Two trying to unseat Welch in Windham

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WINDHAM — The incumbent, a former councilor and a medical marijuana business owner are competing for one seat on the Windham Council in the only contested municipal race in town this November.

Incumbent Dennis Welch, who has served on the council since 2011, is being challenged in the three-way race for one of the Council’s At Large seats by former Council Vice Chairman David Nadeau and Charles Hawkins Jr.

Welch, 49, said he plans for this to be his final bid for the council, and that there are several issues he would like to continue working on – including wastewater infrastructure for North Windham, managing growth in South Windham and a review of the town’s land use ordinances – before turning his seat over to someone else.

“There’s some issues that I want to see through,” Welch said. “I want to continue to move Windham forward. We have some issues that need to be dealt with – one is growth, of course, trying to keep these taxes down.”

He said he was “shocked” by Nadeau’s candidacy but respects him.

Nadeau, 69, lost reelection to the council’s East District seat last fall to current Councilor Rebecca Cummings. Tensions flared on the council in February, when members voted 4-2 not to appoint Nadeau to a three-year term on the Planning Board. Welch was absent for that vote.

Welch said last week that he would have supported Nadeau’s Planning Board appointment if he had been present that night, and said he has “never had an issue with Dave.”

Nadeau, who served as vice chairman on the last council when Welch was chairman, said his candidacy is not about challenging Welch.

“I take no issue with Dennis,” Nadeau said. “The reason I’m running for council is to try and continue to move Windham forward. ”

Nadeau said he sees “nothing getting done” on the current council and would like to work on long-term financial planning for the town.

“I’ve implemented more things than any sitting councilor. I’d like to go back and try and finish them,” he added.

Nadeau’s longtime partner, Marge Govoni, is running for reelection to the RSU 14 school board this fall. 

Hawkins, 35, moved to Windham two months ago from Portland and started the Maine’s Alternative Caring dispensary on Roosevelt Trail. He has been critical of the council at recent meetings – in particular over its discussions about retail and medical marijuana policy. Hawkins said he is running for multiple reasons.

“I think the most is that we’ve got a lot of things going on, and we’ve got a lot of economic growth, and a lot of people seem to be disappointed in the Town Council’s lack of getting anything done,” Hawkins said. “I want to see the town take some proactive stances. I’d like to see them get ahead of the ball on a lot of these issues.”

Hawkins’ website, which includes a graphic that features the words “smoke the vote,” addresses his previous sentencing in Virginia on marijuana-related charges and says he served “a harsh five-year term.”

He called Windham a “friendly town” and “a place you’d want to raise your family.”

Hawkins said he has “no issue” with either of his opponents but was critical of the council in general.

“There’s a lot of smoke being blown in that Town Council,” Hawkins said. “You know, I blow a lot of smoke, but not that kind.”

Councilor tensions have been on public display over the past year, particularly between Council Chairwoman Donna Chapman and Councilors Jarrod Maxfield and Tim Nangle.

At a Sept. 25 council meeting, residents, some town employees and some councilors tore into Chapman about her statement that longtime town manager Tony Plante should either resign or be fired.

Nadeau said he is “in total support of Tony Plante” and does “not favor the leadership of the council” after the February vote against him.

Hawkins said Plante should remain in his position and that he tends to disagree with certain councilors, including Chapman, Vice Chairman Robert Muir and Rebecca Cummings.

He referred to Chapman not seeking reelection to the council in 2010 following allegations that she violated the town charter. Hawkins said he believes she is “picking on” Plante because he was town manager at the time.

Welch said he likes Plante, but “If Tony wants to retire, I will support his retirement.” Just cause is necessary to terminate an employee and that’s not an issue in Plante’s case, he said.

Welch said he’s tried to help his council colleagues get along better, and acknowledged there is “conflict with a certain few,” involving both council leadership and non-leadership members.

“You have to respect each other, you don’t have to like him or her, but you have to respect that they’re sitting there, they were elected, and let’s get the business done that we get elected to do,” Welch said, declining to identify which councilors he was talking about.

The issue of growth, and how to manage it, continues to loom large in Windham. Residents have attended several recent council meetings to express concerns about proposed development in south Windham, and town planning staff gave a presentation at the Sept. 18 meeting on the issues presented by Windham’s growing population.

That presentation included population projections that indicate Windham could grow to over 19,000 people by 2020. The town’s population was approximately 17,000 in the most recent Census in 2010. 

Welch called Windhama growing community” and said working to preserve its rural character is “important to me, and it’s important to a lot of people I’ve talked to.”

He added that he is in favor of creating an ad-hoc committee to look at growth in the town.

“I do like ad-hoc committees,” Welch said. “To me, we need to have a bunch of people in the room.”

Nadeau said he would like to keep Windham rural “as much as possible,” adding that “you need to plan for that.”

“Here’s the issue – we are already a bedroom community. We have growth springing up all over the place,” he said, adding that growth is spurred in areas where land is cheapest, which he said is usually in the town’s farm zone. “Economics is driving that.”

“All these people get here, and want more,” Nadeau said about new residents. “They’re looking for more services. Are we prepared to provide them?”

Hawkins sees growth as an opportunity for the town.

“I think it’s great, personally,” Hawkins said about growth in Windham “I think the town needs to step up and get ahead of it, so that it doesn’t get out of control.”

Nangle is running unopposed for the council’s West District and said he was surprised to find himself unchallenged.

He takes the lack of a challenger as “a vote of confidence” and was also surprised that other members of the council “have not attempted to put somebody up against me.”

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or jvaughan@keepmecurrent.com.

Age: 69

Family: Partner, four children, 19 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren.

Occupation: Retired electronic engineer

Education: Two technical schools and many courses

Political/civic experience: Six years on the Windham Town Council with four years as chairman of the Finance Committee,10 years on the Windham Planning Board

Age: 35

Family: Wife, two daughters

Occupation: Owner of medical marijuana caregiver storefront, Maine’s Alternative Caring

Education: Studied commercial aviation at University Alaska Anchorage, business pre-law at Ohio University, pre-sports medicine at American Public University and naturopathic medicine at Trinity School of Natural Health.

Political/civic experience: “This is my first opportunity to run for any political office.”

Webstite/social media: Charles “Will” Hawkins for Windham Town Council on Facebook, www.charleshawkins.us

Age: 49
Family: Single, one adult son
Occupation: Corrections officer, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office
Education: Windham High School, Maine Criminal Justice Academy
Political/civic experience: Town Council since 2011, appointee to the Maine Labor Relations Board, member of the Maine Municipal Association’s Legislative Policy Committee, past president of the local chapter of the National Correctional Employees Union