New Gloucester has experienced its fair share of turnover and controversy this year, and the June 8 elections were no exception with the town voting in three new members to the Board of Selectmen.

Hathorne Ellie Fellers photo

First time Board of Selectmen member Dustin Ward defeated incumbent Vice Chairperson Linda Chase 308-249, and Paul Larrivee Jr. and Stephen Hathorne took the two remaining vacant seats, ousting incumbent Chairperson Karen Gilles in the process.

“We have been governed by the same people for a long time. (The constituents) basically decided to clean house. They sent a big message, they’re looking for change,” said Hathorne, who previously served as a selectman from 2015 to 2018, when he lost reelection to Gilles.

In the past year, New Gloucester’s town government has also experienced the resignations of key officials, including the town manager, fire/rescue chief and library director. Selectman George Colby resigned in February after residents submitted a petition for a recall vote to remove him from office because of a comment he made at a selectmen’s meeting that many decried as racist.

Ward

“That opened the door to really rethink what this town can be and what it does not want to be identified as,” Ward said. “This is an opportunity to say ‘no, that’s not going to define us.”

Ward, who has lived in New Gloucester since 2015, was inspired to get involved in town government after joining the New Gloucester United Against Racism organization last year.

“I believe I am either the first, or the first in 30  years, person of color to run, be on a ballot and sit as a Select Board member,” Ward said. “Although we’ve had individuals, people of color who have represented the district in New Gloucester at the state level, in the house level, I don’t believe we’ve had a Select Board member, so there’s a historical nature there as well.”

“Not only are we shifting in terms of the newness, but also the equity, the inclusivity, saying that we can be more representative of a national trend that says we want multiple backgrounds, multiple cultures, multi-ethnic individuals in positions of power … I would hope though, as we really look at what this means in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, there’s a historical nature to it, and I don’t think we’ve really grasped that that has happened yet,” Ward said.

Newcomer Paul Larrivee hopes to focus on stabilizing the town’s employees and on spending issues.

I’m looking forward to working with others to move things over in the town. I think we are poised to do great things,” Larrivee said.

Larrivee

The Board of Selectmen approved the hiring of a new fire chief and library director in February, the same month that Town Manager Brenda Fox-Howard announced she would not renew her contract with New Gloucester.

The Board of Selectmen hired former Gardiner City Manager Christine Landes to replace her, and Landes started work May 10.

“Going into a new municipality, you need to figure out where finances stand, where certain projects are, so it takes a little bit of time to get acclimated. It’s been great so far,” Landes said.

Landes will also work with the three newly elected members of the Select Board, who were not on the board when Landes interviewed for the position.

Landes

“I am now going to be dealing with three new selectmen I haven’t had the chance to get to know. I’m looking forward to getting to work with them,” Landes said.

For Hathorne, the results of the June 8 election present an opportunity for the board to govern the town in a new way, focusing on community-building and accurate representation of townspeople’s’ desires.

“The biggest challenge we are facing is ourselves. We are very much divided, we need to find compromise, I don’t want to sound like Biden but we need to build back community,” Hathorne said.

For Ward, finding a way to make the governing process more transparent and promote and include new and diverse perspectives in the town.

“There was this feeling in New Gloucester that so much was being done behind the scenes, and a lot of constituents were just never privy to what was going on. We’re hoping to be more open, be more communicative, find different avenues to include people in the process,” Ward said. “There are a lot of different things that we have a focus on, but I’m hoping it’s a revitalized, or re-energized vision for the town. And for an ability to really move us in the right direction, and make it more open to, to community members here.”

The new Board of Selectmen will be comprised of Ward, Hathorne, Larrivee and returning members Tammy Donovan and Peter Bragdon.

“I think there’s that energy, there’s this feeling of excitement, that there is a [refresh] and a newness, and it’s not going to be the same old, same old,” Ward said. “There’s already this feeling of new energy and excitement and a shift here…I’m really excited to see how this year will go.”

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