Meet Thomaston's Select Board candidates

By Dan Otis Smith | May 18, 2017
Photo by: Dan Otis Smith The current Select Board converses at a meeting held in March. From left are Selectmen Peter Lammert and Peter McCrea, Vice Chairman Lee-Ann Upham, Selectman Bill Hahn, Chairman Greg Hamlin, Town Manager Val Blastow and Recording Secretary Donna Culbertson.

Thomaston — Two newcomers and two veterans are competing for a pair of Select Board seats in Thomaston this year.

Residents will cast their votes June 13 at the American Legion Hall between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ahead of the annual Town Meeting the following day.

Below, find an overview of candidates' backgrounds and priorities.

Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones owns Thomaston Café on Main Street and Farmer Jones Organic farm on Beechwood Street. Originally from Winslow, Jones bought a house in Thomaston in 2009 after a period of work in Rockland and started his farm on his new property.

This is Jones’ first race for Select Board.

Before moving to the area, Jones worked around the country and in Austria for 17 years as a chef and manager. He was educated in food science and hospitality at Washington County Community College, Kennebec Valley Community College and Salzburg School of Tourism in Salzburg, Austria. He said he had gathered a “lot of life experience” in a wide range of settings, and emphasized that his management and business experience could be helpful in municipal government.

Jones said he had been encouraged to run by a number of residents, as well as by Rep. Paula Sutton, R-Warren, and his cousin, Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox.

“I just feel it’s my civic duty to give back to the community,” he said. “If I can give three years to the town of Thomaston, let’s do it.”

Jones detailed his involvement with local organizations, including donations to the establishment of the Thomaston Dog Park, food donations to the Pope Memorial Humane Society, work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Thomaston Historical Society, Blueberry Cove, the Owls Head Transportation Museum and meal donations for Habitat for Humanity volunteers

He said Thomaston was stronger for the “love of the residents for this town,” adding, “We’re not Camden, we’re not Rockland. We’re proud of that. We love our community.”

He said his number-one priority is to bring businesses to Thomaston. “If we can’t get businesses in town, no one’s going to want to move here,” he said. Jones argued that businesses need “positive reinforcement” and incentives, such as lower property taxes, to encourage them to set up in town.

Speaking of property taxes, Jones estimated that his own had nearly doubled since moving to Thomaston and said he thinks the town should “crack down on spending.”

He expressed concern about the town’s plan to move the Town Office and police and fire departments to the old Lura Libby School. “It’s a horrible idea, but a good idea at the same time,” he said. He said consolidation of the town services was a good thing, and expressed hope that businesses would move into the newly vacant spaces. But he also said it would cost the taxpayers too much money to heat and renovate the old school while simultaneously preparing the Main Street spaces for business tenants. He said he hoped a funding source could be found for the project.

Jones also said he would want to work on improving parking in town.

He had high praise for Thomaston’s police and fire departments. “We’re blessed that we can afford them,” he said, expressing a strong desire to maintain the town’s own police and fire services.

Peter Lammert

Peter Lammert can’t say for sure how long he has been on the Select Board, but guesses he first got involved in town government in 1986.

“Two incumbents would say one thing on one side of Knox Street and one thing on another side of Knox Street,” he said. “They were talking out of both sides of their mouths.”

Lammert said he began attending all of the Select Board and Budget Committee meetings and learning everything that was required of a selectman, then ran and won the seat.

Prior to that, Lammert had studied forestry at University of Maine Orono, graduating in 1968. He worked in a New Hampshire sawmill for six months and then as a forester. “I learned more in those six months,” working at the sawmill, he said, “than I did anywhere else, ever.”

He moved to Thomaston in 1973 because his father-in-law needed help at surveyor Island Marine Co. Lammert worked as a surveyor for a couple of years and also joined the fire department. He returned to forestry work for the state until his retirement at 67.

He remains involved in an array of town and other commitments. He was named state Beekeeper of the Year in 2016 by the Maine State Beekeepers Association and helps teach beekeeping as part of the Knox-Lincoln County Beekeepers. He is active in the Thomaston Dog Park Association. He is a licensed arborist and was once a licensed emergency medical technician. He is on the Board of Assessors, serves as the cemetery sexton, the tree warden, handles Fourth of July fireworks and volunteers with the Fire Police.

Lammert said he wants another three years on the Select Board because “things are never quite done.” He said he is knowledgeable about many of the projects the selectmen are currently dealing with. “Some things aren’t exactly the way I want to see them,” he said. He said he hopes to be around long enough to see some long-term projects come to fruition.

In general, he said, he serves on the board because he wants to make Thomaston “a more friendly and liveable place.”

Among town issues he raised were figuring out what to do with houses that are vacant or underused along Main Street, attracting businesses that residents want to town -- thereby attracting more residents – and selling and developing land at the former site of the Maine State Prison.

He said he thinks the Select Board should revise its policies and procedures to ensure consistent full attendance, and also said finding people to sit on town boards had lately become a challenge.

