Cumberland County District 3 commissioner candidates oppose Civic Center bond

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BRUNSWICK — Two candidates are competing to be the county commissioner in Cumberland County’s new District 3, a seat created when the County Charter was approved last year and expanded the districts from three to five.

Mark Grover of Gray and Stephen Gorden of North Yarmouth discussed issues facing the county during an Oct. 13 candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Maine.

One key issue, going to referendum Tuesday, Nov. 8, is whether the county should borrow up to $33 million to renovate the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. Both candidates oppose the bond.

District 3 includes Brunswick, Freeport, Harpswell, North Yarmouth, Gray, New Gloucester and Pownal.

Stephen Gorden

Gorden, 69, is married and has five sons and two grandchildren. He has served as national vice president of corporate development for the American Water Works Service Co. and president of American Water Resource, both in New Jersey; director and chief executive officer of the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department in Michigan, director of operations for the Portland Water District. He was also chairman of the National Water Utility Association.

His volunteer experience includes being a trustee of the Yarmouth Water District and serving on the Cumberland County Charter Commission.

Gorden said he wants to prioritize county issues to serve citizens in a better way, as well as expand multi-community links among public safety services. He also wants to boost coordination at quasi-municipal, state and community levels, and to encourage diminishing of what he called duplicate structural costs.

He said he envisions the county level of government “as an entity upon which a community may call to accomplish what it considers the common, repetitive, heavy-lifting functions, freeing itself and you to maintain your distinct community culture and quality of life by performing those tasks and services which are uniquely yours.”

Gorden said the Cumberland County Recreational Center District, which he described as a quasi-municipal government run by appointed trustees, owns and operates the Civic Center. He said the district has the authority to request bonding.

In recent years, he said, the Civic Center “government” and Cumberland County government “have become too entangled in one another’s affairs, and it needs to cease. They are not dealing with one another at arm’s length, nor are they operating independently; that’s just plain wrong. It’s unfair to the citizens, as all transparency is lost.”

Gorden said voters outside the immediate Portland area do not stand to gain from the renovation plan.

Mark Grover

Grover, 56, is a software engineer for the DeLorme mapping company in Yarmouth.

He served on the Gray Town Council from 2008-2011 and was a representative from Gray to both the Greater Portland Council of Governments and the Central Corridors Coalition of area municipalities. He also served on the Cumberland County Budget Advisory Committee, the Gray Public Library Board of Trustees and the Gray Comprehensive Plan Committee, and has volunteered with Gray Fire-Rescue.

Grover says these experiences, plus his work as an engineer, “gives me experience as a member of teams that get things done.”

He said he believes in thoughtful and moderate governance.

Regarding the Civic Center bond, Grover said the plan is responsibly written, but he does not think now is the time for the project. He noted that there would be up to $22 million in interest on top of the bond amount.

“I don’t think most people in District 3 are prepared for the burden (of the project) for something that’s non-essential,” he said.

Grover said the economy could improve to the point where such a project were more viable, that there could be a more modest proposal, or that Portland could contribute a larger share of the cost.

He also noted that the fiscal 2012 county budget includes $300,000 to fund the “red ink” of the Civic Center’s operating budget. Grover pointed out that the center’s trustees should plan to balance their budget this year, no matter how the bond vote goes, and that subsidies each year should be phased out.

“Even the proposed plan says that they don’t expect big profits until 2016, even with the improvements,” Grover said.

Election Day is Nov. 8.

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

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Stephen Gorden

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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.