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BRUNSWICK — Two political newcomers are competing for an at-large seat on the Town Council in the Nov. 4 general election.
Kathy Wilson, who owns a Pleasant Street dog grooming business, and John Portela, a sandblaster at Bath Iron Works, are contending for a the seat now occupied by Chairman Benet Pols.
Pols announced in July he would not seek re-election. Both Wilson and Portela said Pols’ decision inspired them to run.
A life-long Brunswick resident, Wilson, 69, became involved in town affairs during the past five years as a member of the downtown Master Plan Implementation Committee and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.
She still lives in the Pleasant Street home where she grew up, and for more than two decades has sold food and snacks to hungry construction workers from her family’s lunch trucks.
“I’ve seen how this town has grown,” Wilson said, “I’ve fed the people who did it.”
A veteran breeder and presenter at national dog shows, Wilson started her dog grooming business 20 years ago.
She is also an avid biker, who said that creating safe streets for everyone should be an important priority for the town.
“We need to consider all forms of transportation clearly and make downtown work for everyone,” Wilson said.
Wilson is an advocate for animal welfare issues, president of the Lewiston-Auburn Kennel Club, and former executive director of the Coastal Humane Society.
The town should not be afraid of growth, she said, and should encourage business growth. The goal should be a stronger tax base and reduced burden on homeowners; she said it’s already difficult for her to afford her own $7,000 tax bill.
Although Brunswick has an excellent school system and education is the “single most important thing” for the community, the council should use tax revenue more effectively and balance competing requirements, she said.
Councilors should also gather input from as many viewpoints as they can before making big decisions, Wilson said.
As a town councilor, she said she would try to compromise and find a middle ground in important issues, even if that means not everyone will feel completely pleased.
“We have to learn to find a middle,” she said, “even if not everyone is going to get what they want.”
Portela, 65, has worked at Bath Iron Works for four decades, and has a record of civic engagement though nonprofits, his labor union, and state commissions.
He moved to Brunswick 20 years ago and has lived on Columbia Street since 1998.
Portela is a former chairman of the United Way of Mid Coast Maine and served on the organization’s national board of governors. He currently serves as a labor representative to the Maine Commission for Community Service.
“My work with nonprofit boards really drove home the fact that you have to work collaboratively with diverse groups of people,” Portela said.
He agreed that the town should continue growing, but said it should balance new growth with maintaining the community’s character.
In terms of decision-making, Portela said he thinks the council needs to think more strategically about issues that will affect the town five or 10 years into the future, especially in finance, development, and facilities.
“I don’t think you can just jump from one immediate issue to the next,” Portela said, adding that the absence of long-term planning has led to some poor decisions, like the town’s acquisition of the former Times Record building and cost overruns at the new town office building.
Although the council needs to provide direction to its staff, it should not be “micromanaging” day-to-day operations, he said.
Like Wilson, Portela said the council needs to listen to and gather input from a diverse group of stakeholders before making decisions, but he said it shouldn’t put off decisions because it is concerned about angering someone.
“Show me anything that has 100 percent approval,” Portela said. “We can over analyze things all we want, but at some point we have to make a decision.”