Seven candidates for two open selectman seats took the stage for a March 26 forum designed to let citizens know where each stands on local issues. Over 80 citizens filled the town hall auditorium for the event.
In a five-way race for a two-year seat on the board of selectmen, candidates Randy Astbury, Ellen Best, Henrietta Clews, Vaughn Leach and Kathleen McClure answered four questions posed by moderator Nat Barrows, publisher and editor of The Weekly Packet, which hosted the event.
Incumbent Jim Schatz and Ron Coté, contesting an open three-year seat, answered the same questions.
The four questions were on land use planning and ordinances; naming the top priority for the town in the coming year; whether Blue Hill should hire a full-time town manager; and what drives the candidate to seek a selectman’s seat.
Ron Coté: three-year seat:
Land use planning: “The only approach is to stick with the comprehensive plan that exists and push it as far forward as [we] can,” with input from the community.
Town manager: The town has the resources needed to manage the town, and should use technology more. Each selectman should focus on one area that is their strength.
Top priority: Supporting the business community and the self employed, which are “the backbone of the community.”
Why seeking selectman seat: “My passion is taking possibility and turning it into material and substantive success.” A larger working waterfront is one possibility.
Closing statement: “You get somebody with all the goods rolled in to face the problems you’re facing now.”
Coté has lived in Blue Hill since 1991. He is a Vietnam veteran, with an MBA and his own consulting firm specializing in economic development. He is a member of the local Marine Resources Committee and is on the board of directors for United Cerebral Palsy of Maine.
Jim Schatz: three-year seat
Land use planning: The comprehensive plan in 2006 laid “a lot of the groundwork that would be useful going forward.” Schatz recommends choosing items with “the greatest consensus and working from there.”
Town manager: A three-person selectmen board, with town employees, are capable of delivering town services, “but [we] should be ready for a change if it’s appropriate.” A town manager means big budgets “built around bureaucracy.”
Top priority: Bringing “the small groups that don’t talk together” to “engage with each other and bring issues to the legislative body of the town,” that is town meeting.
Why seeking selectman seat: Schatz “fell in love with the town meeting form of government” in the early 1990s when working on the comprehensive plan. “In my mind there’s nothing more pure than the democratic process of town government and I would do anything to preserve it.”
Closing statement: “On-the-job experience” and tenacity, patience and commitment—characteristics that “I demonstrate every day,” Schatz said—are why he should be returned to office.
Schatz has lived in Blue Hill for 33 years and operated the Blue Hill Farm Country Inn for 25 years. He has served as selectman for most of two decades and is the board’s current chairman. A member of the House of Representatives for District 37 from 2004-2010, he is a Blue Hill Memorial Hospital trustee, serves on the Healthy Peninsula advisory board and the Hancock County budget committee.
Randy Astbury: two-year seat
Land use planning: The town “can’t just sit back and be in horse and buggy days,” Astbury said. He recommends selectmen “get out and see everybody and how they feel,” to involve everyone in the process.
Town manager: “I think we have a few years to go yet,” said Astbury. “We’re holding our own for now.”
Top priority: Astbury’s biggest concern is “putting the excise tax where it belongs—the roads,” and any plans by the state to put responsibility for maintaining state roads on the town.
Why seeking selectmen seat: “The town is growing but it’s still a small town,” said Astbury. “I feel it would be an interesting job.” He would like to continue to “do the best for the townspeople that I can.”
Closing statement: “I think I have some stuff I can contribute,” through his work experience. “To make a living in this area, you have to put a lot of hats on,” he said. The selectman seat “is just another hat I want to put on my head.”
Astbury has “always worked around the Blue Hill area.” After civil engineering school, he worked as a land surveyor, and was town road commissioner from 1992-1998. He operates a small business specializing in heavy equipment work. He has also been a member of the Odd Fellows for about 40 years.
Ellen Best: two-year seat
Land use planning: “It’s not a quick fix and not something the planning board can take on; their job is to interpret.”
