Divided Brunswick council re-elects Brayman as chairwoman

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BRUNSWICK — While some things are changing in the new year – the calendar, the weather, perhaps a gym membership – Town Council and School Board leadership are not.

Both bodies on Monday night re-elected all their leaders.

For the council, that means Chairwoman Sarah Brayman and Vice Chairman Steve Walker will serve another year in their respective roles; on the School Board, Chairman Billy Thompson and Vice Chairwoman Joy Prescott will return to their roles.

Although Thompson and Prescott both received unanimous endorsements from the School Board, council Brayman secured her position by a single vote.

At the beginning of the meeting Monday night, Councilor Suzan Wilson nominated Councilor Kathy Wilson for chairwoman. Walker then nominated Brayman.

Brayman won by a vote of 5-4, with Councilors David Watson, Suzan Wilson, Kathy Wilson and Alison Harris dissenting.

Before Monday’s vote, four councilors reportedly wanted a change in council leadership, and approached Walker to run against Brayman.

Walker addressed the rumor in a Dec. 29  interview with radio station WCME.

“First off, I just want to say how honored I am to be approached by the four councilors who had the confidence in me to ask me to run for chair,” Walker told host Jim Bleikamp.

But, he added, “my feeling is, this year we need the continuity we have,” citing recent changes in town like a relatively new town manager, John Eldridge, and a new assistant town manager, Derek Scrapchansky.

“I think we need that continuity in leadership and consistency in approach to really make it fire on all cylinders,” he said. “So I’ve talked it over with (Brayman); she has my support.”

“And,” he added, “I would love to be chair the following year.”

He emphasized that his support for Brayman is not a “deal,” but that he hoped she, as well as the other four councilors, would support him “when I actually might put my name out there for chair.”

Wilson nominated Walker for vice chairman, and he was re-elected unanimously.

Kathy Wilson, who received four votes to Brayman’s five, said Wednesday that she was not disappointed by the outcome of the vote.

“I knew there would only be four votes,” she said. She said her bid for chairwoman was a vote of confidence for Walker.

“Several of us really thought Steve would be the better chair,” Wilson said. She said she thinks the position works best when it rotates every year, and that Walker’s past experience on the Planning Board made him an ideal leader in a year when a zoning ordinance rewrite is expected to be a major issue.

“We hoped he would’ve been the person to lead us through that,” she said.

But after Walker declined to run, Wilson said she did not want to vote “no” for Brayman, and thus put her name in the ring.

“I don’t anticipate any problems” with Brayman as chairwoman, she added.

After the vote, Brayman said she did not see the divided vote as a sign of “weakness.”

“I was elected chair with five votes last year, and I was elected with five votes this year,” she said. “(It’s) not weakness … I consider it a strength of an independent body.”

She added that she was not surprised by the vote.

“(We face) a lot of challenges” in the year to come, Brayman said in her remarks to councilors after the vote. “(But) I think this council can handle it.”

Thompson, the School Board chairman, also spoke about continuity after the meeting.

“Continuity is important … especially right now,” he said, citing the ongoing debate over how to update the town’s aging elementary and junior high schools.

Thompson said that his top priority, “first and foremost, is to bring the facilities discussion to a successful close.” He defined success as delivering a referendum about a project to voters, most likely in June.

Thompson said he’d also like to conduct board meetings in several locations around town, such as at the Perryman Drive Community Center in east Brunswick, or at a meeting of the Brunswick West Neighborhood Coalition.

Other business included the official swearing-in of returning School Board members Corinne Perreault and Joy Prescott, as well as new board member Teresa Gillis, by Town Clerk Fran Smith.

Returning councilors John Perreault and Suzan Wilson, and new at-large Councilor Alison Harris, were also sworn in by Smith.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.