Thursday, December 12, 2013
FREEPORT - Recent controversy over the development of playing fields in West Freeport is a dominant campaign issue in the Nov. 6 election for the District 4 seat on the Town Council.
ADDRESS: 5 Timber Ridge Road
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, botany, University of Maine; master's degree, public policy, University of Southern Maine
WORK: Principal regulatory specialist, Normandeau Associates, Falmouth; former director, land use regulation, Maine Department of Environmental Protection
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Former school board member and chairman; town councilor for 10 years.
ADDRESS: 83 Hunter Road
FAMILY: Married, two daughters
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, psychology, Union College, Schenectady, N.Y.; master's degree, social work, University of New England
WORK: Licensed clinical social worker, Sweetser's Crisis Stabilization Unit, Brunswick; former supervisor, mobile crisis team, and former school-based therapist, also for Sweetser
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None
Councilor Jim Cassida, a 10-year incumbent who works as an environmental regulatory specialist, is being challenged by Andy Wellen, a political newcomer who is a licensed clinical social worker.
Both candidates say they value Freeport's residential neighborhoods and rural character, as well as the town's strong business sector and commercial tax base.
They disagree, however, on whether the council has done a good job balancing those interests, especially under Cassida's leadership as chairman for the past two years.
Wellen said Cassida and the council were wrong to decide -- without holding a town referendum -- to spend $2.3 million in surplus cash to buy 38 acres on Hunter Road and build several playing fields. The effort was led by local business leaders and the Freeport Economic Development Corp.
Though not required by town ordinance, a referendum should have been held to gauge town support for the project, Wellen said.
Wellen also criticized Cassida and the council for deciding -- without holding a public hearing -- to give 12 adjacent acres to Seacoast United Maine so the private soccer club could build an indoor-outdoor field complex. The town would have been granted some public use of the fields.
A public hearing wasn't required because the deal didn't call for an ordinance change, but the council should have sought greater community input before voting to give away town land, Wellen said.
In February, the council finally did hold a public hearing on the Seacoast proposal to address growing dissent over the pending land deal. Many of the more than 180 residents who attended grew angry when Paul Willis, Seacoast's executive director, tried to interrupt townspeople's testimony to make some clarifying points.
Cassida urged residents to let Willis speak, but they shouted Willis away from the podium, saying that he was out of order and it was their turn to speak. The council voted to drop the Seacoast deal that night, with Cassida saying, "I'm very disappointed by this community."
"That was a great example of civic involvement and Jim Cassida told the audience he was disappointed in them," Wellen said. "I will work to make sure the council gets more public input on important community issues."
Cassida said he tried to let Willis speak because he believed the Seacoast executive wanted to capitulate to the overwhelming opposition, end the testimony and let the council reconsider the soccer club's proposal.
"That was a very frustrating experience for all of us (on the council)," Cassida said. "It was getting personal, the developer had heard enough and I wanted to give him a chance to speak."
Cassida and other councilors have made a concerted effort to improve communication with townspeople in recent years, he said, especially through the town's website, email blasts and facebook accounts. Cassida said he strives to review issues in a deliberative fashion with respect for all concerns, sometimes voting against his own interests.
"Anytime you're talking about changing a use, there's going to be a feeling of winners and losers," Cassida said. "We have to find a balance that benefits the community as a whole."
Cassida noted the success of a recent community brainstorming session, attended by more than 60 townspeople, on future development of town-owned recreation land on Hunter and Pownal roads. Information gathered at the charrette will be distilled into a development plan that will be submitted early next year to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection as part of an after-the-fact comprehensive permit application.
"We should use charrettes as a tool more often for long-range planning," Cassida said. "Once we have a plan (for the recreation lands), the council will have to decide what, if anything, we want to pursue and how do we pay for it."
Wellen said he would promote more prudent spending and greater long-range planning throughout town government, particularly when the council considers future development of the recreational land on Hunter and Pownal roads.
He would push for more detailed study, greater public input, cost estimates and consideration of other spending priorities -- including pending improvements to Freeport High School -- to make sure taxes stay reasonable.
"I would bring a fresh perspective to the council," Wellen said. "Jim Cassida has been on the council a long time."
Candidates in uncontested races are: Melanie Sachs, running unopposed for an open councilor-at-large seat; John Morang and Karin van Nostrand, running for two open seats on the RSU 5 board of directors; and Leland Arris III, Darrel Fournier and Clinton Goodenow Jr., running for three open seats on the sewer district's board of trustees.
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: