2013-06-20 / News

OOB councilors weigh in on new look

By Ben Meiklejohn Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Six new councilors were inaugurated Monday, June 17 to finish the terms of former councilors who were recalled from office after a June 11 election. Only one councilor, Robert Quinn, was allowed to continue his term by voters. Former Councilor Michael Coleman was removed from office by a margin of 11 votes, but a recount is scheduled for Thursday, June 20 at 9 a.m. in the high school gymnasium.

Kenneth Blow was elected to replace Coleman, whose term ends in November, but if Coleman’s recount changes the result of the election, than Coleman will be re-returned to his seat.

Coleman said regardless of the result of his recall recount, he is “completely pleased with what voters put forth in this election,” and that the “seat belongs to the people.” He said people responded to what they perceived as “the politics of cronyism.”

Coleman was not surprised Quinn survived the recall election by such a wide margin.

“Quinn has always been known as a total gentleman; he votes in what he believes is right – what a good watchdog he’s been in the community for a long time,” Coleman said.

Coleman praised Quinn’s independent approach, and said Quinn always votes “on principle.” Quinn is not enrolled in a political party.

As for his own recall, Coleman said, “It’s been an honor to serve the people.”

Quinn said he was “shocked” to see how many councilors were recalled, but also embraces the new challenges ahead.

“I am very humbled by being the only one to not be recalled, but at the same time felt like, ‘Wow, this is presenting new challenges.’ I enjoy challenging situations,“ Quinn said.

“Even though how rough it is, you get used to working with people and the challenges that come with it,” Quinn said. “It will be different having such a radical turnover, and will pose new challenges, but my hope is that things will be more open.”

Councilor Joseph Thornton, who was elected to finish former councilor Dana Furtado’s term ending November 2015, agreed with Quinn that openness is an important theme moving forward.

“We’re all (new council) willing to listen to people who come and talk to us, people want it all done in the open,” Thornton said. “The election wasn’t necessarily about the way people were voting, it was more about the process, and how they went about it,” he added.

Councilor Malorie Pastor, who was elected to finish former councilor Linda Mailhot’s term ending November 2014, said, “It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be a challenge, but we have some good guidance with Mr. Quinn’s continuity, and coming in with a fresh set of eyes isn’t going to hurt anything, either.”

In addition to Quinn’s experience, there are two newly elected councilors – Shawn O’Neill and Roxanne Frenette – who have served previous terms as councilors. O’Neill was elected to finish former councilor Sharri MacDonald’s term, and Frenette was elected to finish former councilor Laura Bolduc’s term – both ending in November. Councilor Jay Kelley was elected to finish former councilor Robin Dayton’s term ending November 2015. At the inauguration, after a standing ovation and applause upon being seated, the council unanimously elected O’Neill as its chairman and Quinn as vice chairman.

“O’Neill brings institutional knowledge and ability to the council. The way O’Neill ran meetings in the past was very collegial,” Quinn said.

Quinn, Thornton and Pastor all agree the three most important issues that face the new council are passing a budget, hiring a town manager and dealing with the lawsuit against the town initiated by Mark Pearson, the former town manager. Pearson was fired in a 4-3 vote earlier this year, an action that set off public unrest and ultimately led to the election in an attempt to recall all seven councilors.

Quinn said the division between the majority faction of four and the minority of three was something that began with the vote to fire Pearson.

“I often voted differently before the town manager vote,” Quinn said. “It wasn’t always like this.”

Quinn said the new council is not likely to break down between two opposing factions.

“I think it’s a good mix – there’s some youth and a good broad perspective. I’m always optimistic to have people who think independently,” Quinn said.

Thornton agreed, saying, “We all have the same goal to come together. The voting will be varied because of the diversity. For example, Malorie Pastor and I politically, couldn’t be any more polar opposites, but we both share that our main concern is what’s best for the town.”

Still, while they realize the importance of completing unfinished business, councilors seem equally as eager to move forward with their visions for Old Orchard Beach.

“I’m not dwelling on the past as we make decisions moving forward,” Pastor said.

Thornton, a registered Republican, and Pastor, a registered Green Independent, both share common ground in bringing the coast back to the forefront of the council’s business.

“There are bigger issues, like the maps of the flood lines,” Thornton said. “We need to start reaching out to towns, and F.E.M.A. (Federal Emergency Management Agency). This is something we need to start preparing for now.”

“We need to refocus on the beach and the environmental factors associated with it, and how it’s affecting our towns,” Pastor added.

Pastor also wants to revisit recycling and trash pickup policies.

“They could use refreshing,” she said. “We could help decrease waste. (This issue) got lost in the last several months.”

Thornton would like to see the town address how it charges users for sewage costs.

“Everyone pays a flat sewer bill, when most towns use meters,” Thornton said. “Local residents shouldn’t be paying for hotels and campgrounds. Old Orchard Beach is one of the few towns that doesn’t charge sewer fees based on water usage – that doesn’t make sense.”

Even Quinn is eager to bring items back for consideration that “have been on the backburner” during the last administration, he said. He would like the town to address the large number of foreclosed properties that have amassed and revise its purchasing policies.

“The purchase policy has caused us some problems, we’ve been chided by auditors,” Quinn said. “We need more defined and controlling policies.”

Quinn and Pastor also agree that the town’s personnel policy needs updating. Pastor said the charter and policies around personnel “are a little clustered.”

Pastor said employees in town shouldn’t have been told they couldn’t participate in the election or made to feel nervous about speaking out for fear of losing their jobs.

“On company time, no, but on their own time, they’re still a citizen,” she said. “We need to really make people who serve this town feel included.”

Thornton wants the town to maintain its high financial rating and keep the mil rate down.

“Everybody’s got to cut, from the federal level all the way down. We’re going to have to make touch choices,” Thornton said. “Our finances are doing OK; the auditors gave us an A+ for our financial state, but the problem is the way it’s being managed.”

Like Thornton, Quinn also wants to address the town’s financial shortcomings while there is still a chance to do so.

“We have low-bonded indebtedness, and we’re able to pay bills, but our problems are a lack of due diligence, getting bank statements and reporting,” Quinn said.

The new de facto continuing veteran on the council, Quinn said he is impressed by the varying experiences among all the councilors and is optimistic they will be able to work well together.

“The outcome is the most important thing, and I think it will be positive for the taxpayers,” he said.

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