Originally published in The Weekly Packet, January 21, 2016
Sedgwick municipal elections draw three contested races
Selectman, school board and tax collector
by Anne Berleant
Four open positions in the town of Sedgwick have drawn a slate of candidates forming contested races in three elections.
Colby Pert seeks to fill an open seat as second selectman in a race against incumbent Nelson Grindal.
Two open three-year seats on the school board have drawn three candidates, incumbent and Chairman Clare Grindal, incumbent Marti Brill and newcomer Sommer Anderson.
A three-year term as tax collector has two candidates, Elizabeth Gray and Rhoda Astbury.
The Weekly Packet held interviews with all candidates; questions and answers are below.
Elections will be held Friday, March 4, with polls open at the Sedgwick Town Hall from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Nelson Grindal, incumbent, Second selectman, three-year term
Incumbent Nelson Grindal has served for 15 years on the board of selectmen, on the town budget committee and on the Hancock County Budget Advisory Committee since 2001. A native of Sedgwick, he has served in the National Guard, and is retired as a building contractor and electrical technician. He has been married for 47 years.
Why seeking re-election: Since only selectmen may serve on the Hancock County Budget Advisory Committee, “that’s one of the reasons I’m running. I think it’s good for the town of Sedgwick to have some say” in the county budget. Sedgwick pays about $100,000 in taxes to the county.
He also would like to see the town landing at Benjamin River project finished. Like Walker Pond, the project will provide recreation, moorings, fishing, and “give the people of Sedgwick something unique.”
Biggest challenges facing Sedgwick: 1. School budget. “It’s 67 percent of the town budget. 2. Road maintenance. Town roads are in good condition as 10-year road tarring plan nears an end. With state subsidies less than in previous years, the plan needs revising. 3. Town landings. “We’ve got 13, and most are open to the public.” Plans for access to the Salt Pond are currently being worked on.
Sedgwick’s strengths, and how to use them to better the town: 1. Access to the shore. “One of my real goals” is to see that all bodies of water in town have public access. 2. “We have good people here.” 3. