Voters learned more about the positions and experience of five candidates competing for seats on the Rockport Select Board at a televised public forum June 6.

The names of William Chapman, Gordon Best, Patricia Egan, Robert Nichols and Geoffrey Parker will appear on the ballot, with the top two vote-getters winning election.

The candidates introduced themselves and fielded questions from the floor and submitted to VillageSoup/The Herald Gazette.

Best said he was not comfortable with what he referred to as an “adversarial relationship” between some members of the current board and town office staff.

Calling himself a “serial entrepreneur,” Nichols said the current board had been contentious and he would like to return to a “really boring Select Board.”

Chapman, the current Select Board chairman, praised town employees and said he had spent his time as chairman improving relationships with staff.

Parker said his work as a documentary filmmaker taught him to be a good listener, and that he would bring his communication skills to the Select Board.

“I don’t want the job,” said Egan. She said she felt the current board was not providing citizens with enough opportunity to be heard on certain issues.

In regard to the future of the former Rockport Elementary School East property at the corner of Route 1 and West Street, Egan said she had a problem with the process and that the board should have put it to voters whether they want to sell, lease or keep the property, before entering into negotiations with Maine Media Workshops and College. The other candidates said it would be difficult for voters to make that decision if the question was so open-ended. Nichols gave the hypothetical example of the town voting to sell and then finding that the highest bidder was a methadone clinic.

“We need a completely worked out negotiation with pluses and minuses for the town,” said Nichols.

Egan did not respond to a question from Dave Jackson asking if she had attended any of the more than 15 public meetings that were held since 2008 to gauge community sentiment in regard to the future of the site.

Nichols said it could be beneficial to outsource a portion of the Public Works Department’s functions for a period of time to see if privatization would save money. Chapman and Parker said Rockport got good service and that money spent now saved future maintenance costs.

Egan said it was hard to compare costs between departmental lines and between Rockport and other communities. Best said not many companies bids on items the town was already outsourcing.

John Viehman said his two 18-year-old sons were in the audience and about to cast their first ballots.

“Why should they vote for you?” he asked each candidate.

Most reiterated their opening remarks, and called on voters to learn more about the issues and the positions candidates held. Chapman directly asked the young men to vote.

“It’s the ultimate responsibility of a citizen in this society,” said Chapman, “When you don’t, you’re leaving the choice to someone else.”

Peter Ralston asked each candidate to state whether they had the ability to work with Town Manager Robert Peabody.

Best, Parker and Chapman said they would have no difficulty working with Peabody.

Egan did not answer the question and said she thought Peabody undermined the work of the Wages and Benefits Ad Hoc Committee on which she served.

Nichols compared the situation to President Barack Obama getting along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He said the town manager was a highly compensated position and needed to be held to high standards.

Tax increment financing plans “are sold as free money,” said Nichols. He said taxpayers bore the cost of such programs.

Chapman said TIFs allowed the town to reserve funds for large projects such as extending the sewer system into areas that could be targeted for future development. Best agreed.

“In the short term it’s going to cost money,” said Best. “In 20 years the town gets the money back.” He said it was important to remember that Rockport will be around for far longer than 20 more years. “It’s important to take the long view,” he said.

Egan said TIFs were designed for blighted areas and that downtown Rockport was not such a district.

“It looks like a shell game to me,” she said.

Jan Dolcater asked how candidates would keep Rockport’s budget from increasing, or even lower the bottom line.

Egan reiterated her statement about making fiscal documents clearer. She said aligning employees’ contract renewal dates with the fiscal year would help.

“I don’t think we can blankly accept a mandate to have a zero increase,” said Parker. “It holds hostage certain line items to things beyond our control.”

Chapman said other towns reduced or eliminated their undesignated fund balance in order to show a zero-growth budget. He said that kind of budgeting was deceptive and could leave Rockport without money for unexpected needs.

Nichols called for a zero-based budget that asked department heads to justify expenditures.

Chapman said economic development should reflect the nature of the town. Best called for investment in education, to attract entrepreneurs rather than industrial growth. Parker said Rockport should support the growth of very small businesses in the creative and knowledge economies.

Nichols said it was not the job of the town to create jobs.

Egan said the permitting process was too cumbersome and the town could not just focus on maintaining its natural beauty.

Following the broadcast portion of the forum, candidates were asked about the town’s charter and comprehensive plan.

Nichols, Best, Parker and Chapman agreed that the town should begin the process of revising the documents.

Egan said the charter was “a major work and will need some adjustment.” She said she had not looked at the comprehensive plan.

“To be frank, if I’m not elected I probably won’t look at it,” she said.

Monday’s forum, sponsored by the Rockport Public Library, the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce and The Herald Gazette, was moderated by chamber Executive Director Dan Bookham.

Copies of the DVD recording of the June 6 forum are available at the Rockport Public Library.

Elections will be held as part of the secret ballot portion of Rockport town meeting on Tuesday, June 14 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. The open meeting will take place Wednesday, June 15 at 7 p.m. in the Rockport Opera House. For more information, call the town clerk’s office at 236-9648.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by email at sauciello@villagesoup.com.

filed under: