HARPSWELL — A member of several boards with extensive public service experience stands in the way of the Planning Board chairman’s return to the Board of Selectman in this year’s only contested local election.
Ellen Shillinglaw and David Chipman are competing to fill the remaining year of Selectman Elinor Multer’s term; Multer announced in October her intention to step down from the board a year early.
Selectmen Kevin Johnson is unopposed for a second three-year term.
Voting takes place during the annual Town Meeting on Saturday, March 11, at the Harpswell Community School. Polls are open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Registered voters can submit an absentee ballot to the Town Offices on Mountain Road until the close of business on Wednesday, March 8.
Although she has only lived in Harpswell for a little over five years, Shillinglaw doesn’t think that puts her at a disadvantage.
“I’m clearly from away,” she said, “(but) I’m involved. I’m talking to people all the time.”
A former policy aid to a U.S. senator during the Reagan and Bush administrations, Shillinglaw, 73, said she has the analytical skills and “intellectual approach” to tackle financial and political issues that face the town.
When Shillinglaw moved to Harpswell after years of spending summers on Bailey Island, she joined the the Town Lands committee and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
She said her outsider’s perspective challenges stale or outmoded attitudes that persist through generations in a small town – an attitude of, “If it was good enough for my grandfather, then it’s good enough for (us)” can sometimes hinder good policy, she said.
In 2014, Shillinglaw ran unsuccessfully in a three-way race against Selectman Rick Daniel; at Daniel’s recommendation, she joined the Budget Advisory Committee to refine her sense of how the town works.
If elected this time, she identified “careful spending” as a major issue.
“This is a small town without a huge business revenue base,” Shillinglaw said. “And we’ve got some phenomenal expenses coming up,” if the hiring of municipal firefighters and the demolition of the Mitchell Field pier passes at Town Meeting.
Shillinglaw also listed the town’s aging population as a matter that concerns her, as well as a commitment to preserving public waterfront access.
“I’m very concerned about the age of this town” citing young people moving away, she said, and affluent retirees displacing old fishing families.
“I was one of the last old-fashioned selectmen,” Chipman said, referring to his 1999-2002 tenure on the board.
He stepped down after a term to run unsuccessfully for the Maine House of Representatives, at a time before the town hired a town administrator and he said selectmen were more “hands on.”
“Too many things go to the town attorney (nowadays),” Chipman said. “You can’t be loose with things, but when the selectmen are truly involved in the community, you can get things done.”
Chipman, 66, comes from a long line of Harpswell natives; his great-great-great-great-great grandfather signed the town’s articles of incorporation in 1758.
He chairs the Planning Board, sits on the Water Tower Task Force, and is a firefighter with Harpswell Neck Fire Volunteer Department.
In 2008 and 2009, he ran unsuccessfully to return to the Board of Selectmen.
He is also on the board of Harpswell Community Television, which he helped to start in the late 1980s; he later oversaw the construction of the station building, which was built with volunteer time and labor.
In a town of clam diggers, lobstermen, and summer residents, “I saw the need for us to communicate with each other,” Chipman said.
If elected this time, he said he will keep an eye toward “where we’re heading (as a town) – what kinds of resources we need to put where” – especially in protecting the environment, housing, and shellfish industry along the town’s 200 miles of coastline.
He said he wants to defend Harpswell from “outside forces” that wish to develop land without regard to its “culture and history” – those who would build mansions on the town’s coastline and “develop the town to become Key West.”
Chipman said he would also revive “a hands-on” approach to governance.
For example, he said, years have passed without the town bringing a business to the portion of Mitchell Field zoned for marine industry; he would try to get the job done. Chipman formerly served on the Mitchell Field committee.
Johnson’s reason for seeking re-election?
“There’s a lot of unfinished business (to do),” he said.
Johnson, 61, had never served in an elected or appointed office in Harpswell before he defeated incumbent Selectman Alison Hawkes in 2014. At the time, he said he ran to be “a local voice” on the board.
As the former president of the Bailey Island Volunteer Fire Department, which has since merged with the Orr’s Island department, he co-chairs a committee tasked with developing a solution to the lack of day-time coverage among the town’s three volunteer rescue organizations.
He said he wants to continue overseeing the fruition of the committee recommendation – to augment volunteer services with paid firefighters – which voter will decide at Town Meeting.
Harpswell Board of Selectmen candidates Ellen Shillinglaw, left, and David Chipman.