FREEPORT — In the aftermath of a tumultuous election that ousted two Town Council incumbents, some residents say they are looking for a more unified, concise and civil council.
More than 50 percent of residents voted in the off-year election and ultimately elected two new councilors, Kate Arno in District 2 and Kristina Egan in District 3. It’s the first time since the early 1970s that women will hold the majority on the council (the others are Councilors Sara Gideon and Charlotte Bishop).
Former District 2 Councilor Eric Pandora of Birch Point Road served one three-year term. He supported a balance of business and residential interests, a stable tax rate, improved budget accounting, growth that protects neighborhoods and a code of ethics and conflict of interest policy for the town. He lost his seat to Arno by 157 votes.
Former District 3 Councilor Joe Migliaccio of Vin Mar Lane served six years on the council. He supported protecting neighborhood quality and rural zones, road safety, emergency response needs and diversification of the local business base. He lost by 113 votes to Egan.
Residents interviewed after the election said they appreciate the work and service of Migliaccio and Pandora, but they also said it was time for new council dynamics.
Carol Southall has lived in Freeport for 40 years and was one of the founders of Freeport Community Services. She said the new councilors have experience bringing groups of people together and can offer new ideas to the town.
She said the greatest change she has seen in Freeport – besides downtown development – is a shift in the make-up of the town’s population. She said there are more young professional families and retirees who are “sophisticated, educated and looking for a more liberal government.”
She said the incumbents had a more conservative approach to keeping taxes down and protecting Freeport’s elders.
“These voters are interested in education and the environment and when they look at taxes, it’s in a more creative way,” Southall said. “They played a large role in the results of this election.”
Edward Bonney has served on the Town Council, School Board and Planning Board and has held leadership positions on each one. He said residents voted for the new councilors because they want a positive change, and because the two new councilors ran effective campaigns.
Egan and Arno will bring a change in the group dynamics, Bonney said, suggesting that residents want a council that can demonstrate it is able to deal with issues concisely and not get “mired in the minutia.”
“There was a serious concern that the council wasn’t operating the way it should be operating,” Bonney said. “I know (councilors) will not always agree on everything, but they may reach consensus in a shorter amount of time with a more concise decision-making process.”
He said the public may be looking for the new council to demonstrate a positive way of doing business and handling the challenges that face the town.
“If they don’t do that, the voters will continue to make the changes until they get what they want,” he said.
Egan said that with considerable diversity on the council, unanimous decisions are not important, as long as the councilors have honest and respectable dialog. She said the council is made up of people with different ideas, histories and perspectives and it is that richness and diversity that is important.
“As long as we have that dialog, it is OK to have split votes and it’s OK if we disagree,” she said. “I think there will be a new level of civility and we will have the discourse that allows us to disagree and then move on and agree on the next issue.”
Egan said she brings energy, fresh ideas and a different set of processes to the council. She will take her campaign goals – housing for Freeport’s elderly, involvement in Regional School Unit 5, and open space – and begin the discussion on both the public and council levels. With more discussion, any original idea becomes enriched from the thoughts of others, creating a different and better idea, she said.
“I’d like to see a lot more residents involved in decision making, particularly around budgeting,” she said. “There is room for the town and council to do a better job explaining a complicated process.”
Arno said her door-to-door campaign in a district with 1,500 voters helped her win the election. She said many of the constituents appreciated her visits and told her they had not been visited by a candidate in the past.
“I also heard that they didn’t have much contact with the current District 2 representative and may have felt less connected,” Arno said. “The fact that I visited them made them feel more connected. Going forward, I will try to create more opportunities to be proactive in engaging people in the district.”
She said regardless of where a councilor stands on an issue, she should speak freely and very energetically and not go with the flow because it is easy.
“I also feel that most good decisions require compromise and collaboration,” Arno said. “The goal is to avoid gridlock or inaction because of a difference of opinion.”
Betsy Ruff is a District 4 resident who served two terms on the council in the mid-1980s and was the first paid director of Freeport Community Services nearly 35 years ago. She said while she is “hard-pressed to be critical of the council” because of their accomplishments over the past few years, she said she hopes the new council will work together.
“It doesn’t matter if the council makes unanimous decisions, it is important how they carry on the dialog,” she said. “That’s what I am hoping the new members will contribute.”
Now that there is a majority of women on the board, Ruff said, a different decision making process may emerge.
“I see much more openness to negotiation and compromise and that’s a plus,” Ruff said.
Edgar Leighton, a member of the first Town Council, said the new council members will not create a major shift in the direction the town takes, but the composition of four women will change the dynamic. He also said the council may now have more productive conversations.
“It’s my understanding that there were a lot of 5-2 votes and while that gets the job done, it’s my sense that one of things that will change is that the meetings will move a little smoother,” Leighton said. “There is always room for disagreement and there is nothing wrong with that, but when it is constant, that is not good.”
The Election Day scene at the Freeport High School polls. Voters replaced two incumbent town councilors and put a majority of women on the Town Council for the first time since the council-manager form of government was adopted in the early 1970s.
FREEPORT — The new town councilors, Kate Arno and Kristina Egan, were sworn in Tuesday night.
Arno, president of the Freeport Economic Development Corp., said she will resign from the FEDC board.
Councilor Jim Cassida was re-elected chairman of the Town Council, and Councilor Sara Gideon was elected vice chairwoman.
— Amy Anderson