Four candidates are running for two open seats on the Gorham Town Council.

Voters will decide Nov. 7 between Mark Faulkner, Suzanne Phillips, Lee Pratt and Ronald Shepard. Only Shepard is an incumbent, although Phillips previously served one term on the council.

Michael Phinney, the council’s current chairman, decided not to seek re-election. The term for each seat is three years.

Top of mind for the council is a possible expansion at Gorham High School. The current council approved $150,000 to begin planning the multimillion-dollar project. The next council will decide whether to send the proposal to referendum as soon as fall 2018.

Faulkner, the former owner of M.C. Faulkner & Sons Inc., a metal fabricator company based in Buxton, is making his first bid for public office. He said his experience running his own business for more than three decades has given him ideas on how to improve municipal operations.

“I want to look at it from a businessman’s standpoint,” he said.

Faulkner said he would support projects like the high school expansion if there is a demonstrated need. In order to pay for the project, he said, he wants to help Gorham be more friendly to business. For example, when his company was looking to expand years ago, Faulkner said he found Gorham’s regulations to be restrictive and rigid. By comparison, Buxton was more willing to work with him to find a way to host his business.

“They fell all over themselves to get us to come to Buxton,” he said. “Gorham really didn’t care if we were there or not. … We need to bring more business into Gorham to support that tax base.”

Phillips is at the end of a term on the Gorham School Committee; she previously served one term on the council. She described herself as a fiscal conservative, saying she has voted against school budgets in the past when she doesn’t think a spending plan is based on need.

Phillips said she encouraged a number of Gorham parents to run for open School Committee seats, so she decided to switch her own focus back to the Town Council. She said her experience in both bodies could help her make decisions.

“When the Town Council and the School Committee have not really planned together in the past, I think that’s a problem,” Phillips said.

In her current position, Phillips serves on the committee that is planning the high school expansion. She said she will only put the plan forward to referendum if she could vote yes on it herself.

“That high school building is really, really important, and (the plan) really needs to be vetted,” she said. “It’s not a state project. It’s solely on the taxpayers.”

Pratt has been on the Gorham Planning Board for two years. If elected to the council, he would have to resign that post.

“I’ve lived in the town my whole life, and I’ve seen the changes that have happened with it,” Pratt said. “I decided it was time to have a little more say, a little more interest in the community.”

Pratt said Gorham is growing too quickly, and he would like to see changes that would manage that. For example, he wants to explore increasing acreage required for house lots and attracting more businesses to town. He said he hopes the town can add on to the existing high school rather than build new.

“I consider myself moderate on the financial level,” he said. “I understand, with two kids in the school system, our schools need to continue to improve. … On the flip side of that, with minor changes, I think we can stabilize our budgets.”

Shepard spent his career in the Gorham Police Department and retired as chief in 2014. He was then elected to the Town Council and now serves as vice chairman. He said he is running for re-election to continue working on issues such as the high school expansion, property tax relief for senior citizens and a connector road between Gorham and the turnpike.

“I do support (the high school expansion),” Shepard said. “We just have to make sure that what is put into the building is necessary, not cosmetic things that don’t have much to do with education. I just want to make sure that what we do for renovation is going to handle the needs of the students.”

He said the town needs to be “pro-business and open-minded” in order to build the tax base and accommodate the growing town’s needs.

“If you don’t grow, you’re going to start going backwards,” he said. “As long as the growth is manageable and it’s not just residential growth.”

The 2017 council election comes three years after Gorham voters passed a referendum that would force sitting town councilors to step down if they are convicted of certain crimes, including drunken driving, while in office.

That question first came up in 2012 when then-councilor Phillips was convicted of operating under the influence. Then in 2014, Councilor Benjamin Hartwell pleaded guilty to OUI. While voters overwhelmingly supported the specific standards of conduct, the outcome did not apply to either of the sitting councilors. Phillips ran for and won a seat on the School Committee that year. Hartwell ran unopposed for re-election to the Town Council in 2016.

Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak said he believes that rule in the charter only applies to new convictions while a person is in office. It does not preclude someone with a prior conviction from seeking election or holding a seat on the Town Council, he said.

Polling places in Gorham open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Depending on street address, residents of Ward 1 vote at either Gorham Middle School at 106 Weeks Road or Little Falls Activity Center at 40 Acorn St. Ward 2 residents vote at the Gorham Municipal Center at 75 South St.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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