Two political newcomers face off in Freeport's District 2 election
FREEPORT — The District 2 Town Council special election has drawn two political newcomers who hope to restore the council to full strength after months of changes.
Sarah Bradley Tracy, an energy lawyer for the Maine Public Utilities Commission, and Joyce Clarkson-Veilleux, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, will face off in the March 20 election to replace the seat vacated by former Councilor Kate Arno, who resigned after taking a job in Washington, D.C., in January.
Both candidates have long family histories in Freeport and said their respective professional training will benefit the council.
A main concern for both candidates is the looming state budget cuts.
Tracey said her work as an attorney would be a benefit to the council and help them with difficult issues in the coming months, including Gov. Paul LePage's proposal to eliminate revenue-sharing and significant expense increases for schools.
"There's a lot of tough decisions the Town Council will have to make about municipal budget," she said.
"That takes someone who can make reasonable decisions based on good information of what the costs are and what the benefits are. And, by balancing the need to keep costs low with the need to make smart investments."
Clarkson-Veilleux said her experience visiting other countries and seeing how their systems worked created an appreciation for the U.S. political system, prompting her to run for the council seat.
In this election, she said, the proposed state cuts are in the front of people's minds.
"Everybody realizes the town is going to have a decrease in revenue flow from both state and federal revenue programs and they don't want to see an increase in property taxes," Clarkson-Veilleux said. "People are already seeing a decrease in their paychecks and they don't want local government increases. We're going to have to make some tough decisions."
District 2 is the largest council district in town, covering the eastern and most of the northern border.
Tracy said an important issue to voters in the district is the proposed amendments to the agriculture zoning ordinance. The changes would allow for more flexible use of designated farmland, and so appeals to farmers. But neighbors also worry that land use might become too commercial.
"It's important to make sure people in the district can make good use of their land and make a living, farmers and everyone else, and that the neighbors can use their land," she said.
"To do that, you need to balance everybody's needs and use good information to make those decisions, and that's what I do every day as a lawyer."
Clarkson-Veilleux said improving resident communication with the town is one of the key issues she hopes to work on if elected to the council.
"Many people don't feel that in recent history the Town Council and staff have been fully open, but with the present manager and council, great improvements have been made," she said.
But she added that there's still room for improvement – for example, by making the agendas and committee minutes more easily accessible.
"In this day and age, with everybody on their computer and iPads, we're missing a golden opportunity there," she said.
The council has undergone significant changes in recent months, with the District 2 seat accounting for the fourth shake-up in the council since last October.
Shortly before the election, former Vice Chairwoman Sara Gideon, now state representative in House District 106, resigned from the council after moving out of District 1.
Then in the November election, former council Chairman Jim Cassida lost his bid for re-election to first-time Councilor Andrew Wellen, and former Councilor Charlotte Bishop decided not to seek re-election and was replaced by Councilor Melanie Sachs.
The new addition to the council will bring the number of its members to seven again.
Tracy, who volunteers for Freeport Community Services, coaches elementary-school sports and was a former board member of Wolfe's Neck Farm, said her commitment to the town and professional experience would benefit council dialogue.
"I frequently work on complex issues, deal with the balance between making investments and increases to rate-payers," she said of her work as a utilities lawyer. "It parallels the Town Council deliberation. It's important that Freeport keeps making smart investments moving forward."
Clarkson-Veilleux retired from the Army in 2003 and has since become a member and adjutant of the American Legion Post in Freeport, coordinating the post's community projects. She has also worked on the Mid-Coast Veteran's Council, which serves as central resource for veteran information.
Retirement allows her the time to commit to the council in ways that others might not be able to, she said.
"You can go up there and use it as a stepping stone as some have done, but I don't want to use it as stepping stone," she said. "I plan to stay right there on Town Council."
Polls for the special election are open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday, March 20, at Town Hall, 30 Main St.