Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 28, 2019
Candidate forum touches on future of Blue Hill
Blue Hill selectman candidates Adam Gray, left, and Jim Dow discuss the issues at a March 25 forum at Blue Hill Public Library.
by Anne Berleant
What do voters want in a selectman? Questions asked of the two candidates, Jim Dow and Adam Gray, at a March 25 forum addressed issues such as predicted sea level rise, land use, the local commercial fishery, deferred town maintenance, and whether a town administrator is needed. The latter is up for referendum vote on April 5 when ballots will also be cast in the selectman’s race.
“I’m a down home country boy,” Gray began his opening statement. A self-employed carpenter, contractor and lobsterman, he spoke of his 25-year involvement with the local Odd Fellows chapter and as basketball coach for elementary school-age youth. In his answer to the first question, “How do you see the role of selectmen in town government and, if elected, what would your approach to governing be?” Gray said there are different ways to view each issue that comes up, and he would “be proactive and see things coming down the road.” He also called for greater transparency from the board of selectmen, and more attention to maintaining building and roads “before they implode.”
Dow, an attorney and former executive director of Blue Hill Heritage Trust, has lived in Blue Hill for 25 years and traces his family’s local roots back to the late 1700s. Being a selectman “is a two-part job:” to manage town affairs and to bring issues before the town at town meeting. If elected, Dow said, “The job of the selectmen is to ensure good government at the local level, transparent, approachable, forward thinking….I don’t and never intend to represent one part of the community.” He later raised the idea of expanding the board of selectmen from three to five members.
Little separated the two candidates in their responses, and both called for citizens not to follow the divisive national tone into an “us and them” attitude between native and non-native Blue Hill residents. “I think we can probably all agree that we’re tired of it. If we keep that stuff out of it, we’d be a better community,” Gray said.
While both candidates agreed on the need for a town administrator, Dow spoke more broadly of looking to the future, while Gray focused more on specifics. On the question of land use, Dow said the town should think “about what we want to look like [but] not going into the weeds and telling you what to do with your property. Maybe there’s a time for zoning but it’s not now,” he said. Gray spoke directly to the long-held local view of property rights: “It’s [the owners’] right and their property. It’s taxed and taxed to no end. Why should someone else be able to tell me what to do on my property?” Regarding downtown, and whether better street lighting, clearing ice and snow from sidewalks and public trash cans are called for, Gray said he was in favor of all three. Dow agreed—although both raised the issue of maintaining public trash cans—but brought up the “bigger question about Main Street and downtown, how to make it appealing for visitors and people who live here.”
One question asked whether the town should enact an historic preservation ordinance. “I’d listen to a lot of talk on that before I’d go very far,” Dow said. Gray was more cut-and-dried, replying, “I believe it’s up to the person or people who own their building to [choose how to] maintain [them],” he said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword to tell someone what [they] have to do.”
Gray stressed the importance of the local commercial fishery. He noted $6.4 million “came right here in town in 2018” in the lobster catch. “I’d say [the commercial fishery] is one of the biggest industries in Blue Hill.” The possible dredging of the Blue Hill harbor for all-tide access by fishermen and recreational users “needs to happen,” Gray said.
Dow agreed on the economic and cultural importance of the fishery. “They’re the people we live and work with,” he said. “It’s a very important part of how we do here, how we live.”
On projected higher sea levels, Dow said, “Something is happening out there and we’re going to have to deal with it.” Gray was more circumspect, noting “There are different heights in tides. I’m not saying that something isn’t happening. I don’t know what Blue Hill can do to stop the rising tides. I don’t think there’s really anything.”
Both spoke to the need to address town roads and buildings. Dow noted the $1.4 million Blue Hill Consolidated School renovation project, and the 30 miles of town roads that have been “patched together for years. It’s a question of how much we as a community wish to spend. It’s a balance because property tax is where a lot of this money comes from. We need to maintain a reasonable tax rate. You either pay now or pay later.”
Gray called for “maybe some accountability,” and hiring local tradespeople, citing a sub-par roof job at BHCS by an out-of-town contractor who reportedly absconded without paying for materials. “The school itself has gotten away from us,” he said. Volunteers and financial donations address issues as they arise, such as replacing the BHCS basketball hoop backboard with an adjustable one through Gray raising $3,000 “in a week,” and an outdoor program for youth developed in partnership with BHHT.
“This community has so many organizations working for the good of the town,” Dow agreed. “Participation is where it’s at in small-town democracy.”
On the final two questions, whether the health insurance that comes with the selectman’s position motivated them to run and whether the chamber of commerce should receive town funding, both said no.
In his closing statement, Dow said, “I”m fortunate to live here. We have great people, a lot of wonderful assets. If I’m elected, I’ll work hard on all of your behalf.”
“Ditto,” said Gray.
Questions came from the audience or were sent in advance to The Weekly Packet. The forum was co-sponsored by Penobscot Bay Press, publisher of The Packet, the League of Women Voters-Downeast and the Blue Hill Public Library. Nat Barrows, editor and publisher of Penobscot Bay Press newspapers, served as moderator.
Voting will be held Friday, April 5, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., at town hall.