News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 20, 2014
Blue Hill Town Meeting
Uncontested races don’t even fill the ballot in Blue Hill

by Anne Berleant and Faith DeAmbrose

When Blue Hill voters gather for the election portion of town meeting there will be few names on the ballot—and no decisions will be required. In fact, there will be fewer names than the town actually needs to fill its open positions.

On the municipal side, John Bannister is seeking reelection to “either my seventh or eighth term,” on the board of selectmen, he said recently. Bannister currently serves as chairman of the board.

Bill Cousins seeks reelection to a three-year term as road commissioner.

There are two open three-year seats on the planning board, and there are no candidates to print on the ballot. No one took out papers for either of the open seats, which means that the board of selectmen will need to appoint people to fill those positions if write-in candidates are not elected.

The Weekly Packet conducted interviews with the selectman and school board candidates.

John Bannister, selectman, three-year term

At this time last year, Bannister and fellow selectman Jim Schatz were “just trying to keep the office functioning,” after losing two important people at the town office: Selectman Duane Gray and Town Clerk Janet Torrey. Gray and Torrey died on the same weekend in September 2012, and for seven months, the two-man board kept things moving.

“I really can’t think of two people with more different views,” said Bannister of himself and Schatz, “but we both put the town first and went out of our way to accommodate the other person.” For Bannister, that was a moment from his last term that he will not soon forget.

That was last year—and what about this year? For Bannister, the thing to watch is the budget. With increasing unfunded mandates from the state and the reduction of both federal and state funds—to not only the institutions of municipality and school, but to the third-party organizations that provide services to the town—the costs continue to fall to the taxpayer. “If this year is any example, budgeting is about to get tougher,” he said, noting that as subsidies dry up “the local taxpayers have to make up the differences.” Or, he said, decide to forego services. “We may be only a couple of elections away from “out of control, unaffordable taxes for residents.”

Bannister points to the school budget in particular this year. While the municipal budget is up about 600 taxable dollars, the school budget is looking at an increase of about 8 percent for its 2014-15 budget, or more than $200,000. “After the school came forward with its numbers, it planted a seed that we needed to be cautious [in crafting the municipal budget] because the school budget is about 80 percent of the town’s overall budget,” said Bannister.

Bannister also highlighted projects the selectmen are working on and will continue in the coming year, including the possibility of dredging Blue Hill Harbor to make the inner harbor all-tides accessible, the reconceptualization of “Blue Hill Activities” and continuing to “keep up with technology.”

He said that he enjoys the job of selectman and the people he works with at the town office. “I will continue to do the job until I stop enjoying it.” He said compared to “other towns, you look at Blue Hill’s situation and I have to think that we are doing something right.”

Two run for two open school board seats

By ANNE BERLEANT

BLUE HILL—Two vacancies for three-year terms on the school board will likely be filled by one seasoned and one new candidate. Current board member Annie Rice seeks reelection while newcomer Sean Walsh looks to fill the seat left open by Susan Keenan. Barring any write-in candidates, the races will be uncontested come election day, April 4.

Annie Rice

Annie Rice is seeking her second term on the school board.

“I feel it’s important to be there and be a voice for the community,” she said in a recent telephone call.

Rice said she actively looks for opinions from the community, so the board is aware of different perspectives and knows “what people are looking” for in the school community.

“I feel it’s my responsibility to seek that out, even if [people] can’t make it to our meetings or don’t understand the process,” she said.

This allows for a “wide variety of representation,” she said, with “as many perspectives and dialog [brought] to the table as possible.”

Rice earned a degree in physical education at the University of Maryland before working in the teaching and development branch of a retail outlet company. She has a fourth grader at BHCS and a high school student at John Bapst.

Sean Walsh

Walsh, an instructor in the Marine Transportation Department at Maine Maritime Academy, seeks to serve the town of Blue Hill as a public official for the first time. After 24 years with the United States Coast Guard, “I’m grounded now,” he said in a recent interview. “I haven’t had the opportunity to be involved with community as I do now.”

Why choose to run for the school board?

“I have kids at Blue Hill Consolidated School, [and] the school’s got a great reputation. Great programs, great teachers.”

Walsh said he could add “a different perspective” to the board. “I really don’t have an academic background,” but coming from the structured environment of the Coast Guard, “maybe I can add a bit of structure.”

The “ultimate goal” of the school “is to make the kids successful at life, whether they go on to college, a trade school or directly into the work force,” he said.

Toward that end, Walsh supports the proposed pre-K program: “I’d like to see that…go through,” he said. “It seems like every study that’s done, students have done a lot better when there’s been a pre-K program.”

He also sees one board goal as monitoring curriculum. “That’s a moving target,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re putting forth a proper curriculum.”

That said, he views the budget as the biggest challenge the board faces.

“We want to put programs in place, but in order to do that, it costs money,” he said. “That’s a challenge. You can’t make everybody happy, and that’s a challenge, too.”

Blue Hill, Maine school board candidate runs unopposed

Sean Walsh.

Photo by Anne Berleant
Blue Hill, Maine school board candidate runs unopposed

Annie Rice.

Penobscot Bay Press file photo