4 candidates contend for 2 Falmouth Town Council seats
FALMOUTH — The four candidates for two seats on the Town Council come from diverse professional backgrounds and have varied opinions on several issues facing the town.
The candidates include a businessman, two attorneys and a non-attorney advocate.
Election Day is June 12. The candidates will discuss the issues in a debate on June 6 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Russ Anderson, 60, has spent the last 22 years of his life living in Falmouth with his wife and children. He spent the majority of his professional life working in corporate America at Cigna and Unum, and started his own business, Anderson Solutions, about seven years ago.
He said his business experience will be an asset to the Town Council.
“I think a background in business is exactly what the council needs,” Anderson said. “When you’re successful in business you have to work well with others; you have to listen well; you have to be open minded; you have to be thoughtful and build teams to get things done.”
Anderson said he brings common-sense priorities that he will use to govern his decisions on the council. He said he will be cautious with spending, and focused on maintaining good schools, roads, facilities and public safety, business friendly practices and respect for individual property.
With regard to personal property, Anderson said the town's decision on a Waterview Overlay District must be a compromise.
“My instinct is to give people who own property the freedom to do what they want with that property, but I also think the town has an interest in some regulations,” he said.
“I like the fact that the council is moving in the direction of trying to come up with a compromise; trying to come up with something that might not make everybody thrilled, but everybody will walk away feeling like they are being treated fairly,” he continued.
Anderson said his commitment to business-friendly practices extends to potential improvements to Route 1. While he feels that there is nothing particularly wrong with the area, he said that there is a need to explore the options for development.
While there is a tax increase in the fiscal 2013 municipal budget, Anderson said residents should support it because spending has remained fairly stagnant over the past several years. But he said the next Town Council needs to remain focused on the town's needs and not its wants.
“I think the town needs to focus on doing well the things that it must do and be cautious about spending money on more things that are nice-to-haves,” he said.
Anderson said he supports the Falmouth Flyer bus service, but thinks the time has come to explore less costly options than METRO.
"I think it's time we took a loot at whether or not there is a smarter way of doing it that meets the needs and doesn't cost as much," he said.
Bryan Dench, 62, moved to Falmouth with his wife, Susan, in 2009. He has been an attorney for 37 years, and is chairman of Skelton, Taintor & Abbott in Auburn, where he has done work for Sun Media Group, parent company of The Forecaster. He is also a director of Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice.
Dench said he is running for several reasons, the first being that he has been involved in town politics wherever he has lived. He said he was the moderator of Town Meetings, a member of the Budget Committee and on other committees when he lived in Poland.
Dench said his legal work with governments large and small could be an asset to the council.
“I have an understanding of how this (government) works from both sides, from the government side and from the public side,” he said.
Dench said even with the possibility of a sunset clause, he is concerned about the creation of a Waterview Overlay District.
“When you ask the government to take property rights away from one person for the benefit of another, whatever the context might be, why is it right for the government to step in and transfer property rights from one person to another?” he said. “When you are talking about restrictions that limit the way people use their property, I have serious reservations about that.”
Dench said he favors business-friendly improvements around Falmouth, including on the Route 1 corridor. He said the creation of a more cohesive, family- and user-friendly space would benefit the town overall, not just the businesses along the road.
While he described himself as fiscally conservative and said he wished there were no tax hike associated with the municipal budget, he also said he understands that the voters approved things like a new elementary school and have the responsibility to pay for it.
“I'll vote to support (the school budget) because I think that efforts had been made to keep it in line,” he said. “(But) I'm going to watch very carefully in the future and be taking a very hard look at future budgets and increases to make sure that this doesn't become a trend.”
Dench said he is reserving judgment on the Falmouth Flyer bus service. He said it makes sense to continue to monitor the results, the ridership and the benefits the bus provides to residents, businesses and employers.
"When the funding issue comes up again I will look at the facts and make a reasoned decision based on the overall interests of the town and its residents," he said.
Karen Farber, 55, has lived in Falmouth for several decades. She was a member of the School Board, the Comprehensive Planning Advisory Committee, was co-chairwoman of the Falmouth High School PTO and coached seventh-grade girls lacrosse for three years at Falmouth Middle School.
Farber works as a non-attorney advocate for the Disability Rights Center and spends much of her time volunteering with organizations such as AFS Intercultural Programs, Temple Beth El in Portland, and the Falmouth Lacrosse Boosters.
She said she is running for Town Council because she enjoys participating in the processes of town government and feels she can continue the balance that has been established on the council.
“I am an individual thinker, which I think is really important at the level of municipal government, that one is not allied in a specific way or precommitted to any specific agenda,” she said. “That one can look at the issue before them with fresh eyes, willing to listen, willing to think, willing to research and really consider all the aspects of the problems.”
While she said the creation of a Waterview Overlay District is an important first step, she also said it is not a solution. She said the larger issue should be whether water views should be protected and what is the best way to do that. She said the current ordinance contains confusing language and needs to be clarified before anything moves forward.
