SOUTH PORTLAND — For the second year in a row, less than a month before the November election, Richard Matthews is trolling for a candidate who’s willing to run a write-in campaign for a vacant seat on the Board of Education.

He hasn’t hooked anyone yet, but he’s not giving up.

The school board chairman is frustrated and mystified by the dearth of candidates in several local races on Nov. 7, especially because no one is running for the District 2 school board seat. Lack of interest in local government is a statewide issue that the Maine Municipal Association plans to address next year with a publicity campaign.

“We’re reaching out, but nobody’s stepping up,” Matthews said Tuesday. “There are tons of families in District 2, but we can’t get people to run. It’s crazy.”

District 2 includes Knightville, parts of the Ferry Village and Meeting House Hill neighborhoods, and areas on either side of Ocean Street near the Cape Elizabeth line. Matthews said to his knowledge no one has mounted a write-in campaign for the position.

Otis Thompson resigned from the District 2 seat at the end of August, less than one year into a three-year term he won when he ran unopposed last fall. Thompson’s resignation letter didn’t say why he left the board, but Matthews said Thompson had numerous scheduling conflicts.

“People join boards and realize it’s a little more work than one meeting a month,” Matthews said. “It can be a lot to juggle, with work, kids and other commitments.”

DIFFERENT YEAR, SAME ISSUE

Matthews was in the same position last year, struggling to find a write-in candidate for the District 1 seat. Jennifer Kirk stepped forward to run and won the seat.

Matthews also has been frustrated by the amount of turnover on the seven-member board – four resignations in recent years that had to be filled by early elections or City Council appointments. Last fall, the council appointed Elyse Tipton from three candidates to fill the District 5 seat after Tappan Fitzgerald II resigned.

Matthews jokingly suggested that he should change his deodorant, or the city should increase the $1,000 yearly stipend given to school board members.

“But it’s not even about the pay,” Matthews said. “It’s about finding people who want to contribute to our community and keep our local government functioning.”

Matthews noted that the school board has one of the more significant responsibilities in city government – overseeing a $49.2 million school budget that represents about 60 percent of local spending.

Lack of interest is apparent in other South Portland races.

On the school board, incumbent Matthew Perkins is running unopposed for the District 4 seat and Tipton is running unopposed for the District 5 seat. Three candidates are vying for two at-large school board seats.

On the City Council, incumbent Claude Morgan is running unopposed for the District 1 seat, and Adrian Dowling is running unopposed for the District 5 seat. Two candidates are competing for the District 2 council seat.

MMA CAMPAIGN FOCUS

While lack of interest has been noticeable in South Portland in recent years, it’s a statewide concern that affects local elections to varying degrees.

City Councilor Linda Cohen noted the challenge last week during her inaugural remarks as incoming president of the Maine Municipal Association.

“We’re all experiencing diminishing numbers of qualified applicants for our open positions,” Cohen said, noting a lack of applicants for municipal jobs and appointed boards as well as candidates for local elections.

Cohen said the association plans to launch a publicity campaign in 2018 to generate interest in municipal government service. She also admitted that getting involved in local government isn’t for everyone.

“Some people don’t have what it takes to do the job, to be constantly under a microscope, to be criticized in public, sometimes on the front page of the newspaper,” Cohen said. “Some people don’t understand that our jobs are extremely visible, and we are constantly being judged on what we do, what we say, and even what we wear.”

Matthews acknowledged that some people might be tired of the political controversy that dominates the news these days, but he noted that plenty of people find time to gripe about it on social media. He’s hoping just one person decides to take action. Anyone interested should email him at [email protected]

If no one is elected to the District 2 seat, the council will have to seek candidates and appoint someone.

“It should never come to that,” Matthews said. “We need somebody. I’m not going to stop looking. Somebody should step forward and help take care of our children.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

[email protected]