Town manager: “That’s an easy yes for me. The flip side is finding the right one.” A town manager would deal with issues like the “crane sitting in the harbor for 1-1/2 years,” and to “grease the wheels and get things done.”
Top priority: “I think we’re in danger of losing our downtown.” Organizations, programs and grants are available to help revitalize the downtown, “one of the defining parts of Blue Hill.”
Why seeking selectman seat: “Blue Hill is where I’ve chosen to spend my life. It is my home. I feel I have a lot I can contribute.” Best said she can “think about the town government in a different way, with a different viewpoint.”
Closing statement: A full-time lawyer, Best said she “knows how to manage time and prioritize.” Currently chairman of the Blue Hill Library board of trustees, she will give up that position if elected. Best has long served on the Blue Hill Heritage Trust board and has experience working with non-profits and businesses.
Henrietta Clews: two-year seat
Land use planning: “Change is coming. How do we want to regulate it?” With a population doubled since 1974, the question is “do we want to regulate it or not to?” The selectmen’s job is to support the planning board, with input from the town and professionals.
Town manager: With three part-time selectmen, “a town manager might be something Blue Hill is getting ready to think about.”
Top priority: More input from the town and more involvement from townspeople—“all the townspeople”—and “how to communicate the town process to people so they can participate.”
Why seeking selectman seat: Describing herself as a “fervent supporter of the democratic process,” Clews would like the chance to “give back to the town.”
Closing statement: The town needs to create “more vital, economic opportunity,” an increase its tax base and revenue sources, strong schools, protected property values and better Internet service. Clews has “served on a lot of committees, knows how to read a financial report,” and how to listen. “I know how to work with people.”
Clews has lived in Blue Hill since 1968. A nurse midwife at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital from 1985-2009, she now operates Healthcare for Women. She has served as a Blue Hill Library and Bay School trustee.
Vaughn Leach: two-year seat
Land use planning: “One thing I learned about Blue Hill is you can’t throw everything at them at once.” Leach recommends small changes, and suggests voting on updates to the comprehensive plan “two or three items at a time.”
Town manager: “We have an opportunity now to have three working selectmen. Give them a little more time.” Leach “disagrees economically” with the idea, and recommends looking at similar-sized towns for perspective.
Top priority: Looking ahead at budgets: “Huge cuts are going to be needed in places that aren’t going to be popular. If the government takes town excise tax for state roads, it would be “a huge impact on any small town.”
Why seeking selectman seat: “For the love of the town.” With land use issues “the most divisive thing we have to deal with…I think I’m a good middle-of-the-road” candidate.
Closing statement: “With my history in the town, I’ve seen lots and lots of changes.” Leach’s background in business and organization “allows me the expertise to work with everybody…and see what methods might work out.”
Leach was born in Blue Hill and graduated from George Stevens Academy in 1980, when he started Blue Hill Disposal. He has been on the board of appeals for decades and on the planning board since 2011.
Kathleen McClure: two-year seat
Land use planning: Input is needed from everyone. “We have a comprehensive plan. It’s just out of date and needs work. The role of the selectmen is to support the planning board. “We could probably use some professional help.”
Town manager: “I’d like to think Blue Hill could continue its existing form of government into the future…The real work is done at town meeting. Every citizen is a voter and link to the town.”
Top priority: A functional, current, working website would “help with feedback and notification…It’s not that expensive.”
Why seeking selectman seat: A “part of the town for 40 years,” and after serving as treasurer, on the planning board and budget committee three decades, “I felt my time had come.”
Closing statement: “I want to continue working for Blue Hill.” While everybody’s “got a lot of history,” McClure’s history in Blue Hill is as a 1969 GSA graduate, followed by work on energy assistance in the 1970s. She served as treasurer in the 1980s and then on the planning board and the budget committee for six years in the 1990s and 2000s, respectively. “Everybody’s got a lot of history.”