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New faces in Brunswick Town Council's only contested race

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New faces in Brunswick Town Council's only contested race

BRUNSWICK — Two political newcomers are vying for the District 6 seat in the only contested Town Council election on Nov. 5.

Alison Harris and Jane Millettt are the candidates in the downtown district.

In the two other council elections, incumbent Councilor David Watson is unopposed in District 1, and Planning Board member and former state biologist Steve Walker is the only candidate on the ballot in District 2.

District 2 Councilor Ben Tucker and Councilor Margo Knight, of District 6, are not seeking re-election.

Alison Harris

Harris, 66, is retired and moved to Brunswick with her husband, Bernard Breitbart, in April 2009 after moving to Topsham from New Jersey.

She said she decided to run for the council because she feels it's important to be engaged with local political life.

"It has such a profound effect on the quality of life," Harris said, "... It's important to know who your town officials are and how the departments work and ensure you get the most bang for your tax buck."

She said her combined experience in nonprofit theater, work as New Jersey's assistant state treasurer, and in business development for a New Jersey-based architect would serve her well.

Harris said she is familiar with town matters through her volunteer work with the Brunswick Visitor Center, town elections, and People Plus, which she served as a board member for a few years.

She also serves on the Androscoggin Brunswick-Topsham Riverwalk Advisory Committee and Nathaniel Davis Fund Committee.

If elected, Harris said she would like to help increase the town's tax base by welcoming economic development that retains the character of its community.

"I would envision as I serve on Town Council as trying to figure out how the interests of District 6 play into the larger concerns of Brunswick," she said.

In particular, Harris said she's excited about the economic development opportunities at Brunswick Landing.

She also said the plans for Wiscasset-based Coastal Enterprises to move to the current Town Hall/Recreation Center property is a step in the right direction. 

Harris said she understands the burden taxpayers have faced with consecutive property tax increases, and would want to try to mitigate the impact of another hike by using tax dollars effectively.

At the same time, however, she said it's important to make certain investments.

"I do fundamentally think it's very important – and this has to do with careful investment of our tax dollars – that we guard our infrastructure," Harris said, "and that we don't allow buildings to fall into such decay that we have to raze them and that roads are safe. The police and fire departments need to have the resources to be effective. Basic infrastructure is critical."

Jane Millett

Millett, 66, is a real estate agent with Remax Riverside in Topsham and has lived in Brunswick since 1975, with two daughters who went through local schools.

She said she decided to run for Town Council because "if you want to ave a voice in town government you have to step up to the plate."

"I looked at the field and somebody said to me, 'if no one steps up to the plate, nothing will ever change,'" Millett said. "And so I thought it was important to put my name out there and see what comes back."

Millett has been critical of the way the town has expanded its facilities, primarily with plans to move the Town Hall into two stories of the McLellan Building on Union Street and and plans to move the Recreation Center to Brunswick Landing.

Since those plans are nearly done, she said would like to seek ways to mitigate the increased operating costs associated with the increased size of town facilities.

"What do you do when things have gotten a little out of hand with the credit card?" Millett said. "You cut back so that you can pay your bills and do what you need to do. It's important for us to look at everything. Everything needs to be on the table."

She said she would like the council to develop a clearer long-term plan for its facilities and other projects.

Millett is secretary of the Democratic Town Committee and said she considers herself a member of Brunswick Community United, a school advocacy group whose visibility has diminished since its involvement with local elections last year.

Millett has also served on the town's Personnel Board and was involved with the Housing Committee for Brunswick's Comprehensive Plan in the 1980s.

The real estate agent said the quality of school facilities is the town's most pressing issue and should be a focus going forward. Millett said she would continue to attend School Board meetings as a town councilor.

"The Town Council is deciding on those issues and they need to be more aware," she said.

Millett also said she would like to make the Town Council more transparent about its business, which she thinks the council has lacked in the past.

"My intention would be to focus on facts and figures," she said. "We need all of (them) out in the open.  That would go a long way to solve any transparency issues. Discussion needs to be more open and we need to be more receptive to citizens who come to speak with their concerns."

Steve Walker

Walker, 45, is the land protection project manager for the Midcoast Region at the Maine Coast Heritage Trust in Topsham.

He previously worked as the town's natural resources planner from 2001-2006, and then as a wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Walker said his love of problem solving, helping out and community engagement is why he decided to run for Town Council.

Given his natural resources planning background, he said people shouldn't be concerned that his presence would create a "red-tape" environment. 

"I think the best hope we have, both economically and sustainability-wise, is to embrace the fact that we have great outdoor natural resources left in this state," Walker said, "and that makes us an attractive state."

"I don't see it as something opposed to economic development," he continued, "I see it as something that can spur economic development."

Among other things, Walker said he would like to see the council focus more on marine resource issues, especially as the softshell clam population dwindles.

Walker is married to former Councilor Jacqueline Sartoris, who represented District 2 from 2001-2008, and recently announced her candidacy for the state House seat now held by Rep. Charles Priest, D-Brunswick. Because of term limits, Priest will be unable to seek re-election in District 63, which will become District 50 after redistricting next year.

David Watson

David Watson, 65, who is married and the father of School Board candidate Byron Watson, has held the District 1 seat since 2002, making him the council's longest serving member.

A U.S. Air Force veteran and former Brunswick police officer, he works for L.L. Bean and coaches track and field at Brunswick High School.

Watson said he is running again, in part, because he would like to continue addressing the town's facilities needs, which include an upcoming look at the aging Central Fire Station. 

He said he also wants to improve the TV3 local access channel by adding more educational programming and increasing participation from the town's various departments.

In addition, Watson said he wants the town to begin considering ways to encourage public-private partnerships to create large-scale events for the town.

"To ingrain the philosophy would be monumental," he said. "We've been talking for years as Brunswick being a destination point. I think it's time we sit down and do the real work and real programming and do the real philosophies where Brunswick becomes the real destination."

Polls will be open at Brunswick Junior High School, 65 Columbia Ave., on Nov. 5 from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. 

Absentee ballots are available at Town Hall, 28 Federal St., or by request via the town's website at brunswickme.org or phone at 725-6658 until Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. Absentee ballots must be returned to Town Hall no later than 8 p.m. on Nov. 5.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.