After a three-way tie and a revote, the Westbrook City Council on Monday appointed newcomer Jennifer Munro to the vacant Ward 5 seat.

In the final vote, Councilors Anna Turcotte, Claude Rwaganje and David Morse backed Munro, with Councilors Gary Rairdon and Victor Chau selecting former Ward 5 Councilor and current Planning Board member Larry McWilliams. Councilor Michael Shaughnessy cast the sole vote for candidate Lauren Ouellette-Whelan. Candidate Steve Ranco received no votes.

Jennifer Munro

Munro

The revote came after a tie between Munro, McWilliams and Ouellette-Whelan. Morse, who first voted for Ouellette-Whelan, changed his vote to break the tie.

McWilliams said Tuesday that the results show insider politics at play in the city and that he is “sour about how it went down.” He said he will run for the seat in November when the term expires. The seat had been held by Elliot Storey, who resigned in November.

The appointment was the first made after the city switched from using the caucus system to fill council vacancies. Candidates who hope to fill unexpired terms of councilors who step down early are now required to gather 25 petition signatures and make a presentation to the council, which then makes the appointment.

On Monday, the four candidates presented their qualifications to the council.

Munro, a stay-at-home mom with five children, detailed her previous experience working with youth in the mental health field.

She staunchly supported COVID-19 mitigation strategies and mandates for vaccines and masks, in contrast to Storey who was a vocal critic of the city’s COVID-19 response, referring to it as “government overreach.” She also said she was in favor of gay marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Three of the eight residents who spoke at the meeting were Munro supporters, including Planning Board member John Turcotte, who cited her ability to organize neighborhood cleanups and other events.

McWilliams

Like the other candidates for the vacancy, Munro mentioned controlling taxes and the budget as a goal.

“In my time canvassing there was consistent themes,” Munro said. “Budgets, taxes, infrastructure. Everyone is concerned in different ways and while I can’t promise to fix everyone’s problems I can promise as a representative to bring forth their concerns.”

She also said she would put a greater focus on connecting with school officials to address school safety.

Morse said he liked Munro’s career background.

“One thing that jumps out is your education in disability studies and working in mental health. I can see how that’d be relevant to our community,” Morse said at the meeting. 

Chau and Rairdon, in supporting McWilliams, noted his experience as a Planning Board member and as a council member, when he was appointed by Mayor Mike Foley to fill a vacancy for eight months. McWilliams had run for election in 2019, but lost to Storey by about 50 votes.

“Larry was very, very involved and paid attention to detail, and he asked the questions,” Rairdon said.

During the meeting, McWilliams, who owns a medicinal marijuana business in the city, said he supported the change that removed the caucus process from filling council vacancies. On Tuesday, however, he told the American Journal Tuesday that the new process allowed the council to favor certain candidates over others. He said he is not upset that he lost Monday evening, but that he “is sour about how it went down.”

The process allows insider politics, he said, and he felt at a disadvantage as the other candidates spoke.

“If you listen and pay attention to the meeting, the councilors had reached out to these people before this meeting, they talked ahead of time,” McWilliams said. “No one contacted me to see my thoughts, not anyone. We made our presentation and they vote, why are they calling ahead of time?”

“It went back to who people knew and talked to before the open discussions,” McWilliams said.

Turcotte, the council president, told the American Journal Tuesday that while some candidates made introductory phone calls to councilors, councilors had not deliberated prior to the meeting.

“I don’t know why Larry feels disadvantaged. I feel like I know Larry better than the other candidates. We’ve even had discussions after he was no longer on the council,” Turcotte said.

Turcotte said the process went well with discussions and questions asked, as opposed to the previous caucuses that in her experience drew maybe five voices with little discussion of a candidate’s platform.

“I think that this process is more transparent, and I am hoping last night put some people’s concerns to rest,” Turcotte said.

Ward 5 encompasses the northern and northeastern areas of the city, bordering Portland and Falmouth to the east, Falmouth to the north and Windham to the west. The southernmost part of Ward 5 includes the Pride’s Corner neighborhood, while the northernmost portion includes Highland Lake.

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