Bridge advocate challenges incumbent Topsham selectmen

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TOPSHAM — Incumbents Marie Brillant and Bill Thompson are facing a challenge from John Graham in the Nov. 8 Board of Selectmen election. 

Brillant was elected to the board in 2010, and Thompson in 2013. Graham has been a member of the town’s Historic District Committee since 2014.

Holly Kopp, who has served two, three-year-terms as a Topsham representative to the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors, is the only person running for that position on the Election Day ballot.


Brillant, 59, has lived in Topsham since 2003 and is a cook at Mt. Ararat Middle School. The married mother of two daughters also serves on the Topsham Fair board of directors and is involved with the Merrymeeting Employees Association.

“During my term we have started a 25-year budget plan … I think it’s a really good step for the town,” Brillant said, noting that the plan is meant to keep Topsham’s tax rate “at an even keel, instead of spikes up and down.”

She said she would like taxes to be reduced, while maintaining the town’s services, and also to see continued business growth in Topsham.

“I like to be involved … and am willing to do what I can to see things through,” said Brillant, who was a dairy farmer for 16 years.

Asked about the two local referendum questions facing Topsham voters next month – for a 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and a ban on the use of polystyrene foam containers – she said she supports the foam ban as a means of avoiding pollution.

Brillant is undecided on the bag fee, she said, noting that “I would rather see some way of recycling them.”


Graham, 39, is married and has three children, with a fourth coming soon. He has sold real estate for about 16 years.

He moved to Topsham four years ago from Portland, and grew up in the small community of Weld. His father was a selectman, and Graham said he is experiencing “that feeling that I should be giving to the town.” 

Having attended a few selectmen’s meetings, Graham said he has been “a little frustrated with some of their members’ ability to listen.”

He is president of the Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, which seeks to save the 85-year-old structure. The Topsham Board of Selectmen on June 2 unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing the state’s proposal to replace the bridge.

“I was really disappointed that they made a decision before all of the facts were out,” Graham said.

In describing why he makes a strong candidate, he said, “I do have the ability to listen, and not make my mind up until all the facts are there.”

Graham said he does not favor borrowing funds for items like fire and plow trucks, and police cruisers, and would rather money be put aside in the budget each year in anticipation of addressing those expenditures.

Although he feels some things could run more smoothly in Topsham, Graham said he did “an exhaustive search of towns” when looking for a place to raise his family, and “Topsham nailed everything” in terms of items like its schools, location, agricultural areas, and mall design.

Graham plans to vote for both town referendums, noting that he is “a big fan of the bag fee,” and is “overall” in favor of the foam ban. He did point out, though, that he has heard the cardboard cups that replace the foam containers have a lining that some say is as bad for the environment as foam.

“Although I’m for banning (foam), I don’t know (that) the replacement is actually any better,” Graham said.


Thompson, 55, is married and has two daughters. The Arbor Avenue resident, who has lived in Topsham since 2001, is an analyst at Bath Iron Works. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2007 after 24 years, having served 11 of those years in commands at Brunswick Naval Air Station.

He was secretary of Topsham’s Finance Committee, on which he served from 2009-2013, stepping down after he was elected to the Board of Selectmen.

Thompson said he is running again both because people asked him to, and because he has “some unfinished business.”

As an example, he mentioned the new capital improvement plan that Town Manager Rich Roedner has developed with the help of the Board of Selectmen. Thompson praised that plan, saying the town had been more reactive than proactive in tackling major expenditures.

He also lauded Topsham’s financial position, as well as its growth.

“There are a couple more things on the agenda that I’d like to see go through, and three years is not enough time,” he said. “… We have to grow responsibly and sustainably. We just can’t be reactive; we have to make sure we do it in the right way.”

Concerning the two local referendum questions, Thompson said some members of the board thought the issues should be tackled at the state level, rather than town by town. He noted that in some communities a council will decide the issue, but in Topsham the voters will make the decision.

He avoided saying how he would vote on the questions. “I agree with the science, but feel that the most effective solution needs to come from the state level,” Thompson said.

On why he makes a strong candidate, Thompson said, “I feel I have something to contribute. … I have skills and I have ideas that will help the town.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.




A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.
  • Chew H Bird

    If Topsham used recycling services similar to Hannaford and Shaws there would be no need for a bag fee. Cardboard containers for hot “to go” beverages create a dangerous situation when consumed in moving vehicles. Perhaps allowing styrofoam at drive through windows only is a reasonable compromise. The bridge clearly needs to replaced in order to protect the investment of the taxpayers. Budgeting and saving for capital expenditures for vehicles and accessories makes far more sense than borrowing funds for this kind of item.

    • Yellow Submarine

      Recycling bags in not the answer. Only 3 % of plastic bags are recycled in Maine. Recycling is the third lowest priority on the waste hierarchy. Reducing and reusing come before recycling. Further, by refusing single use bags we will reduce the burden on municipal sewer and recycling facilities to remove these bags which cost the tax payers money. We will also lower the cost of groceries as the price of these bags is built in. Lastly, by reducing plastics from the environment we will improve water quality and the aesthetics of our natural resources which our fishing and tourism industry thrive on.

      • Chew H Bird

        The flimsy plastic bags are more green than paper bags when all costs of production, manufacturing, storage, and shipping are considered. By recycling plastic we extend the lifespan of products already in our environment. By banning the flimsy plastic bags, consumers will spend additional money to purchased thicker plastic bags for personal use (“everyone” uses the “free” bags for small trash can liners and for quickly wrapping “stuff” that shouldn’t get wet in the rain or snow when “stuff” is being transported.

        So, the premise is eliminating the plastic bags will result in a net gain of actual plastic being put into the waste and recycle system because specifically purchased small trash bags have significantly more plastic content than the extremely thing and light weight “free” bags.

        Additionally, there are issues with the reusable bags as many of them (certainly not all) also have a high plastic content and these are generally preferred in winter months where they reside on car deats and car floor mats to be placed on the moving conveyors at grocery stores (yuck).