Politics

October 25, 2013

Seven running for three Old Orchard Beach council seats

Voters also will decide if they want to reduce the number of town councilors.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Seven candidates are vying for three Old Orchard Beach Town Council seats in the town’s first election since a divisive recall vote last June.

Six of seven town councilors were removed from office in June after a dispute over a former town manager divided the council and fueled a tense recall election. Since then, however, the tone of Town Council meetings has been strikingly different, and the candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot say they want to continue on that path of civil discourse and cooperation.

None of the councilors removed from office in June is seeking election, although most of the current candidates also ran for council seats in June.

Four candidates are competing for two three-year seats on the council, and three others are running for a seat that has just a one-year term.

Voters also will decide on a proposed charter amendment that would reduce the size of the Town Council from seven members back to five. The council expanded from five to seven members in 2012.

Incumbent councilors Shawn O’Neill and Kenneth Blow were elected in June to replace recalled councilors and are both running for re-election. They are joined in the race for two three-year terms by former Town Councilor John Bird and Mark Koenigs, a Planning Board member who has served on various town committees.

In the race for a one-year term, former Town Councilor Michael Tousignant faces off against Richard Greenlee and Ryan Kelly, who both ran unsuccessfully in the June election.

Koenigs and Bird are the only candidates who did not also run in the recall election.

The winners of the Nov. 5 election will help oversee development of the municipal budget that could be especially challenging if both Saco and Dayton vote to leave the school district that they share with Old Orchard Beach.

O’Neill served 14 years on the Town Council, then took more than a year off before being re-elected last June. The 49-year-old postmaster serves as council chairman, and says he is able to bring stability to the council.

O’Neill said he wants to continue his council work to bring continuity back to the long-term planning process, seek new revenue to take the burden off property taxpayers, and address infrastructure needs, including upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.

O’Neill has served on both five- and seven-member councils and believes the smaller size is more efficient and effective.

“This (council) makes it hard to make the argument to reduce to five when we see how cohesive and productive we are,” he said. “The council has moved on (from the recall) and I think the town has too.”

Blow, 51, was elected to his first term in June and said he wants to continue the positive work the council has done since then. The current council is able to find resolutions and move forward together, he said.

If re-elected, Blow said he wants to look at future funding of the town-owned Ballpark, which has been revived and run in the past few years by volunteers.

“My concern is the Ballpark needs major repairs. The income from events and the Raging Tide (baseball team) is nowhere near enough to fund those repairs,” he said. “We’ve got to have some kind of major income in there or it’s going to come from the tax base.”

Blow originally opposed increasing the number of town councilors, but believes there is value in having more viewpoints involved with decisions.

“I believe the charter was voted on and should not be changed so quickly back to five,” he said.

John Bird, a former town councilor who has served on charter and conservation commissions, said he wants to use his ability to work and solve problems with others to address infrastructure needs and closely analyze proposed budgets.

Bird also wants to focus on the town’s natural areas and address pollution issues at Goosefare Brook.

Bird, who was on the charter commission that proposed the new size of the council, believes it is too soon to revisit the issue.

“It’s basically an emotional reaction. We had a fight because of personalities and a struggle for control. It had nothing to do with the number of councilors,” Bird said. “We had these disagreements when it was five councilors If we get good people who can work together, the size doesn’t matter.”

Koenigs, 49, believes his experience as a professional civil engineer will benefit the town with the budget process and as it develops and adopts a comprehensive plan starting in 2014.

“We need to plan for the long term and not be shortsighted in our capital improvement projects from prioritizing, financing, implementation and maintenance,” he said.

Koenigs said he is focused on the open spaces in town and on the Old Orchard Beach to Eastern Trail connector trail.

“I think it’s important for us as a community to improve our infrastructure and provide for all citizens safe recreational facilities and open spaces, including walking and hiking trails, bike lanes on select roadways, and sidewalks,” he said.

Koenigs does not favor changing the number of town councilors every year and said he is fine with either five or seven members.

“I would simply like our community to move beyond quibbling over politics of governance and instead focus our time and energies on the fiscal future and wellness of our town,” he said.

Town Councilor Roxanne Frenette is not running for re-election for the one-year term, ensuring there will be at least one new town councilor.

Greenlee, 54, is making his second run for office because he wants to “actually represent the people.”

“I think people are looking for that right now,” he said. “As an American Indian, I’ve always had councils and circles where everyone is even. I believe you treat everyone equally and you speak together, but you always have to remember who you represent.”

A conservationist, Greenlee said he wants to take care of the town’s woodlands by carefully approaching future development. He wants to encourage more community involvement, especially among youths.

Greenlee did not take a position on the council size issue, saying he will support the voice of the citizens who vote Nov. 5.

“To get along in this town, it doesn’t matter whether it’s five or seven, it matters what people are on the council working together,” he said.

Kelly, a 49-year-old military veteran, said he can bring strong leadership to the council as it continues the “great job” it has done since June. One of his main concerns is the possibility of Saco and Dayton leaving the regional school unit they share with Old Orchard Beach.

“That could be a pretty big strain on the town,” he said. “We need to do what we can to mitigate any financial burden we’d have to pick up.”

If elected, Kelly said he would like to look at creating a mandatory recycling program and finding ways to increase revenue and add jobs.

“I thing we should constantly look at ways to better the town,” he said. “In the long run, we need to look at a more permanent way to get revenue year-round, other than from residents alone. That could mean more industrial or manufacturing businesses. If we can offer year-round employment to residents, the town will grow.”

Kelly said he initially opposed increasing the size of the council, but now supports keeping it at seven “to see how it works out.”

Tousignant, who served as vice chairman of the Town Council from 2008-12, did not respond to interview requests.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@pressherald.com.

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