Six candidates vie for two selectman seats

Walsh runs for school board against write-in candidate Southworth
By Fran Gonzalez | Feb 25, 2020
Courtesy of: Searsport Public Access Channel Candidates for selectman, from left: incumbent Dick Desmarais, Sandra Otis-Anderson, Steve Bulloch, Steve Tanguay, Eric Bonney and school board candidate David Walsh. One other candidate for selectman, Joshua McFarlin, and school board write-in candidate Ruth Southworth did not attend.

Searsport — Five of the six candidates vying for two open selectman seats discussed why they should be elected at a panel discussion Feb. 15 at Curtis Hall. Attempts to reach the sixth candidate, Joshua McFarlin, who did not attend the event, were unsuccessful as of press time. This story is based on a video of the panel discussion posted on the town website.

One of the open seats was held by the late Jack Merrithew, who died last May. The other open seat is held by Selectman Dick Desmarais, who is seeking reelection.

When he introduced himself, Desmarais said he has been a Searsport selectman for 15 years as well as a businessman in town, and sees development on Sears Island only as a last resort. The island does offer the opportunity for development, he said, adding, “if we use it (development) in the correct manner, we can make it work.”

His priorities include providing for the poor. Roads he said, are also a concern, as well as emergency services and keeping equipment in good shape. He would like to create an industrial area, where businesses would receive land at no charge in exchange for creating a certain number of jobs. He does not feel cutting services is a way to save money.

He said while he was living and working in Connecticut, he volunteered with the local ambulance service for 21 years, eventually becoming president of the service.

When asked about retail marijuana, Desmarais said he has never smoked pot, but is in favor of allowing pot-related businesses “simply for the tax benefit.”

Sandra Otis-Anderson is a longtime resident of Searsport and said she loves the town. She is a retired bank branch manager, a nurse and is on the Budget Committee. “I’d like to see it (Searsport) progress,” she said, “We need to step up and take care of our town.”

She said her interests include children and older people who may not have a voice. The Christmas for Kids program she started in Searsport is in its fourth year and provided 111 kids with toys and clothing. She was involved in Senior Day in Belfast for 12 years, and brought the program to Searsport four years ago. It is day of lunch, games, vendors and speakers aimed at senior citizens provided at no charge. Anderson was also on the starting body of Help Us Stop Hunger, a food insecurity program in Regional School Unit 20.

On developing Sears Island, Anderson said she would like to see “minimal commercial activity there,” adding that in order to expand the town’s tax base, the town “needs to attract younger folks.”

Anderson said originally she was against allowing retail marijuana shops in town, but now she thinks, “If we get our foot in the front door, we can regulate it … I would vote for it.” She said the role of the selectmen is to run the town and make sure everyone is safe.

She would like to be proactive, keep building business contacts and “fill our storefronts.”

Eric Bonney currently works at GAC Chemical, but was employed by the town for 21 years. He has worked in the highway department, the Water District and was a police officer as well. Having been employed in different departments around Searsport, he said he has an “in” with the workings of the town.

“I’ve got a pretty good idea of what our future needs to look like if we are going to keep people in town,” he said, and added that all the “for sale” signs around Searsport upset him.

Bonney said he is not a big proponent of retail marijuana. He feels the industry is still in its infancy and would like to see what the long-term good is before diving in. He is not in favor of commercial development on Sears Island, and said, “in a perfect world” he would turn the island into a large state park that everyone could use and it would bring customers to businesses in town.

Advertising, he said, is the way he would develop commercial industry in town. “Put up land for sale zoned for commercial (signs),” he said, and work with people. “Let businesses tell us what they’d like to build. We’ve got to work with them, or we will lose them.”

Bonney said selectmen are overseers of the town in charge of spending residents' tax money. “I’m looking out for you,” he said, adding that every person in town should have a say in how the town is run. “If someone has a better idea or concern, they should let us know, and we can work on it together,” he said.

Steve Bulloch is originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but lived most of his adult life in Cleveland. After retiring as an attorney, he moved to Searsport full-time.

He is involved with several civic groups, including the Historical Preservation Committee, the Budget Advisory Committee and is an alternate on the Tax Appeal Committee. Bulloch is also on the board of Friends of Sears Island and Greater Bay Area Ministerium Food Cupboard, which provides food every other week from the Methodist Church in East Belfast.

He said while he is not in favor of commercial development at Sears Island, he is not totally against it, either. The number of jobs created, what the tax revenue would be and the ecological effects of development on the island would need to be weighed, he said.

Bulloch is in favor of developing commercial industry downtown using the TIF program, though he feels development will probably happen after “DOT tears up downtown.” Selectmen should run the town efficiently and in the best interests of all the citizens of Searsport, he said.

Downtown is a great vehicle to help Searsport, he said. “It’s got great potential; too many of the buildings are in a state of disuse and are in bad shape. We can get some tax money once they are fixed up, and have a livelier downtown. This would help the other businesses.”

Steve Tanguay is in his 28th year running Searsport Shores Ocean Campground with his family. A former teacher at Troy Howard Middle School for 30 years, Tanguay believes in cutting taxes and said he has ideas to find other revenue streams.

While he would like to reevaluate the economic development funding for the town, he would also work with neighboring towns and local government representatives to “work together as a region.”

Signage for parking downtown is an issue and he would like to offer high-speed internet and clean up the downtown as ways to attract tourism.

“We have to make it an attractive place for families to want to live,” he said. “Make it attractive for parents and attractive for students,” referring to the Ocean School. Tanguay would favor more town activities by the wharf.

He has served on the Clamshell Committee, an educational program that monitors and maintains flats for recreational diggers. He has been on the Comprehensive Planning Committee for three or four years and sponsors a Youth Entrepreneurship and Training program at his campground, teaching youths trades such as woodworking and welding.

RSU 20 candidates

Also at the discussion panel, David Walsh, running for the Regional School Unit 20 Board of Directors, said he has worked for the Ambulance Service in town since 2011. Walsh has lived in Searsport for the past three years and is the recreation director, general assistance administrator and public health officer for the town.

He sees room for improvement in the RSU 20 budget and said the main reason he is running is for the well-being of students. "All of them should be able to exploit their talents, be it in sports, academics, science or chess club, in different ways and that should be made available to them at almost all costs,” he said.

Running as a write-in candidate in hopes of retaining her existing seat on the RSU 20 board is Ruth Southworth, who was appointed last fall to that then-expired post. Unaware she needed to file in January ("I thought the election came in June — and now it's in March," she told The Republican Journal Tuesday), Southworth missed the filing deadline. She missed the candidate discussion Feb. 15 because she was in Florida with her children and grandchildren.

The mother of three children and two grandchildren who went through Searsport schools, Southworth retired in 2011 after serving 25 years as executive director of Broadreach Family & Community Services. She also taught kindergarten in Belfast, and worked for 11 years with Belfast Head Start. A graduate of the University of Southern Maine with a bachelor's degree in education, special education and early childhood education, she earned a master's in special education and administration from the University of Maine in 2001. Most recently she served as director of the RSU 20 Afterschool Program for five years, and is now fully retired.

If elected, Southworth said she would like to see a more positive attitude demonstrated toward school children and greater respect for teachers, which, in turn, she believes, "will improve morale." With regard to curriculum coordination, she thinks the district "is headed in the right direction," but said, "sometimes the left hand still doesn't know what the right hand is doing. ...I'd like to see even more curriculum coordination.

"And I'd like to get it all done on a shoestring budget!"

 

 

 

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