PORTLAND — Both candidates for Cumberland County Commissioner in District 3 are running on a platform of transparency, but they disagree on how much control to give to county government.
And, the pair have met before.
Incumbent Stephen Gorden, R-North Yarmouth, and independent Mark Grover of Gray faced each other for the District 3 seat in November 2011 after the county expanded the districts from three to five. Gorden won the election by nearly 1,300 votes, 6,899 to 5,617.
District 3 includes Freeport, North Yarmouth, Brunswick, Harpswell, Pownal, Gray and New Gloucester.
Gorden, 70, lives with his wife Nancy in North Yarmouth. He is a retired executive with American Water in Voorhees, N.J. He said he is running his campaign based on the need for transparency and efficiency in county government.
“There’s a lot of things in government that need to have more public exposure,” Gorden said. “There needs to be a better thought in this state of integrating government levels. Counties and communities should integrate services so they perform for the citizen and cost them less.”
Grover, 57, a software designer for DeLorme in Yarmouth, lives in Gray, where he previously served three years on the Town Council. He said he wants to see bylaws created for county government as stipulated in the County Charter that was passed two years ago.
“It sounds dull, but bylaws regulate the government and limit its power,” he said.
Grover has drafted a proposed set of bylaws for the county and posted them on his website. His proposed rules include banning emergency meetings conducted via e-mail, requiring ethics rules for such things as disclosure of income sources, and “hundreds of other rules intended to help regulate county government and increase public involvement,” he said.
Both candidates said they would like to see county government become more “people friendly.”
Grover said he hopes his proposed bylaws would increase public involvement in the county government. He said he believes that the public should be made more aware of meetings happening at the county level through weekly notifications, website enhancement and a county ombudsman.
“The third proposal from my rules would be the establishment of a county ombudsman to represent the public when they feel that they have not been well enough served by the county government, basically a customer service representative for the public,” he said.
Gorden said that he thinks the county is already moving in a more community-centered direction, but he thinks there is more to do. Sometimes it is difficult, he said, for him to get around to speak with citizens of the county and that creates misunderstanding in the citizenry.
“Right now, for example, you have a representative in the state Legislature who serves somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 people, a state senator that represents 2,000 and here I am, county commissioner, and I represent 58,000,” Gorden said. “I have a hard time trying to get around to all the communities to get to know the citizenry and make myself available so that I can get input (from them).”
He said that things like the regionalization of emergency dispatch better services the county’s communities and saves money.
“It is very hard for a community to staff a 24/7/365 dispatch center,” he said. “At a regional cost you can do it better and more efficiently with quicker service. I think that’s one of the best things that we have done.”
Grover said he supported the $41.5 million budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, even though it represented a $468,000 increase over last year’s budget. Gorden said that he finds the budget “a little bit concerning” and that there should be more citizen education with regard to bonding funds.
Grover said that he always attends the budget meetings and that this year department heads and the county manager provided responsible proposals.
One major point of the budget that posed a problem for Grover is bonding money for renovations at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Initially, he did not support the measure because he felt that Portland and South Portland should take on more of the cost for the renovation because they would reap greater financial benefit. However, after there was overwhelming voter support for the project, he came around to the idea of borrowing the money.
“The only real concern I have is about the Civic Center deficits, which I hope will improve over the years,” he said. “I want to see the Civic Center continue in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Gorden also initially opposed the Civic Center bond, but changed his mind when voters supported it. He said that he now supports the project because with the county’s borrowing power, the money was bonded at a much lower interest rate than if the two cities had financed it alone.
He said that he feels that citizens need to be made aware of future capital improvement projects that are going to require bonding.
“For example, we’re doing an upgrade to the parking garage and that took some bonding and I believe there are other issues like that where we’re going to need to bond money to improve the capital outlook of the county’s facilities and that’s going to cost money,” Grover said.