SCARBOROUGH — More than half a dozen candidates are running for three Town Council seats on Nov. 4.
The seven hopefuls are incumbent Councilors James Benedict, Kate St. Clair, and Richard Sullivan, and challengers Liam Somers, Roger Beeley, Peter Hayes and Shawn Babine.
Benedict has served on the council for the past three years, and has several years of town government experience in Massachusetts and Maine.
For approximately 20 years, Benedict served on various boards and committees in Holliston and Wellesley, Mass., where he lived prior to moving to Scarborough. He and his wife of 45 years, Claire, have called Scarborough home for the past 14 years.
Benedict said he is all for budget transparency, particularly the School Board’s budget. Currently, Benedict said, town councilors receive only the bottom-line on school spending. He said he feels the council should have line-item budget authority over schools, so that councilors could adjust budgeting to better meet the needs of the town.
Benedict said that, as a councilor, he has listened to his constituents and made sure to remove all personal biases from his voting and consideration. He said that he attends the majority of the meetings that relate to his position on the council, including the Ordinance Committee and the Coastal Waters Committee.
He also said he follows various construction projects around town to make sure that they are appropriately conducted and completed, since he has owned a construction company, Wood Construction, for 40 years.
“I’m just an ordinary person doing my best for the town taxpayers,” Benedict said.
St. Clair has lived in Scarborough for the past 14 years; she moved to the town from Portland when she was pregnant with her daughter, Alexis, now 13, because she heard that the school system was exceptional. St. Clair is a mother of four: Alexis, Jack, 8, and a soon-to-be adopted daughter, Willow, 2.
Her fourth child, Kyle, died in 2013, due to a lifelong illness. She said it was Kyle who encouraged his mother to run for the council.
“The community went out of their way to help us,” St. Clair said. “I wanted to give back. I’m so proud to live here.”
St. Clair, who took over a two-year term from former Councilor Karen D’Andrea in 2012 said that, while it’s been a great two years of service, she feels she’s only gotten her feet wet.
“I’m running for a second term because there’s so much left to do,” St. Claire said.
St. Clair said transparency is one of the things she has been trying to achieve while in office, and that she will continue to pursue this goal if elected.
She wants to create social media accounts for the town, to keep citizens informed and in the loop. As liaison to the School Board, St. Clair said, she would also like to improve the relationship between the two panels.
St. Clair is a stay-at-home mom, and she also works for Internet software company Voice Kite and runs her son’s foundation, The Team Kyle Foundation, in addition to serving as a foster mother.
As a mother, St. Clair said, she knows the importance of budgeting and also has first-hand experience with the school system.
“I see what the schools do and need,” St. Clair said.
No matter the outcome of the election, St. Clair said, she will continue to participate in town affairs.
Sullivan has served on the Town Council for the past seven years, and as chairman for the past year.
In addition to serving on the council and as a Portland firefighter for the past 27 years, he has owned his own business, R.J. Sullivan Landscaping, since he was 17.
While there is always room for improvement, the Scarborough native said, he feels the council has been productive and communicative over the past few years.
“I’m always willing to meet with people,” Sullivan said. “I try to do the best thing for everyone in Scarborough.”
He mentioned that the council spent countless hours negotiating with the DOGS group relative to the plover issue this past spring, and that he and his fellow councilors addressed citizenry pleas for more interaction.
“I think we’ve instituted more workshops this year than we’ve had in the past two or three,” Sullivan said. He also added that citizens are now able to ask questions at workshops, contrary to protocol in the past.
He also said that he’s been pushing for business friendliness since the beginning of his current term and feels that he has been successful.
If re-elected, Sullivan said would like to spend time on senior citizen issues, perhaps raising the current seniors tax rebate program stipend to $750 per year and starting up a fuel assistance program.
Taxes are a priority as well, Sullivan said, as more people than ever before have been expressing concern. However, he said, citizens cannot expect to keep expanding neighborhoods and not expect service costs to rise.
He said more efforts like the revitalization of the Dunstan neighborhood are necessary, because they are realistic, inexpensive ways to shape the community.
He and his wife of 26 years, Amanda, have two children: Richard, 4, and Mary-Elizabeth, 3. He also has four Labrador retrievers.
Somers has been a resident of Scarborough for the past three years. The Bar Harbor native lives with his wife, Janine, son Jack, 10, daughter Lily, 9 months, and rescue dog Caicos.
Somers, who attended the University of Maine at Orono, has over 20 years of experience in working with Fortune 500 companies such as GAP, Timberland, and CIEE. He has also worked for two Maine start-ups, GoFish.com and e-gift commerce company CashStar, where he currently serves as director of risk services.
“I think there’s a better way of doing things that includes bringing more people in town into conversations about what’s going on in the town,” Somers said of his decision to run for office for the first time.
Somers said he feels there is a lack of transparency in town government, and that residents should be given more opportunities to participate in important decisions.
