CUMBERLAND — Town Councilor Shirley Storey-King, seeking a fifth at-large term, is challenged June 12 by Christina Mitchell, who is new to town politics.
Both are longtime residents with careers in education.
Along with electing town officials, Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters on June 12 will also decide on a $37.3 million School Administrative District 51 budget for next year, which is up 3.8 percent from current spending.
The Cumberland Town Council on May 14 issued a resolution that asked the School Board to take another look at reducing the budget, in light of its impact on taxpayers who may find it increasingly difficult to afford to stay in town.
Mitchell, 56, has spent 27 years in Cumberland, and has a husband and son. She taught for 30 years in public schools – including time as an English as a Second Language instructor at Portland High School – and has spent the past two years in the same field at the University of Southern Maine.
“I want to get more involved,” the Shady Run Lane resident said. “Cumberland is a great town; it has a lot of history and a lot of character. I want to make sure it continues to hold onto that while it changes. … It’s a strong bedroom community; I want to be sure it doesn’t just get folded into the other neighborhood towns. I want to be sure we keep our personality.”
Mitchell said she needs to know more about the budget before deciding how to vote.
“On the one hand, I’m completely sympathetic to the schools, because I understand how they always have their budgets cut, and it always hurts the teachers, which hurts the students,” she said. “But at the same time, I’m in a boat with a lot of Cumberland people where I don’t have a child in the schools, and the taxes are so heavy.”
Mitchell called herself “a new candidate” who has not been involved in town politics. She feels the council has done a good job in many areas, but given the changes occurring in town, “it’s good to have new ears and new voices on the Town Council.”
Expanding the town’s use of alternative energy is one of her goals, Mitchell said, noting the five solar-powered residences on Solar Way, and her desire to see solar and wind power incorporated into other housing developments around town. She would also like to see more electric car charging stations around town.
Mitchell said she did not understand the controversy surrounding the proposal for a solar farm on a capped landfill off Drowne Road, near the Village Green development.
“I think we need to do a better job of explaining to people how this will help all of us,” she said.
Mitchell said she would also like to see more work toward addressing mental health issues in town, from school students to Cumberland’s aging population.
She also favors more collaboration with surrounding towns in various projects, to engender a stronger sense of community while saving money.
Storey-King, 57, is married and has two sons. She is a seventh-grade humanities teacher at Greely Middle School, and her legal residence has been Cumberland since she was 1.
This election marks only the second time in 12 years that the Shirley Lane resident has faced an opponent. She ran against Bill Richards in 2006, and replaced her father Harlan Storey, whose 30 years on the panel date to when Cumberland had a board of selectmen.
In deciding to run again, Storey-King said, “I just have a really, really strong belief in community. … We’re a strong community with great people, and I just want to serve and give something back.”
Her passion for Cumberland is one of the assets she brings to the Town Council, Storey-King said, adding she is committed to the work, rarely misses a meeting, and tries to be open minded.
“The biggest challenge for me sometimes, is when I see both sides of a situation very clearly … and I just feel compassion for both sides, but then I have to make a difficult decision,” she said. “That’s really hard when you have to make an ethical decision that might sometimes feel hurtful to someone else.”
Such tough decisions were made during the 2019 fiscal year budget cycle. The Town Council resolution, which she co-signed, has contributed to some rancor between that panel and the School Board.
“I totally respect the School Board and … their need to defend their budget,” said Storey-King, although she plans to vote against the budget June 12. “They feel like they have built a good, strong budget. And I just look at the bottom line, and think it’s too high.”
Storey-King, who was president of the SAD 51 teachers association in the 1980s, noted that when cuts are considered, teachers are often first on the chopping block.
“I know how hard people are working,” she said. “The bottom line is, our operating budget is higher than all the districts we compare ourselves to.”
Cumberland has grown rapidly in recent years,”but I think at some point we need to look at moderating that growth,” she said, “so that we don’t end up in a situation where we have unintended consequences.”
Struggling to keep up with maintenance of infrastructure like roads is one of those results, Storey-King said. “You have increased needs for your citizens,” she added.
While residents of the new Village Green development are demanding that the neighboring public works facility on Drowne Road finally be moved, residents on Mill Road are still waiting for their street to be rebuilt, she pointed out.
Aside from the at-large Cumberland Town Council seat, all other Cumberland and North Yarmouth elections are uncontested June 12.
Incumbent Cumberland Town Councilors Ron Copp (West Cumberland) and George Turner (Cumberland Foreside) have both served 12 years on the panel.
Vickie Bell and Karen Campbell, who represent Cumberland on the School Administrative District 51 Board of Directors, are not running again. Margo Harrington and Ann Kerr are running unopposed for those seats.
In North Yarmouth, former Selectman and SAD 51 board member Jim Moulton is running for the year remaining in Peter Lacy’s term on the Select Board, which Lacy vacated last December when he moved to Cumberland.
With Jeanne Chadbourne not seeking re-election to the Select Board, Bill Whitten is unopposed for a three-year term to replace her. Whitten would have to leave the Budget Committee.
Kate Perrin is running unopposed for a second, three-year term on the SAD 51 Board of Directors; Mark Heath seeks a five-year Cemetery Commission term, and Steve Gorden is on the ballot for another three-year stint as Yarmouth Water District trustee.
Sandra Falsey is the only candidate for one of a trio of three-year Budget Committee seats, two of which have been vacant. With Whitten leaving the committee, three seats are left open on the seven-person panel.
— Alex Lear