TOPSHAM — Voters on Tuesday, Jan. 6, will decide which of six candidates will fill a vacant seat on the Board of Selectmen.
Carol Clark, Michael Dumas, Paul Fothergill, James Morris, Thomas Sawyer and James Trusiani are vying to fill the term that Paul Bennett opted not to serve after being elected in November. Bennett and incumbent Selectman Ronald Riendeau won the two open seats at that time, defeating incumbent Trusiani.
The election will be held in the main exhibition hall of the Topsham Fairgrounds from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Absentee ballots are available at the office of Town Clerk Ruth Lyons.
The six candidates fielded a variety of questions from citizens during a candidate’s night on Dec. 17 at the Topsham Public Library, beginning with how they planned to offset job losses from the closure in 2011 of Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Dumas, a self-employed plumbing contractor, said “a town’s got to be proactive on these things, they can’t be reactive, and that’s a very difficult thing to do, and it will take a lot of time and effort (by the Board of Selectmen) to solve that problem. And it may not be solvable completely.”
He said Topsham has many assets, including its location, and much available land.
Fothergill said that he is “not running to make promises to anybody, especially when it comes to jobs to the area … I think it’s going to get worse, I don’t think it’s going to get better, and I think it’s going to be above the town government to bring jobs to the area.”
Morris, a 2004 graduate of Mt. Ararat High School who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., agreed with Fothergill that the economy will get worse before it improves. Morris suggested that Topsham “pull a Freeport.”
“We’ve got to work much more strongly to get the tourism industry into Topsham,” he said, adding that the town’s Comprehensive Plan calls for developing the stretch of Main Street where Town Hall stands into a more “boutique-friendly area.” He said the town should direct its efforts away from big-box development.
Sawyer, who was employed by the federal government for 32 years, retired in 2005 and then served as a director of human resources in the private sector, said the role of town government should be to encourage economic development in the wake of the base closure. He added, though, that development must be encouraged without increasing the town’s debt.
“If we’re going to have people live in Topsham, we’ve got to have an affordable place for them to live,” he said.
Trusiani, who works for Harry C. Crooker & Sons and served two terms on the Board of Selectmen, said the work already accomplished by the Topsham and Brunswick local redevelopment authorities and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority should be considered.
“As leaders of the town you’ve got to promote not only economic development, but the jobs,” he said, recommending a proactive approach, development of land zoned for such a purpose and working together with neighboring towns.
Clark, a hotel general manager, agreed with the proactive approach.
“We need to go after that business,” she said. “We can’t just sit down and wait for it to show up at our doorsteps, because in this economic time it may not show up at our doorsteps if we don’t ask for it.”
Clark said the town needs to work together with Gov. John Baldacci and economic committees around the state to try to attract businesses interested in Maine.
“Let’s promote Topsham as a good place to have new industrial businesses or stores,” she added. “I think the town, over the last couple of years, for a bunch of different reasons has become not so much of a friendly face to some developers. I’d like to change that. We were doing very well, I think, for a few years, and there’s a lot of different issues that happened, where things just kind of went to a halt. … We need to reverse that, we need to get back going strong so that we can develop this town … the way that it should be developed.”
Candidates also discussed development of the the west side of Interstate 295; creating a code of ethics and recall provision for town government; bringing more civil discourse to Topsham politics; balancing a need for growth against protecting neighborhoods; how the town should balance its budget; how to involve more citizens in town government, and the role of selectmen.
They were also asked to describe their greatest strengths as they relate to serving on the board.
Clark called herself a communicator and easily approachable, saying she has a lot of views but is open-minded.
Dumas said he also has an open mind, and that he has no set agenda in running for the board.
Fothergill said his strengths would be working and negotiating with other board members in the interest of the town, as well as listening, problem-solving and being personable.
Morris referred to his political science degree and experience with the office of the mayor of Manchester, N.H., and suggested that his membership on the board could stimulate more involvment and interest from others of his generation.
Sawyer said he can bring his expertise as an advocate for taxpayers.
Trusiani said he sees and considers all sides of issues, and his experience on the board can help move the town through a difficult time.
Michelle Small of the League of Women Voters, seated center, moderates a forum at the Topsham Public Library Dec. 17 for the six candidates running for one seat on the Board of Selectmen: Carol Clark, left, Michael Dumas, Paul Fothergill, James Morris, Thomas Sawyer and James Trusiani.