“If there is (a municipal role) I would prefer to see it done by looking at the (proposed) building and using more objective instead of subjective criteria,” she said. “How does one assess significant impact?”
Farber said there is a need for development along Route 1. She added that there is also potential for work to be done along the Route 100 corridor, and that any development should offer complimentary businesses to the ones already in place.
“If we have small businesses (in an area), we want places for people to eat there, for people to do their errands,” she said.
Farber said she supports the municipal budget. Although no one wants to see a tax increase, she said, the increase is necessary if the town wants to maintain the level of services it currently has.
She sais she also supports contining the Falmouth Flyer.
Sean Mahoney, 48, is an attorney specializing in environmental law with the Conservation Law Foundation. He is a past president of the Falmouth Land Trust and has been on the board of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, GrowSmart Maine, Friends of Baxter State Park and Konbit Sante.
Mahoney said he is running because he feels the town is at a critical juncture and that several projects have the potential to shape its future.
“I think I would bring to the table a long-range perspective that would look at the costs and the benefits of the opportunities we have, and I think I would be able to make decisions today that in 20 years people would say, 'Wow, that was a good move by the people who were setting policy,'" Mahoney said.
He said he believes the creation of the Water View Overlay District is a good idea in theory, but he feels the real solution to the problem would be a consistent process by which the rules are applied.
“Part of the problem has been in the past, that there was perhaps uneven application or enforcement of the regulations or the zoning requirements ,” Mahoney said. “My sense from talking to people is that they think, 'Well, I follow the rules but this person didn't' and that is difficult.”
“The last thing we want is to have a community where neighbors are pitted against neighbors,” he said.
Mahoney, like Farber, said there is potential for development along both Route 1 and Route 100.
“Route 1 and Route 100 are big, real opportunities for creating good business opportunities, good commercial opportunities in a way that is also well planned and with benefits for the people of Falmouth,” he said.
Mahoney said he supports the 2013 municipal budget because increases have been kept to a minimum over recent years. But he said he wonders whether the town could create a program to offer assistance to those hit hard by tough economic times.
“One of the things I think would be worth exploring is whether or not the town could develop a program that would be similar to the state's circuit breaker program,” Mahoney said. “I think it's very important that as a community, we don't price people out.”
Mahoney said he supports maintaining the Falmouth Flyer service.
Amber Cronin can be reached at email@example.com or 781-3661 ext. 115. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.
Candidate's opinion on gay marriage becomes an issue
FALMOUTH — Is a letter opposing gay marriage that Town Council candidate Bryan Dench wrote to The Portland Press Herald in March 2010 reason enough to not elect him?
A former town councilor thinks so.
In his letter, Dench expressed support for Question 1, which sought to overturn a state law that allowed gay marriage. The referendum ultimately was successful, and the law was removed.
Dench wrote that "laws on hate crimes, gay rights and same-sex marriage are all aimed at the same thing: normalizing and validating homosexual behavior, and overturning the clear consensus for all human history that marriage is between people of the opposite sex."
"Not long ago homosexual behavior was defined as abnormal and deviant by mental health professionals," Dench continued. "Have the facts changed, or just their ideology?"
Now, former Town Councilor Cathy Breen and other residents are suggesting Dench's opinion is reason not to elect him to the council.
"I was alarmed when I read Town Council candidate Bryan Dench's March 4, 2010, anti-gay marriage letter," Breen said in a letter published this week in The Forecaster.
"Dench's letter is one of the meanest, most disparaging things I've ever read," Breen wrote. "Is that what Falmouth wants in Town Hall?"
In an interview, Breen said her comments are not meant to smear Dench or as a personal attack against him. She said that while some people feel that same-sex marriage may not be a town issue, it could make its way into town government.
"The town of Falmouth employs and offers benefits to many employees; we do not currently extend family benefits to same-sex couples, but the question may very well come up in union contract negotiations and discussions with non-union employees," Breen said. "As a councilor, Dench's views would certainly be relevant to that topic."
She also noted that town councils are often where political parties go to recruit candidates for higher office, and that she would not like to see that happen in Dench's case.
"I would not like the council to be a stepping stone for such an extremist, who may someday run for higher office," she said.
Dench said he is disappointed that his letter would be used to discredit him as a qualified candidate.
"I would hope that voters would make their decisions on the accomplishments and qualifications of people," he said. "I'm hoping that my record of legal service and government service would lead people to want to support me as someone who could be an effective town councilor."
Dench said he wrote the letter because he felt that those who had objections to same-sex marriage were being demonized and their arguments mischaracterized. He said he was trying to defend their ability, and, ultimately, everyone's ability to speak on issues without being personally attacked.
He added that if same-sex marriage is legalized, and if he is elected, he would support the law within his role as a town councilor.
"If the law changes then I would expect Falmouth to issue marriage licenses to people who are qualified, and I would support doing that because I support following the law," Dench said.
— Amber Cronin