FREEPORT — Incumbent Leland Arris Jr., bidding to become an at-large town councilor, is challenged in November by first-time candidate Tawni Whitney.
The seat is being vacated by Councilor Melanie Sachs, who announced in July that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election after two terms on the council.
Running uncontested to fill Arris’ District 4 seat, which represents the northwestern portion of towns, is Henry “Chip” Lawrence, 53, of Hunter Road.
Lawrence has three children, all of whom went through Freeport schools. He is on the board and treasurer of the Bald Eagle Flying club and on the board of the Freeport Players.
This is the second time Lawrence has run for public office. He first ran for an at-large seat in 2010, but was defeated by James Hendricks.
Polls will be open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Freeport High School gymnasium.
Arris said he decided to seek a second three-year term on the council – this time representing the community at-large – because he feels he lends a unique and “under-represented” perspective.
“I’m an older resident,” Arris said, noting that he attended and watched his kids attend Freeport schools. “… My family has been part of the town for generations.”
He also noted that, as a student, parent and high school teacher, he’s seen and supported public schools at various levels.
Arris said that diversity of opinion is important to have on any council.
“I don’t think there’s been a lot of that recently,” he said. “… It’s important that local elections have some competition. You don’t develop new ideas if you don’t have people challenging them.”
Arris said his priorities would include a comprehensive look at all the town’s boards and committees, moving forward with sustainability initiatives, and improving the towns housing market, all while being conscience of the impact on taxpayers.
“I’d like to see the next Town Council really focus on reviewing the boards and committees with the idea that maybe we can consolidate some and maybe make things a little more efficient,” he said, such as looking at crossover between the Project Review and Planning boards and the Active Living and Traffic & Parking committees.
He said the Sewer District has long had a plan for installing solar panels, but is waiting to see if a collaborative project between the town and schools would be possible, noting that he championed installing geothermal heating at the plant when he came into the position eight years ago.
Arris said the town is seeing an economic shift because “brick-and-mortar retail is in decline.” To stay ahead, Arris said the town should “include more housing, small businesses and offices for a more diverse group of economic entities.”
A means of inviting this, he noted, would be lowering the cost of shared parking in the Village Commercial 1 District, which is under council consideration.
Arris said he’d like to see the council spend less time and money being “pressured” by complaints from small populations in the community, which has “gotten them in trouble in the past,” noting on-going litigation regarding the Island Rover.
“We’ve made it a difficult problem. … It’s cost us thousands of dollars to get advice that hasn’t really helped,” Arris said. “To solve it from my perspective means to let it play itself out with the people involved and have the council step back.”
Whitney said the work she’s done with the Neighbor Brigade, which she brought to Freeport in 2016 to support residents facing crisis, and the families she’s met while doing so have made her want to become more involved.
Another one of her “passions,” Whitney said, has been working with elders. She is currently working in the home of two 97-year-old residents to help them age in place.
“I do a lot of volunteer work with those two populations,” Whitney said. “I feel like this could be a platform I take to another level by joining the council.”
If elected, Whitney said her top priorities would be helping seniors age in place, which she said she’s already working towards with Freeport Community Center, keeping the downtown viable and being financially creative and conservative with taxpayers’ money.
“We’re learning a lot about what (other towns are doing to help residents age in place), and how we can make that happen here,” she said, such as assisting their aging population with transportation and socialization. “It can be very grassroots. … There’s a lot of ways to make it very do-able.”
She said she’d like to work with state Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Brunswick, on some of these initiatives to minimize pressures and responsibilities on municipalities.
Whitney said she would do her best to keep property taxes down, which she thinks is one of the largest issue facing all residents in town, especially the elderly community,
With an increase in online shopping leading to a decline in shopping retail at outlets, Whitney said it’s important to promote economic development by tapping into the right industries, such as organics.
“We need to be creative in how we keep the local businesses profiting,” Whitney said. “We could have more unique businesses and local talents.”
One issue she’d also like to focus on is brown-tail moth infestations and how it’s effecting residents’ health and property values.
“Although I don’t have a solution for it … there’s room for us to take it to another level,” Whitney said.
Residency: Glenview Road
Family: Four children
Occupation: General manager of Freeport Sewer District, previously Latin and Chinese Mandarin teacher at Westbrook High School for 25 years
Education: Bowdoin College, degree in government and economics; Cornell
University, Ithaca, New York, far Asian language concentration
Political/Civic Experience: District 4 town councilor, Freeport Recreation Committee, Winslow Park Committee, Freeport Public Works Building Project Committee; former staff member for Speaker of the House John Martin; Sewer District trustee and chairman; Cumberland County Finance Committee member.
Social Media/Website: Linkedin.com
Residency: Baldwin Road
Family: Married, three children
Occupation: In-home support for seniors. Previously a project specialist for Edmund S. Muskie School, commercial clammer, director of Camp to Belong and social worker for the state of Maine.
Education: University of Massachusetts, degree in psychology
Political/Civic Experience: None. Volunteer experience from Neighbor Brigade, Little League, Backpack Program, Girls on the Run and Odyssey of the Mind.
Website/Social Media: None