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Incumbent Harpswell selectman faces 2 challengers

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Incumbent Harpswell selectman faces 2 challengers

HARPSWELL — Two candidates are challenging incumbent Selectman Alison Hawkes in the March 15 election.

One of Hawkes' challengers is a familiar face in the local political arena, while the other is a plaintiff in a high-profile Cedar Beach lawsuit.

Hawkes, 38, of Cundy's Harbor, is finishing her first term as a selectman. She owns a second-hand shop called Revolving Drawer, which is scheduled to reopen on Main Street in Topsham. She is married and has four children, one step-child and two grandchildren.

She has previously served on the Budget Advisory Committee, and co-chaired the Parent Teacher Organization. She also coaches two basketball teams in the area.

Hawkes said she is seeking re-election because she loves town politics, is a natural leader, and wants to complete projects she is working on.

"Three years isn't a really long time when you're on the job," she said.

Those projects include the Cedar Beach issue, the town's $30,000 proposal for a contractor to better manage the town's marine resources, and the pending purchase of waterfront property to preserve access.

Hawkes said she would also like to make the town more accessible by highlighting the different functions of the town's various departments.

Opponent C. Matthew Rich, 62, is a retired private practice lawyer who moved to Harpswell in 2002 after visiting the town since 1968 on many occasions. He is married and has three grown children. He recently spent three months in a monastic residency program at Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass.

Rich has unsuccessfully run for Board of Selectmen three times, and most recently lost to Selectman Rick Daniel. He has previously served on the town's Budget Advisory Committee and Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee.

Rich said he is running again because he wants to address what he views as inefficiencies in town management.

"What's happened is you've expanded the staff's responsibilities over the last 10 years and doing that you let go of certain functions," he said, "and we're letting go of basic functions, such as control on the permitting process and our understanding of it, by selectmen and by the staff."

To address this, Rich said he would want to group the selectmen with staff members, so that some responsibilities can be shared.

Rich said he would also like to see a discussion of an expanded Board of Selectmen and adding some regional representation.  In addition, he said, he would like to discuss the idea of regional zoning and ordinances.

"Should the zoning ordinance for Cundy's Harbor be the same for Potts Point? I don't think so," he said. "Should the wharf rules for Potts Point be the same as they are for Cundy's Harbor? I don't know."

The third candidate, Kevin Johnson, 58, is a self-employed home builder who grew up on Bailey Island and now lives on Great Island. He is married, has two grown children and two grandchildren, who also live in Harpswell. He served in the U.S. Army for three years in the early 1970s.

He also previously served as a fire chief for the Orr's and Bailey Islands Fire Department. He has never run for public office before.

Johnson and his mother, Pam Johnson, are plaintiffs alongside Cedar Beach/Cedar Island Supporters in a lawsuit against Jonathan and Rachel Aspatore that seeks a court order declaring an easement on property the couple owns that connects to Cedar Beach, which was closed to the public in fall 2011.

The lawsuit was filed in Cumberland County Superior Court last August, but CB/CIS and the Aspatores have reached a tentative, out-of-court settlement to grant the town an easement on the Aspatores' land in exchange for accepting terms and conditions for use of the beach.

The agreement could help secure access to the beach if the Board of Selectmen agree to place an easement on the town warrant for the March 15 Town Meeting, and if a separate lawsuit seeking a prescriptive easement on a private road leading to the beach is successful.

Johnson said the Cedar Beach access issue is not the only reason he's running for selectman, and that if elected he will withdraw from the lawsuit.

He said the primary reason he is running is because he wants selectmen to be more proactive when it comes to research and being better prepared for meetings.

"It doesn't always seem like selectmen are up on what's going on," Johnson said, "or maybe they haven't done some of the research before."

He also said he could help serve the public well because of his experience as a home builder and contractor.

In response to Johnson's comment about not being proactive enough, Hawkes said selectmen typically receive meeting agendas only two days in advance, and that items are often tacked onto the agenda at the last minute.

She added that she has been talking with board Chairwoman Elinor Multer about publishing the agenda earlier.

The three candidates, while all generally supportive of the Cedar Beach issue, differ on how the town should handle it.

Johnson said selectmen should be more proactive, instead of letting CB/CIS lead the way.

But Hawkes said CB/CIS leadership on the issue is emblematic of the town's volunteerism, which is part of what makes Harpswell unique and can, in some cases, help keep taxes down.

"You can't enter a town into a legal battle that you don't know for sure the outcome," she said, referring to CB/CIS' two lawsuits over Cedar Beach.

Rich said the town should have held off discussions with CB/CIS until the group knew it has everything in place to reopen access to Cedar Beach. That way, he said, the town won't waste a lot of time on an issue that may not end well.

Hawkes said she agrees with Rich's take, "but when youre' trying to work through with something that people have an emotional attachment to you don't just shun them away. I think selectmen are trying to do what we can in the role that we can. I think it would be foolish to say 'do your thing and then come back to us.'"

The three candidates said they support continuing around-the-clock paramedic services that began earlier this year.

"It’s a thing we're going to have to deal with," Johnson said. "The town is getting older."

Hawkes and Johnson said the town has done a good job in keeping taxes low, especially in comparison to other communities in the area.

"Our taxes are low because we have professionals willing to do their job or to help in a volunteer form," Hawkes said. "We have a lot of controls in place. We have a great staff who keeps a tight watch over everything that's happening."

However, Rich said the town could do a better job scrutinizing the annual budget.

"The selectmen have been unwilling to frame the issues so the voters can act on it," he said.

The election will be held by secret ballot from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Town Meeting at Harpswell Community School, 308 Harpswell Islands Road.

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