Keeping Harpswell in balance was Multer’s mission

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HARPSWELL — After eight years on the Board of Selectmen, Elinor Multer will step down from her post after Town Meeting this Saturday.

She announced in October she would not complete the final year of her third term, citing personal reasons.

“It’s been a privilege to be a selectman,” she said on recent foggy day, sitting in her Orr’s Island home and flipping through a stack of old Annual Town Reports.

A lot has happened since Multer, 89, became a selectman in 2009.

“Cedar Beach is probably the big one,” she said.

But, she added, there has also been the ongoing developments at Mitchell Field –the U.S. Navy fuel depot-turned public waterfront – and the challenges shellfish harvesters are facing from the rise of predator green crabs.

Many of these issues, Multer acknowledged, highlight evolving demographic and environmental changes in a town where fisherman, affluent retirees, and an increasingly aging population share 216 miles of coastline.

“It’s the job of the selectmen to try and keep striking a balance,” she said, noting the challenge of weighing traditions and development. “The trick is to hang on to what’s valuable without stifling what is modern because you like the old ways.”

“People move in, and they look for some of what they saw before,” she continued. “And, inevitably, some things they would change.”

Multer said she moved to Harpswell because she liked the town’s rural character and sense of community.

“I never liked the anonymity of Manhattan,” the former five-decade resident of New York and New Jersey said. “(In Manhattan), you didn’t know the people above your floor, let alone your block, or neighborhood.”

Not so in Harpswell, the kind of small, rural town where Multer said she always hoped to live after spending summers at Kezar Lake, in Lovell.

“Those were the polio days,” she said. “If you could get your kids out of New York City in the summers, you did.”

After attending Cornell University and marrying, Multer landed a reporting job at the New Jersey-based daily paper The Red Bank Register, where she covered education during the mid-1960s. She later served as public relations director for the newly-founded Brookdale Community College.

“I always had an interest in education,” she noted, alluding to her future service on several Maine education boards.

In the late 1970s, she and her husband fulfilled her dream of moving to Maine, and built their first house on Orr’s Island.

“I didn’t know much of anybody,” she said. “(But) it wasn’t hard.”

Soon, she befriended Joanne Rogers, now the librarian of the Orr’s Island Library, and then a member of the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors.

“If you ever decide not to run (for the board), let me know,” Multer told her. A few years later, Rogers called her up.

Multer served on the SAD 75 board for 7 years. She left Gov. Angus King, now a U.S. senator, tapped her for the state Board of Education.

“I knew Angus; he was our lawyer for a while,” Multer recalled. “I was a volunteer for a bit on his campaign, and he knew I was interested in the state board.”

After 10 years there Multer wasn’t ready to stop her civic involvement.

“I used to have questions about what’s going on, and my technique was to drop by the office and ask (the town administrator) about it,” she said.

She joined several Harpswell town committees – the Affordable Housing Committee, the Governance Task Force, the Sign Task Force, and Budget Advisory Committee – the last of which she considers the “best training” for a future selectmen.

When Selectman Amy Haible left the Board of Selectmen in 2009, Multer threw her hat in the ring.

On Monday, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane praised Multer for her well-honed skills and longstanding  dedication to public policy and service.

“I think the staff has always been impressed by her commitment to public service,” Eiane said.

At the selectmen’s meeting on March 2, Eiane announced that this year’s annual report is dedicated to Multer.

“I thank you all,” Multer said. “It’s been a marvelous experience.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Elinor Multer, 89, will step down Saturday from the Harpswell Board of Selectmen after eight years of service.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.