NEW GLOUCESTER — A three-person race for two seats on the New Gloucester Selectboard includes the current chairwoman who initially was set to be term- limited out, a current board member who led the push for those term limits last year, and a member of several other town committees whose mother already serves on the board.
The contest features Selectboard Chairwoman Linda Chase, Selectboard Member Stephen Hathorne, and current Budget Committee and Land Management Planning Committee member Karen Gilles.
New Gloucester also has two available SAD 15 board seats. Jason Hart is the only candidate on the ballot for a full three-year term, and Laura Sturgis is the only candidate for a partial term. Water District Chairman Dan Bannon is the only candidate for the water district’s one available seat.
Chase, 55, has served on the Selectboard since 2009 and said she is running again because “there are some projects that I would like to see completed,” including the new public works garage and “internal work on policies and procedures.”
The owner of an adult day care businesses and a laboratory technician, Chase said she enjoys serving on the board and is “willing to put in the work that goes along with it.”
“I think I am really good at looking outside the box,” she added, describing herself as “pretty level-headed.”
Hathorne, 55, works in the restaurant and hospitality industry and has served on the board since 2015. He said he is running again “to continue the clean-up process” and increase government transparency in town.
When asked about his skills and experiences, Hathorne joked that “I have no skills,” but later added, “just knowing the difference between right and wrong – having a conscience and having integrity.”
Gilles, 35, hopes to bring “new ideas” to complement existing experience on the board.
“I really think that it’s time that younger people within the town help support the community,” she said.
Gilles is a nurse and the administrator of a home health care business owned by her mother, Selectboard member Lenora Conger. She is also involved with the Gray-New Gloucester Development Corporation and the Maine Council on Aging. She plans to use her business experience on the board and feels she has an “ability to listen to both sides” and is able to “argue issues instead of people.”
Gilles is confident that she and Conger could separate their family and board roles if they serve together. She noted that they already work together.
“It’s not a new position for me to be in,” Gilles said. “And we’re independent people, so there will be no issue.”
Earlier this spring, New Gloucester Town Manager Carrie Castonguay said there is no prohibition on a mother and daughter serving together on the board.
Chase said that Gilles and Conger “both are their own person,” and felt that they could successfully navigate serving on the board at the same time.
While Hathorne said that Gilles “would be a fantastic leader,” he suggested that it might not be her time to serve on the board and that she should wait until next year when Conger’s term is up.
“That would give one family in our town 40 percent of the vote in a selectman’s meeting,” Hathorne said. “It’s just not good business.”
Hathorne then emphasized that Gilles and Conger are “both wonderful people”
Gilles said that her mother’s term on the board “had no bearing on my decision” either way.
Chase said it would be a “good thing” to get the younger generation involved in town.
In early April, Chase was one of three Selectboard members who voted to find the town’s term limit ordinance invalid based on legal advice. Before that 3-2 vote, she was set to be term-limited out of office this year. The other two members who voted to scrap the ordinance were Vice Chairman Steven Libby, who would have been term-limited out next year, and Conger.
Residents at the 2017 town meeting voted 66-44 in favor of the ordinance that limited Selectboard service to three consecutive three-year terms, and required members to be off the board for three years before running for it again.
While a town attorney at Bernstein Shur raised questions about the ordinance in January 2017 because New Gloucester lack’s a charter, he advised that it could be put on last year’s town meeting warrant. A different attorney with the Maine Municipal Association later provided her opinion this spring that the ordinance was not effective, leading to the vote in April.
“I know a lot of people think it was an 11th hour thing, but it wasn’t,” Chase said this week about that vote.
She said she had “several conversations” with Castonguay earlier this year about the ordinance and what position it could put the town. She added that “in hindsight, absolutely … some of the conversations should have been more public.”
Chase said she wasn’t sure if she would have filed a lawsuit against the town if she had been prevented from serving on the board again.
“But if I didn’t do it, at some point, somebody probably would have … and that would have cost the town a lot of money,” she said, adding that possible legal action could have also rendered the board somewhat ineffective through uncertainty.
Hathorne helped lead the initial term-limit effort last year and was on the losing side of the vote in April.
“I’m upset that she’s running,” Hathorne said about Chase, adding that term-limit requirement “is what the people wanted.”
“She shouldn’t be running,” he emphasized.
Gilles had a different take than Hathorne on the term-limits discussion, saying the legal questions surrounding the ordinance “could have put the town at risk” and making the argument that elections can function as a form of term limits because people have to opportunity to vote someone out of office.
Hathorne caused some consternation among his fellow board members and the community last year, when he and Selectboard Member Joe Davis were able to stall a special town meeting on a new public works garage because of their concerns about the facility’s proposed location.
That move caused Libby to walk out in the middle of a Selectboard meeting, and inspired a group of self-described “old ladies” to lead an ultimately successful petition effort for a special town meeting that approved the new garage at 611 Lewiston Road where the town’s Fire & Rescue Department is also located.
“I would have done everything the same,” Hathorne said about the public works garage saga, adding that he wishes he had more of a voice in arguing that the town could have built the facility where the current facility sits in the town’s upper village. Throughout the process, he reiterated that he supported the idea of a new garage despite his concerns about the location.
Hathorne thinks New Gloucester’s biggest challenge is “keeping the level of services where they need to be without putting too much of a tax burden on our citizens.”
“As far as the town’s concerned, it’s a great town … what we’ve got is special,” said Hathorne, who wants to see New Gloucester stay a small town. “I don’t want to be a Gray, I don’t want to be an Auburn.”
For Chase, the town’s biggest obstacle is how information is or isn’t shared.
“I personally think the biggest challenge is communication,” she said. “Somehow, there’s always someone who doesn’t get what they needed.”
Chase thinks the ongoing update to New Gloucester’s comprehensive plan “will be an opportunity to bring people together” from different perspectives in town.
Gilles sees the need for a “more unified voice within the town” and for people to look at issues or ideas and “not be focused on where it’s coming from.”
“I think that we need to pull together as a community,” she said.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.