Candidates bring varied experience to South Portland City Council election
SOUTH PORTLAND — Candidates in the March 12 special election for a District 1 city councilor span the spectrum of political experience.
Polls will be open at the Community Center from 7 a.m.-8 p.m., and voters throughout the city can choose from School Board Chairman Richard Carter, Planning Board member Robert Schreiber, Energy and Recycling Committee member Robert Foster III and political neophyte Michael Pock.
The candidates seek to fill the seat vacated by former Councilor Tom Coward, who resigned Dec. 31 after he was elected to the Cumberland County Commission. Coward's replacement will serve through November 2014 in the district that includes Willard Square and Ferry Village.
Carter, 50, is a retail manager who lives at 36 Thompson St. He is in his ninth year on the School Board, and has served four years as chairman and three years as vice chairman. He and his wife, Karen, have two grown sons.
Schreiber, 47, who lives at 209 Stanford St., is an insurance and annuity specialist for AAA. He is married to Susan Stewart. Schreiber has served terms on the Planning Board since 2004 and is a former board chairman. He also served on the city Comprehensive Plan Committee.
Foster, 64, was appointed to the Energy and Recycling Committee last July. He lives at 206 Front St. with his wife, Judy; they have four grown children. After retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps, Foster has worked a variety of jobs, including restaurant and retail management and insurance sales.
Pock, 66, a U.S. Navy veteran, described himself as a "carpenter and handyman." He and his wife, Faith, have two grown daughters, and he is in his first campaign for public office.
Council elections are nonpartisan, but Pock is also treasurer of the city Republican Committee.
Carter said he had already decided this would be his last term on the School Board, but still has a desire to serve the city.
"With Tom moving on, the time was perfect," he said.
Carter said the most pressing demand for councilors is preparing budgets, although the Legislature will ultimately play a role in how much money there is to spend.
“The immediate thing is the budget, it is the elephant in the room," he said. He wouldn't speculate about potential effects of the state biennial budget, but vowed to seek a balance between maintaining services and an affordable tax rate.
Carter said he supports building a new facility for the Public Works, Transportation and Parks and Recreation departments.
"We need to educate the public about the need for the project and how the financing will take place," he said.
To encourage economic growth, Carter said he would first try to find out if the needs of existing businesses are met.
He said progress has been made in the working relationship between the council and School Board, and traced the process to joint advocacy for the $41.3 high school renovation bond passed in 2010.
Robert Foster III
Foster, who has lived in the city for about 20 years, said he is committed to reducing the city's carbon footprint and keeping taxes affordable. He also said he also wants more active City Council.
"I think the biggest thing is the amount of time it takes for an issue to actually come to a vote. I understand you really have to check all the facts, but in the past, it has taken an inordinate amount of time and energy to get to the bottom line,” he said.
Foster supports a new Public Works facility.
“I think the need is definitely there. I have worked in situations similar to what these guys are facing,” he said.
In funding education, Foster said he wants to ensure student needs are met first, even if it means reductions in administrative staff.
"It's always the teachers that suffer, and that leads to the students suffering," Foster said.
Foster agreed with Carter that economic develop requires attention to existing businesses, and added the city needs more jobs that pay sufficient.
"You make existing businesses happier, you attract new businesses," he said.
Foster vowed a direct approach if he wins. "My wife says I'm short and sweet," he said.
Pock, a 40-year city resident, summarized his candidacy as one of “new faces, new ideas and old standards.”
The "old standard" refers to fiscal responsibility, he said, which he hopes to emphasize.
Agreeing the current budget climate is challenging, Pock said the city and School Department should first look at using available reserves to maintain operations and shifting the perspective to zero-based budgeting.
“They say they are saving for a rainy day," he said. "I say it's raining."
Pock said he is hesitant about constructing a new public works facility, and wonders if plans are too large for the number of employees, if solutions at the current O'Neil Street site have been fully explored, and what environmental liability and expense may arise in cleaning up the current site.
He said he would like more development in the Bug Light area, and perhaps more restaurants in Willard Square, but places the most emphasis on ensuring seniors can afford to live in the city.
"Let's shift from thinking about tax increases to cutting spending," he said.
Pock said working a variety of jobs for people in the city has made him aware of the everyday problems they face. He also has the time and inclination to serve, he said.
“It is time I got off the couch and paid attention, because it is going to affect me personally," Pock said.
Schreiber, 47, has made Broadway the center of his campaign, because the street runs through the center of District 1.
While Southern Maine Community College has prospered, he said, he still sees the effects of increased traffic and would like a traffic light at Broadway and Sawyer Street.
He said he would also like a better connector road linking eastern and western city sections, coupled with better public transportation to improve economic development. At the same time, he said it is important to promote the local infrastructure and stable tax rate to businesses considering moving to the city.
Schreiber said he will look to the Legislature first as he considers local budgets, but expects a better return on the sales taxes generated by city businesses.
“I still have hopes that Augusta is going to come up with a better budget. There has to be some kind of reciprocity," he said.
Schreiber said residents will see the justification for building a new Public Work facility if there is a solid campaign to educate them.
"People are fine when they understand the progression,” he said.
As a councilor, Schreiber said he will work with the School Board and other municipal committees and boards.
"I do think the School Board or any interest has to be cognizant when asking for more revenue or a bond issue," he said. "They have to take time to educate the public."