republican, defeated Democratic incumbent Martin Reed by only 26 votes.
He was ecstatic. Yet, he said many of the supervisors were not happy about a young upstart taking out an incumbent. He was passed over for committee assignments, and when one of the supervisors resigned, they appointed his opponent, Reed, to the spot.
Weibley said that while this period was difficult, he did not let differences between himself and the other supervisors become “personal.” As time went on, Reed even became a mentor to him.
Hellam’s voters elected new members to the board of supervisors in the 2015 election. And soon, at the age of 24, Weibley was elected chairman.
His major legislative accomplishment during his time as chair was zoning reform. He pioneered legislation that allowed farmers to develop more of their land at once, also giving them the ability to subdivide and sell their land to others. He said this helped create economic growth in Hellam, along with hundreds of jobs in the area.
He developed this policy in a highly collaborative manner, bringing those with different viewpoints together in ad-hoc committees to dish it out and find a compromise. He said it fostered far greater public participation in Hellam matters.
While Weibley did stand and win re-election running unopposed this year, he had a desire to move on to a “new chapter” in his life. He found what he was looking for in Presque Isle.
“I’m going to miss [Hellam]. It was a great learning experience for me,” Weibley said. “But I feel like the experience that I gained can help benefit Presque Isle.”
In his free time, Weibley said he loves to participate in outdoor activities, including hiking, hunting and fishing, and said he looked forward to taking advantage of the opportunities available in The County.
Though Weibley won election in Hellam as a Republican, he prides himself on being a nonpartisan “problem solver.” He described Maine’s former Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, long known as a moderate, as a figure he sought to emulate.
“At the local level, party doesn’t really matter, and that’s the way it should be,” Weibley said. “We are here for the betterment of the community, and we can find common ground on many issues.”