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BRUNSWICK — Two former School Board members are challenging the current District 7 town councilor in a three-way race for an at-large seat on the Town Council.
Benet Pols, who is finishing his first term as the District 7 councilor, Byron Watson, who served on the School Board from 2007-2010, and William Dana, who served on the board from 2000-2008, are vying for the council seat being vacated by Councilor Debbie Atwood.
Incumbent District 5 Councilor Gerald Favreau is unopposed for re-election. He is seeking a third three-year term.
In District 7, first-time candidate Sarah Brayman is also running unopposed. She serves on the Police Station Subcommittee and the Maine Street Station Implementation Committee.
Election Day is Nov. 8.
E. Benet Pols
Pols, 50, was born in Brunswick and is an attorney. He is married and has three children under the age of 12, all of whom attend Brunswick public schools.
Although he could have run again in District 7, he said he decided to seek the at-large seat after Watson announced his candidacy.
“I don’t think there should be two out of nine members of a legislative body coming from the same family,” Pols explained. “There’s a perception that things are decided ahead of time without an open debate … and I think people will lose faith if they think that one quarter of the votes are already determined by familial relationship.”
Watson’s father, David, represents District 1 on the Town Council.
Pols said he considers himself a champion of public education in Brunswick, and has an integrated view of school and municipal budgets from serving on the council, being a parent, and attending School Board meetings.
If elected, he said, one of his priorities is to renovate Jordan Acres Elementary School to make sure Brunswick has enough space at the elementary level.
Pols said he believes maintaining the quality of education in Brunswick is essential to attracting families and businesses, and is one of the main ways the town can promote economic development.
He said the town should not meddle in the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority’s work attracting businesses to Brunswick Landing.
“I think that our business development efforts need to focus to doing what we can to help them, or help them by not getting in their way,” he said.
Pols said the function of municipal government is to provide basic services like education and public safety, and “that’s where we need to focus our time and effort.”
He said it is important to complete construction of a new police station and educate those town residents who continue to question the transparency of the process.
If faced with future budget cuts, Pols said he would want to avoid taking on some new construction projects to decrease debt service and spending.
“I think that one of the ways for us to save money is to be cautions with capital expenditures that aren’t directly related to services to citizens,” he said, including a downtown parking garage.
He said he also would have liked to have sold Longfellow School to Bowdoin College as a way to raise money, instead of exchanging it for the McLellan building. He said he opposed the swap on the grounds that it primarily benefited town employees, not residents.
“I don’t really think that the average citizen that goes to pay his taxes will be pleased to have a nice lobby to walk into rather than the dingy 1962 lobby,” he said at the July 25 council meeting.
Pols said his track record of asking questions and speaking out against issues like this one distinguishes him from the other two candidates.
“I have generated a lot of questions about how things work that I think give people another view instead of the ‘take what they’re giving us and live with it’ sort of view,” he said.
Watson, 32, was born in Brunswick and is an insurance underwriter. He lives with his girlfriend and has two children under the age of 3.
His previous term on the School Board included three months as chairman, but he was removed from the leadership position in March 2010 after what other board members believed was his inappropriate communication with then-House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven. Watson unsuccessfully ran for re-election last fall.
Watson said he regrets the Pingree incident, but thinks it was blown out of proportion.
“I’ve absolutely learned a lesson, but I think people need to be fair and they need to be honest with themselves about what really went down,” he said.
Watson is campaigning on keeping property taxes reasonable in town, something he said can be accomplished by negotiating with Brunswick’s teachers over salary increases and scrutinizing the municipal budget for ways to save a little bit here and there.
“Every line has to be thoroughly gone through and checked out,” he said. “Nothing is off the table.”
Still, he said he supports public education and thinks it’s a great way to bring new families and businesses to town. He said he’d like to see developer George Schott make former U.S. Navy housing affordable for local families to purchase, and would encourage the town manager to pursue that if elected.
He also said Brunswick has a reputation of being anti-business, which it acquired by over-analyzing the details of development projects.
“Sometimes the best thing to do is get out of their way, and let the businessmen and women do what they do best, and let them succeed,” Watson said.
He said he’d like to focus on making sure the police station is completed and the junior high school and Coffin School are renovated. He said he strongly supported the Longfellow-McLellan swap and thinks it addressed many of the town’s facilities needs.
He also supports the construction of a fire substation in West Brunswick rather than “a big Taj Mahal-type central station,” which he thinks is a poor use of money.
Although he’d like to see a parking garage constructed downtown, Watson said he doesn’t think there is money in the budget to cover that expense, and would encourage town staff to continue applying for grants.
Watson strongly disagreed with Pols’s objection to having two members of the same family on the Town Council.
“It sounds to me like (Pols is) a desperate politician who’s playing a fear-mongering game with the citizens of Brunswick,” Watson said. “I would hope that nobody would take my father’s service to Brunswick and try to turn it into a negative.”
Watson said serving on the council is his civic duty, and he’s “not the typical, same old candidate you get every year. … I’m a young experienced leader and I live paycheck to paycheck, just like you.”
Dana, 60, is a self-employed builder and energy auditor. He is married, has two adult children, and has lived in Brunswick for 21 years.
He served three years as School Board chairman, and said he wants to serve on the council because he finds it fascinating.
“I find it interesting to be enough on the inside to really understand the hard work that all our municipal employees do,” Dana said.
He said he believes the current town councilors work well together and he doesn’t intend to disrupt that chemistry.
“I’d like to be a positive contributing voice to the conversation,” he said, rather than someone who shakes up the council.
Dana said he is a strong supporter of public education and believes schools are key to economic development.
“Our kids are our future, and if we want economic development in town we have to continue to support education,” he said.
Renovating Coffin Elementary School and the junior high school was critical 11 years ago when he joined the School Board, he said, and is even more important now. He said he believes those renovations could be possible without a tax increase because the bond for the high school matures in 2013, meaning the amount the town has been spending towards that debt service could be applied to another project.
For Dana, building the police station is the most pressing facilities need on the municipal side of the budget. He said he also thinks it is important to consolidate town functions under one roof, and supported the McLellan-Longfellow School swap with Bowdoin College.
Once town government moves into McLellan, he said he’d like to see the current town offices leveled and turned into green space and additional parking.
If faced with further budget cuts next year, Dana said he’d like to “see strong support of the school budget” while maintaining public services, something that he acknowledged may result in tax increases.
“It’s very often not feasible to say we won’t raise taxes,” he said. “Unless people want to give up some of the services we all enjoy, costs go up.”
Dana said the current council has done a good job developing Maine Street Station, and he would like to encourage further in-fill development downtown, at the industrial park, and at Brunswick Landing.
“I think any encouragement we can give companies to land in Brunswick rather than elsewhere is a good thing,” he said.
Although he said he believes Brunswick needs a strong business base, he said he wouldn’t characterize himself as a shill for business.
“I think reasonable development and responsible development are good things,” Dana said, “but unfettered development is not always a good thing.”
He said he believes his willingness to listen and work with others distinguishes him from his opponents in the election, and thinks his time on the School board gave him a unique perspective on the relationship between schools and the town.
“During those eight years I spent time working to be a consensus builder, and if I was elected I would try to continue to build consensus on the town council,” he said.