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North Yarmouth selectmen candidates agree on major issues

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North Yarmouth selectmen candidates agree on major issues

NORTH YARMOUTH — Incumbent Steven Palmer must defeat one of two challengers – Woodfin Brewer, or former Selectman Clark Whittier – to win a second term on the Board of Selectmen.

With Selectman Robert Wood not running again, two board seats are up for grabs on June 11.

The candidates all agree on three key issues facing the town: that a revised Charter Commission and the first phase of an economic revitalization plan should be approved, and that North Yarmouth Memorial School should be closed.

Brewer, 36, lives on Sweetser Road. He owns and operates Good Wood Tables, where he builds what he called classic, "sustainably harvested reclaimed wood tables."

Having lived in town since 2010, and known to many as "Woody," Brewer's prior experience includes running a company that manufactures collegiate rowing shells, coaching rowing, working in higher education development, and building houses.

This is Brewer's first campaign for an elected office. He said he is running because "you can sit at home and ... complain about what's going on ... or you can get out there and you can be active and try to do something."

He said the board should be doing much more planning, and less management of the town's day-to-day operations.

"My background is mostly in long-range and strategic planning," Brewer said. "So I think that I would bring a lot of value, and I bring a lot of common sense."

Palmer, 65, lives on Mountfort Road and owns Plainview Farms, a garden center that offers landscape services and home-grown produce. He moved to town in 1987 and previously was a school principal in Cape Elizabeth.

Palmer has served one term on the Board of Selectmen, including the last year as chairman. He said he wants to make sure he has more time to see the board's work further along.

His service has also included a joint standing committee with Cumberland, as well as the Zoning Board of Appeals. He is also on the Personnel Committee, and the personnel and fire department subcommittees of the Board of Selectmen.

"I have a good work ethic," Palmer said. "And I will follow through on things that I have made a commitment to, and I think I'm a fairly complete thinker; I look at both sides of the issues, and try not to be hasty in my decisions."

Whittier, 68, is a Walnut Hill Road resident and has lived in town since 1973. He and his wife, Kathy, were named distinguished citizens of the year in 2012. Prior to retirement he was a food broker and restaurant manager, and he served in the U.S. Air Force.

His service to North Yarmouth includes three prior terms on the Board of Selectmen in the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as terms on the Budget Committee, the Planning Board, the personnel and fire department subcommittees of the Board of Selectmen, the Charter Commission and the Foreclosure Committee. He has also served on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Events Committee.

Whittier said he has served on either the Board of Selectmen or Budget Committee ever since 1984.

"I think I have the experience (to be a selectman)," he said. "I can hit the floor running."

Town Charter

Brewer said he supports a proposed revised Town Charter that also goes to voters on June 11, particularly replacement of the administrative assistant by a town manager, and moving Town Meeting from June to April.

The manager would function as the liaison between the board and the town's department heads, Brewer said, explaining that the department heads were hired "because we feel that they'tre good at their jobs. So let's let them do their jobs, and the Board of Selectmen can step away from the day-to-day nitty gritty ... and they can do what they were elected for, that long-range strategic planning."

Whittier, who has been involved in revising the charter, said he has always been a proponent of Town Meeting and has pushed for the move to April. He also pointed out that Marnie Diffin, the administrative assistant, "is pretty much town manager, (but) just doesn't have the title."

The difference, he said, is that the manager would supervise all the town employees, and conduct hiring and firing, "which is in the selectmen's bailiwick now."

Palmer said he suspected he would vote "yes" on the revisions. He said the charter has several attributes that would benefit the town, and that he endorses the concept of moving toward a town manager role. Like Whittier, he noted that Diffin has already functioned much like a manager.

While he expressed reluctance to "move away from a form of government that's worked pretty well for the town up to this point in time," Palmer said he thinks it is "time to move on."

"I do think that a town manager position can sort of help stabilize some of the motion of the town, wherever that direction might be," he said.

Memorial School

The proposed closing of North Yarmouth Memorial School, and movement of its fourth- and fifth-grade students to an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland, is a cost-saving measure approved by the School Administrative District Board of Directors that goes to Cumberland and North Yarmouth voters on June 11.

As of late last year, net annual savings from the closure – taking into account the expense of expanding the middle school – were expected to be $377,000. Closing the 37-year-old school also avoids renovating or replacing it, administrators have said.

Palmer said he has "no problem" with the recommendation. "It's not a community school," he explained. "If it were a community school, then people would be up in arms. ... It's a regional school."

He also acknowledged the cost savings, pointing out that "we don't have buckets of money to be throwing at walls, a foundation and a roof."

Whittier said he, too, supports closing the school. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, that was "a real town school," he explained, and adding that its 1976 replacement after a fire "was never really taken care of by the (school) district; we were always the poor child."

He said it would not be worth spending $250,000 in operating costs if residents vote to keep the school open. "I think there are too many structural problems and things that haven't been taken care of over the years," Whittier said.

He said he would rather see the town develop the structure, after it closes.

Brewer said he favors the closing, based on information he has heard about the savings.

"I can see that we can cut down on some redundancies of some of the resources, if we can still preserve the great things that they're doing up here at the school," he said.

Town center

North Yarmouth residents will vote at the June 15 Town Meeting on a $152,000 proposal to turn a triangular area in the center of town into what is supposed to be a more visible, active and inviting town center. The project would be funded through a multi-year bond and require $3,000 in legal fees.

Palmer said he is "very much in favor" of the work, which would include clearing and thinning forested areas to enhance the attractiveness and visibility of Town Hall from Route 9 and Route 115, and a path from Wescustogo Hall to Town Hall, including an approximately 70-foot bridge spanning a Toddy Brook ravine.

"You've got a beautiful ravine there, and it speaks to the essence of North Yarmouth, with all these wooded areas and walking paths," Palmer said.

Whittier also favors the project. He said it is worth spending the money after years of frugal municipal spending.

He pointed out that bringing together various elements of the town center will open access to four parking lots, which will be beneficial for events like gatherings at Wescustogo Hall and sports played on a field near Town Hall.

Brewer said he supports the proposal, too. "That is really where the Board of Selectmen can excel with the long-range planning for the town," he said. "... Developing that kind of common area up there is something that ... would bring a lot to the town."

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.