He said he feels that his career in business has given him a solid understanding of budgeting and of fiscal efficiency; in other words, Somers said, he knows how to get more from less.
While it’s important to be a “productive, progressive, forward-moving town,” he said, it’s equally important to remember that there are residents who are on fixed incomes.
“Throwing money at problems isn’t always the best way to fix them,” Somers said.
He added that, recently, when he spoke out against the School Department’s budget inflation over the past few years, someone accused him of not caring about education. This is not the case at all, Somers said, especially since he has a child in the school system. Rather, he said, he understands the value of the dollar.
Somers called himself a “team player” who heads a division of 65 people that represent customers all over the world. He said his customer service skills, coupled with his fiscal sensibility, will make him an effective councilor.
Roger Beeley, a Navy veteran who is now retired from a career in sales and management, has lived in Scarborough since 1979; he and his wife, Donna, raised their two daughters in town.
Beeley has a long list of public service engagements. He most recently served on the Scarborough Vision Committee and the Scarborough Economic Development Corp. He was also a member of the Kiwanis Club of Scarborough and the Chambers of Commerce of Greater Portland.
A graduate of Merrimack College, Beeley has worked for Fortune 500 companies and managed his own small business.
He said he feels that his participation in a variety of organizations and career paths demonstrates his ability to work with a variety of people.
“We were always able to reach a consensus with whatever we were tasked with,” Beeley said of his time serving Scarborough.
He added that doing so is a “great way to force yourself to be with people with whom you are not like-minded.”
Like some of the other councilor hopefuls, Beeley believes transparency is key.
If elected, he said, he would not ever want people to feel intimidated or that their questions or concerns are not valued.
He said he feels that there is a lot of distrust brewing in the community, partially due to rumors and misinformation, and that part of the Town Council’s job is to continually update residents as to developments and to clarify any concerns at public meetings.
“I don’t have any agenda,” Beeley said. “I have time and I want to see what I can do to help my town.”
Hayes, a Maine native and graduate of Bowdoin College, has lived in Scarborough since 1999. He has worked in the town for the past 30 years, most recently as director of associate health and wellness for Hannaford Bros. Co. and as a self-employed national health-care consultant.
He has served on the boards of several nonprofits as well, and was appointed by both Gov. John Baldacci and Gov. John McKernan to serve as one of three health-care reform commissioners in the 1990s. He and his wife have four children, one of who is in the Scarborough school system.
Hayes said that, in the past, residents seemed satisfied with town leadership. Over the past 12-18 months, however, he said that that attitude has been changing. People have not felt that their voices are being heard, Hayes said, and disputes that could easily be resolved are “pitching neighbor against neighbor.”
Hayes said he was particularly upset about the leash laws restrictions enacted earlier this year and decided to take a stand.
He said he thought, “Rather than complain, maybe I should step up and make a difference.”
Hayes said there are several things he would tackle if elected.
First, real estate taxes are much too high, he said, especially for a community that has one of the largest senior citizen populations in the state. Many senior citizens own property along the coast and are struggling to hold on to them, he said, because they live on fixed incomes and are grappling with a 30 percent rise in property taxes.
When they approached the current council, Hayes said, the councilors argued with the homeowners, rather than work with them towards a solution.
Second, Hayes said he’d like to see transparency in terms of the school budget, and would seek line-item budget authority for the Town Council.
If elected, Hayes said he feels his professional experiences will enable him to reach compromises with councilors and residents, and create the transparency residents seek.
Though not an incumbent, lifetime banker Shawn Babine is no stranger to Scarborough town government: he served on the School Board from 2000-2002 and then won three consecutive Town Council terms before serving on the Cumberland County Budget Advisory Committee.
In 2010, a CEO position in Indiana caused Babine to resign from the council.
While he was glad he took the job, Babine said, he is also glad to be back in Scarborough.
“Now that I’m home for good,” Babine said, “I want to get involved.”
He said he’s doing that by running for the council again, and also participating in the American Legion and Angel Wish Foundation.
Babine said that fellow residents approached him, asking him to run for the council.
“They want a stronger council that provides active leadership,” Babine said.
There’s a big opportunity in Scarborough not only to react to current situations, Babine said, but also to plan for growth, expansion, and collaboration with other towns in the region.
His top priority is the town’s finances, he said, specifically its debt, tax base and business growth.
With his background in finance and banking, Babine said he feels well equipped to help to guide the town in the right direction. There’s currently an imbalance between the school and municipal budgets that needs to be rectified, he said.
He also said that a town-wide audit should be included in the Comprehensive Plan, because it would provide the town with an idea what is and is not working financially.
Encouraging small business growth and offering them micro-loans would also benefit the community in the long run, Babine said.
“We’re on the verge of some pretty great stuff,” Babine said, “and we need to have the right people at the table.”
Kate St. Clair