Another issue Lammert said the town had been warned about was that the arrival of Wal-Mart and Lowe’s could create more demand for police and emergency services, a prediction he said had come to pass. “That is a concern, with the drug problem going on and the theft going on,” he said.

He called the idea of moving town services to the old Lura Libby School “wonderful,” and said he is “impatiently waiting to see the first plan.”

Lammert credited Town Manager Valmore Blastow with keeping the proposed budget to an increase of 2.83 percent, saying that while the town had been prudent in its budgeting, “other entities raise taxes and we have no say in it.”

Alex Nimon

Alex Nimon works as a yard crew member at Lyman-Morse, finishing and detailing boat exteriors to prepare them for the water. He has held the job since March, having been after finishing a jail term in late February for operating under the influence and eluding an officer.

Prior to that, he worked as the technologies coordinator at Thomaston Public Library, which he said gave him experience interacting with the town as an entity. In that position, he said, he contributed to the departmental budget before it became part of the municipal budget, giving him experience in Thomaston’s overall budget process.

He has lived in Thomaston for about three years, since being released from Bolduc Correctional Facility on earlier charges of theft and assault.

He also said he has attended Select Board meetings to get an idea of how they work. He participated in the campaign with Coalition Out to Save Thomaston to stop Dollar General from establishing one of its stores on the Thomaston Green. And he is a member of the Friends of the Thomaston Public Library, volunteers with the Fourth of July Committee and works on the Lobster Festival every year.

Nimon’s perspective on the former site of the Maine State Prison is to keep all or most of it open and undeveloped, so it is available for flea markets, farmer’s markets, sports practices or other events. He said he believes most Thomaston residents share that view, part of what he called the “crux” of a difference in perspective between townspeople and the municipal government.

He is optimistic about the possibility of moving town services to the Lura Libby School, and hopeful that the freed-up Main Street space can be a new home for businesses.

He called Thomaston an “extremely welcoming town,” naming the library, dog park, working waterfront and overall aesthetics and ambiance as significant strengths.

However, he said he’d like to see more communication between the municipal government and voters. “I’d like to see a more transparent town,” he said. Another challenge he raised is maintaining high-quality education that “inspires and attracts youth.” He credited the library for its 40 Days of Summer program, which offers children free fun and educational activities and a healthy meal in the heart of the summer.

Other changes he would like to see are the institution of term limits for elected town officials and a review of the property tax assessing process, saying that at times it seems assessments do not make sense.

He called attracting businesses and development to downtown the “most immediate challenge” for Thomaston, and said the key would be creating an attractive environment without resorting to tax breaks or rent control. “I think it’s more a time and opportunity thing than pouring money into it.” Along with the sidewalk improvements which are already progressing, he said events like a First Friday could help create a more business-friendly environment on Main Street.

He questioned the recent parking change on Main Street, citing it as an example of how the town could have been more proactive in representing residents’ concerns.

As for his criminal record, he repeated his comments from his 2015 run for Select Board. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and am still working on bettering myself,” he said. He called his OUI and eluding charges “not acceptable actions, but they are what they are.”

Finally, he encouraged residents to vote. He said that last time he ran, he was surprised at how few of Thomaston’s registered voters participated in the local races.

Lee-Ann Upham

Lee-Ann Upham, now retired, has been in Thomaston since 1972, having come here to be with her husband, a native. “I married Thomaston,” she said. She was born in Boston and grew up in Needham, Mass.

She was co-owner of Wee Barn Antiques in the area, which operated for about 35 years. She also worked for W.T. Grant in Rockland at one point.

Upham also previously served as the president of the Thomaston Area Chamber of Commerce before it merged with the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber.

She has been on the Select Board since 1991, having been inspired by her mother-in-law, who had been elected to the all-male Select Board before her, and who she called “a force to be reckoned with.”

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “Almost everything we do, it’s for the good of the community.”

Upham had high praise for the current Select Board, town employees and for the town itself. “I really think we have some of the best people working in town. We are fortunate to have the people we have,” she said. “They don’t get enough recognition.”

She hinted that things have vastly improved from her earliest days on the board.

Of everything the board has done while she has been a member, it is clear she was highly pleased with the installation of new wastewater treatment infrastructure and piping. Previously, she said, waste had flowed into the river.

She also mentioned the renovation of the downtown business block’s facade, which was completed with a grant. Next, she said she was hoping the town could work on fixing up the rear of the business block and “change that whole attitude,” making a place for people to both park and spend some time.

She expressed excitement and great optimism about the town’s plan to move the Town Office and police and fire departments to the old Lura Libby School. Asked about how to attract businesses to Main Street, she said, “That’s exactly why I’m so pleased that we’re vacating.” She said she hoped new space could create a “boom” on Main Street.

On another note, “Now, maybe it is time for us to start looking at the prison land again,” she said. She said she had pushed for the construction and installation of the gazebo which was built by students from Mid-Coast School of Technology and is planned for the Thomaston Green. The gazebo still needs a foundation, which she hopes will be put in soon. Once it is, she said, it could help attract development.

“I think we’re going in the right direction,” she said. "We've had some of our problems. We've been able to roll out of them."

Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at dsmith@villagesoup.com.

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