Select Board candidates look to Rockport's future

By Louis Bettcher | May 17, 2018
Photo by: Louis Bettcher From left: Select Board candidates Ken McKinley, John Alexander, Debra Hall and Jeff Hamilton speak at the Rockport Opera House on May 16.

Rockport — The four candidates vying for seats on the Rockport Select Board described their qualifications and stances on a number of town issues during a forum at the Rockport Opera House on May 16.

Jeff Hamilton, John Alexander and Debra Hall are running for two available seats on the board; each seat is for a term of three years. Ken McKinley, who currently serves as the board's Chairman, is running unopposed for a one-year seat, for the remainder of a term vacated by Tom Gray earlier this year.

Topics ranging from the economic future of the town, uses for the former Rockport Elementary School site, as well as upcoming municipal projects such as the proposed Rockport Public Library, were fielded by each of the candidates. The event was organized by Lynda Clancy of PenBay Pilot, and former Selectman Bob Duke served as the facilitator of the forum.

Candidates

Jeff Hamilton was raised in Rumford and studied chemical engineering at the University of Maine. Hamilton is the plant manager at the DuPont facility in Rockland, and lives in Rockport with his wife Diane; the pair have four grown children.

Hamilton is a member of the Camden Rotary Club, Rockport's Harbor Committee and serves on the PenBay Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Hamilton said that his professional career and time working in Maine's pulp and paper industry for over 30 years have given him a perspective on business competency which he would bring to municipal affairs if elected.

"I can contribute significantly to the success of Rockport. It is time to focus on the future in our town. There are old issues to bring closure to and new issues to move forward," said Hamilton.

Born in London's East End, John Alexander has served on Rockport's Planning Board for the past eight years, for six of which he has served as the Chairman. His term on the Planning Board expires in June.

After running a company which specialized in overland trips to Africa and Nepal, Alexander worked in America as a management consultant and facilitator, where his professional focus was problem resolution.

"I'm inspired to run for Select Board by many people who have come before me, people committed to keep Rockport the wonderful community it is. My perspectives from work and travel will bring diversity and a difference of opinion... I will always listen," said Alexander.

Debra Hall is an attorney who has specialized in arbitration and negotiating re-insurance contracts. Before moving to Rockport, she served as a village clerk, on historical committees as well as on a Home Owner Association board. She has served on Rockport's Technology Committee and is President of the PenBay Ringers Board, through which she has been active in fundraising events to benefit local charities.

"I've spent a lot of time representing other people and that's one of my passions," said Hall, who described herself as fiscally conservative. Hall said that one of her goals if elected would be to pursue economic development in Rockport.

Ken McKinley has lived in Rockport since 1991, has two grown children, and works as a meteorological consultant, providing forecasts for companies and ocean-going yachts. He has served on the Select Board for the past 6 years, and currently serves as the board's Chairman.

The issues

Duke began the forum by asking each of the candidates what they envisioned for the future of the former Rockport Elementary School site, which abuts the intersection of Route 1 and Route 17.

McKinley said that he views the space as the "gateway to Rockport," and supports a mixed-use plan for the property which may involve retail, business space as well as residences while preserving some of the property. Alexander said he would not develop the sports field, but place retail spaces on the footprint of the former school.

Hall suggested that retail spaces at the RES property would expand the town's tax base. Hamilton said that a survey to capture the desire of the taxpayers, what they envision for the site, should be considered. He said that the final plan for the site should generate tax dollars for the town.

Asked how they would move forward if the proposed Rockport Public Library project is voted-down at the November polls, Hamilton and Hall said it would be important to find out why the ballot measure was rejected. Alexander proposed that in this event, the overall plan for the library be reconsidered.

Alexander suggested that the library's catalog be combined with that of Rockland and Camden libraries, and that the Rockport location be built to the comparatively smaller footprint of the existing structure at 1 Limerock St. He proposed that the building could serve primarily as a children's library and a center for broadband Internet.

"We've been working to put forth a proposal that the town will support...I feel that the town wants a library that people of all ages will use, and I am optimistic about the vote," said McKinley.

Having observed Select Board meetings in the past, the candidates were asked how they would improve how meetings were conducted or the board's functionality.

Hamilton said it is important to make sure the objectives of the meeting are clearly stated, people come prepared, and members are comfortable moving forward from topics which have already been covered. Hall agreed that it's important in the interest of time not to reiterate items which require no action, and suggested that portions of the Town Managers report which require no action do not necessarily need to be read aloud at meetings.

Alexander said that during his tenure on the Planning Board, he learned that members were not allowed to speak as a group informally after each meeting, reflecting on what did or did not work that night. He said he wished that some of the formality of the meetings could be replaced with a more conversational style.

Asked what initiatives they hoped to move forward if elected, McKinley and Hall said developing a master plan for the RES site was a priority. Alexander and Hall spoke in favor of considering broadband Internet for the town, and Alexander said it was important to settle the Rockport Public Library project. Hall also wants to pursue an AARP survey to determine the needs of the town's senior citizens.

Hamilton wants to focus on Rockport's comprehensive plan and developing an economic plan for the town. He spoke of expanding the engagement of residents:

"There are a lot of people here, and they all need to be heard from," said Hamilton, who also referred to the town's infrastructure and a capital plan review.

"If you want to get something done, ask a busy person," said Hall when each of the candidates was asked why they wanted to serve on the Select Board. She, Hamilton and Alexander each said that they had been asked by members of the community to seek election.

"I have always been active in public service....I don't give up, and I always keep an eye out for the positive in every situation," said Hamilton. Alexander said that he was running in order to be "part of the community I have chosen to live in."

Voting will take place Tuesday, June 12 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Richardson Room of the Town Office. The Rockport Town Office is located at 101 Main Street.

 


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