Cumberland County commissioner: Witonis challenges Shaughnessy

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WINDHAM — Two candidates are vying for a four-year seat as Cumberland County Commissioner in District 3 on Election Day: Incumbent Malory Shaughnessy of Windham and Susan Witonis of Casco.

District 3 includes the towns of North Yarmouth, Pownal, New Gloucester, Freeport, Brunswick, Harpswell, Windham, Baldwin, Sebago, Raymond, Casco, Naples, Harrison, Bridgton and Gray.

Malory Shaughnessy

Shaughnessy has lived in Windham for 24 years with her husband Michael.  The couple have four sons.

She said she decided to become involved with county government following work with the Strategic Planning Committee and in public health.

“There were some basic things I saw that needed to be changed, so I ran,” Shaughnessy said.

During her four years a commissioner, Shaughnessy said she has “helped move the county forward and respond to ongoing needs.” She added that many people don’t trust or understand the way county government operates. 

“The biggest thing the county can do is partner with (Greater Portland Council of Governments) and get a bigger bang for the buck,” Shaughnessy said.

She said future plans should include reaching out for grants to assist municipalities, such as the recently awarded $1.7 million Sustainable Communities Planning Grant for transportation, housing, environmental and economic development.

“Those are the kinds of roles I see the county taking part in,” Shaughnessy said.

She said she “enthusiastically” supports adoption of a county charter, an issue on the ballot this year.

“I am a definite proponent of the charter,” Shaughnessy said.”I think they’ve come out with a very good product.”

She said adoption of a County Charter will allow commissioners to make changes as needed without “an act of the Legislature.”

Shaughnessy said she has mixed feelings about proposed renovations to Cumberland County Civic Center. She said renovations costing millions may only maintain the civic center for another 10 to 15 years.

“At the same time, is there the will of the people to build new?” she said. “Something needs to be done, without a doubt.”

Shaughnessy said she thinks it could be more efficient to integrate civic center operations with county operations rather than it being overseen by trustees as it is currently.

“They are not directly accountable to the people,” she said, adding trustees are appointed by county commissioners.

She has a master’s degree in public planning from the Muskie School of Public Affairs at the University of Southern Maine , worked for U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews and in the state Office of Policy and Legal analysis. Shaughnessy was president of the Maine County Commissioners Association and director for Maine on the National Association of Counties Board of Directors, as well as a founding vice president of the Northeast Caucus of Counties of the National Association of Counties. She was a founding vice president of Cumberland District Public Health Council, a board member of People’s Regional Opportunity Program, a member of Friends of the Presumpscot River and a member of Maine Women’s Lobby.

Susan Witonis

Witonis, said she decided to run for county commissioner “for equal representation of rural communities.”

The Casco resident said people often ask what a county commissioner does and some aren’t aware of who commissioners are. She said one of her goals, if elected, is to visit each town in District 3 at least twice per year and meet officials and residents.

“One other thing I am big on is public safety. We need to provide adequate protection to citizens and enough personnel to do their job right,” she said.

Witonis said she has mixed feelings about adopting a County Charter.  She said she supports the benefit of greater representation brought by increasing county commissioners to five from three, particularly during the budget process.

“The majority (currently) is two people, two people can decide the budget for the whole county,” she said.

Witonis said she also supports “cutting unnecessary cost” by eliminating elected positions replicated by appointed positions, such as county treasurer and finance director.

She said civic center renovations may not be appropriate at this time.

“At this time, and in this economy, I doubt that I could ask voters in Cumberland County to pay for renovations to the civic center,” she said.

Witonis was a Casco selectman from 2006 to 2010 and on the county Budget Advisory Committee. She volunteers with the Casco Fire Department during Casco Days and is a member of Casco Recreation Committee. She graduated from Windham High School in 1973 and has lived in Casco for 23 years with her husband John. They have two grown children.

Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or sgrinnell@theforecaster.net

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