Newcomer challenges long-time Freeport town councilor
FREEPORT — The Town Council election on Nov. 6 pits a seasoned veteran against a political newcomer, and leaves one race uncontested.
Two Town Council seats are up for grabs, but the only contest is between decade-long incumbent Chairman Jim Cassida, an environmental regulatory consultant, and first-time candidate Andrew Wellen, , clinical social worker, for the District 4 seat.
Barring any write-in candidates, Melanie Sachs is uncontested for the at-large seat now held by Councilor Charlotte Bishop, who is not seeking re-election.
In the contested council election, both candidates said they want to maintain the town's residential character, while also supporting business development and maintaining a strong commercial tax base.
Cassida said Freeport has been able to weather the recession in ways other communities have not because of its solid financial structure, but said it's important to grow the town in a "natural" way.
"It's about using thoughtful consideration to balance the needs of the community and also strengthen businesses in Freeport that are important to our tax base," he said. "We need more growth in Freeport for residents, not tourists."
One of the most important components of that growth, Cassida said, is the expansion of Amtrak's Downeaster, which begins service to Freeport and Brunswick Nov. 1.
He also said he has supported growth of service-related businesses like the Shaw's and the Bow Street Market groceries, as well as the Nordica theater, which the council granted $200,000 in tax increment financing in 2010.
Wellen agreed that a balanced approach to growth is important, but also stressed the need for prudent spending.
"I believe in smart growth," he said. "More growth is good, if it's done well and done in a way that's planned well, so that it doesn't lead, for example, to too much traffic."
Keeping commercial projects in commercially zoned areas to protect property values is vital, he added.
Although Wellen doesn't have the experience on the council that Cassida has, he said he would add a fresh perspective to the council and use his experience as a social worker to enhance communication with residents.
He criticized the council's handling of the Hunter Road athletic complex project, which initially would have given 12 acres of town land to a private soccer club for development without a public hearing. The project was later shot down after residents overwhelmingly opposed the project earlier this year.
"Before we decide on some big project, such as the Hunter Road fields, we could do better planning so we know the costs up front," Wellen said. "A project like that should go to referendum."
Cassida said he is happy with the progress the council has made on improving dialogue with residents, using a late-September charette for the new planning of the Hunter Road fields as an example.
As the new Town Manager, Peter Joseph, eases his way into the job that started in mid-September, Cassida said having an experienced councilor is important.
"(Joseph) needs strong guidance from people who know the town," he said.
Although she is unopposed, Sachs, who is also a social worker, agreed with the other candidates that the engagement of residents is crucial and said she is well-suited for the task.
"My skill set has always been engagement and collaboration, no matter what," she said, noting her prior inner-city social work in Washington, D.C. "I've done a lot of work with folks with very diverse points of view, and because of that, I have an ability to look at issues from multiple points of view."
Sachs said she is excited with the current dialogue surrounding the Downeaster and is looking forward to seeing the economic impact of the service.
Voting will take place from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 6, in the gymnasium at the Freeport High School, 30 Holbrook St.