SCARBOROUGH — Town Council candidates addressed communication and transparency issues in an Oct. 12 forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.
School Board candidates said the budget process needs to be improved. One of them advocated allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.
There are six candidates vying for three seats on the council, while four people are running for two seats on the Board of Education on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Town Council incumbents include Chairman Shawn Babine, 1 Summerfield Lane; Vice Chairwoman Kate St. Clair, 41 Woodfield Drive, and Peter Hayes, 5 Indian Hill Lane. They are defending their seats against Jean-Marie Caterina, 311 Gorham Road; Timothy Downs, 10 Dunstan Ave., and Benjamin Howard, 7 Windsor Pines Drive. Caterina and Downs previously served on the council.
School Board candidates are Rebel Douglas, 17 Willowood Lane; Hillory Durgin, 9 Sequoia Lane; Leanne Kazilionis, 11 Orchard St., and Christine McNally, 9 Thomas Drive. Douglas did not attend the debate.
Town Council candidates tackled topics including their vision for the Comprehensive Plan, their position on the proposed public safety building bond, and how to increase communication with residents.
All the candidates agreed that communication is an important concern that residents have raised; some have criticized officials for not being transparent. All the candidates agreed that the public safety building is needed, but Howard questioned whether the proposed building is too large. Babine said comparisons to other communities isn’t fair because of the number of services that are housed under a single roof in Scarborough.
Babine called the Comprehensive Plan one of the town’s most important documents and said it needs to look at the design features of the community. He said he “wants us to see us exactly as we are today,” but stronger on commercial development.
He said the town has great beaches, great roads, “public safety we can rely on,” a great library system. “All of those are critical to our community,” Babine said.
Hayes said people like the quality of life in Scarborough, but asked how the town can create more walkable areas. He called for more affordable housing, too.
St. Clair said she has always wanted to see a more centralized town square. She wants to continue to build on the things Scarborough has already accomplished and said the town already does an amazing job with its beaches.
Caterina told residents her view of the Comprehensive Plan includes a good mix of people living in a variety of housing options, and she is concerned housing is becoming unaffordable. Caterina said she anticipates more people will be working from home and wants to improve broadband access, along with better access to the waterfront.
Downs called the Comprehensive Plan a living, breathing road map “to what we see in the future.” He said the marsh and beaches are the town’s greatest assets.
Howard said he wants to see the town attract more young people, and a creative plan is needed to attract them. He also wants to see portable classrooms removed from the schools.
Babine said councilors are listening and communicating, but they don’t always agree with residents. That might lead people to think they aren’t listening, but he chalked it up to differences of opinion.
Hayes stressed the need for financial planning and for a cultural change because of divisiveness over the budget.
St. Clair acknowledged that people prefer different forms of communication. “It’s time for us to think outside of the normal box,” she said, adding to that end, the council’s Communication Committee is trying to nail down the town’s demographics.
“We started the process, but we have a long way to go,” St. Clair said. “… We are getting there; we are reaching people.”
Caterina said the council is doing a better job at getting information out, and as she’s canvassed neighborhoods she found the majority of people are happy about what is going on in Scarborough. She also agreed with Babine that the town is listening and said, “Just because we don’t agree with you it doesn’t mean we’re not listening.”
Downs, who called himself “old school,” said he’s never turned on a computer and he still has a flip phone. He said a large percentage of the population is like him and the town needs to consider that and employ different methods of communication. He also suggested posting the council agenda in places like grocery stores, where people can see it.
Howard said the town needs to explore ways to let residents remotely communicate to the council during meetings.
School Board candidates tackled topics including how to improve the budget process and whether they support firearms on school property.
Kazilionis said coming up with a basic multi-year budget proposal might help the community get on board. She said board members need to focus on communicating the numbers to make them clear and easy to understand.
Durgin said she was saddened by the divisiveness shown during budget season. “Whatever we can do to get the information out … we should be doing it,” she said, with more dialogue-based meetings. She also said all the major components of each school budget should be broken down so people have a better understanding.
McNally said there seems to be a lot of “us versus them” in town, and residents need to know why a particular program is needed. McNally said the laptop computer program should be like the school lunch program – if a parent can’t afford a computer, then it should be provided.
McNally, who said she holds a concealed weapon permit, also said teachers should be trained to use guns and she supports having teachers or trained specialists on staff with firearms because they can save lives.
Both Kazilionis and Durgin opposed allowing any firearms on school campuses, with the exception of the school resource officer, who is a trained police officer.