A voter leaves the poll at the Elks Lodge in Old Town June 8, 2021. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

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With the municipal election less than a month away, no candidates have come forward in Old Town to fill two soon to be empty seats on the city council. If no one steps forward, it will be the first time the city on the Penobscot River may have a council ballot with no candidates on it, although voters can write in candidates.

In addition, there will be two Old Town vacancies on the RSU 34 school board, but only one person is running to fill a seat.

The shortage of candidates for schools boards and municipal offices is not unique to Old Town.

There are three open seats on the RSU 13 board in Rockland, but only two people are on the ballot to fill them.

In Brewer, only two candidates are vying for two open seats on the city council. The same is true of the city’s school board.

Two incumbent city councilors and the mayor are running unopposed in Belfast, which they blame on a perception that serving on the council is time consuming and thankless and on pandemic fatigue, according to a recent Bangor Daily News story.

This week, one member of the Portland school board resigned and another said she is not seeking re-election because of “the negativity and public rancor among elected officials.”

There are myriad reasons for these decisions. Serving on a town council or school board is a significant time commitment with little financial remuneration. In some instances, the increasingly hostile tone of politics has driven people away from public service.

“The tenor toward municipal officials has changed,” Cathy Conlow, the executive director of the Maine Municipal Association, told the BDN editorial board. “There is more angst toward local officials and municipal employees.”

Conlow served as the city manager in Bangor for 11 years and six years as the town manager in Orono.

The problem isn’t just with elected officials. Conlow notes that numerous Maine communities — such as Bangor, Portland, Lewiston and Augusta — are searching for city managers. Communities scrambled to find poll workers before the November 2020 election. Shortages of police officers, EMTs and firefighters have been a problem in Maine for years. Code enforcement officers and assessors are also hard to find.

“We are facing a pretty unusual uptick in violence and threats and intimidation against public officials across the range, from the really hyper-local people who are either running for their state assemblies or public health officials, who are working on basic public health in the COVID pandemic, all the way to … members of Congress and so on,” Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told NPR last year.

Although Maine has been largely spared from the protests outside the homes of public officials and disruptions of public meetings that have been seen in some other states, Conlow said harassment and stalking of public officials and employees is happening in Maine, and it is increasing. Such behavior, especially anonymous threats, can be very unnerving, she said, noting that she is aware of public officials who have quit because of it. Too often, she said, public employees think this is part of the job and simply put up with it.

Elected officials and municipal employees should expect to hear disagreement, and sometimes, frustration, from the people they serve and work for. But, they shouldn’t be expected to put up with threats, intimidation and harassment.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...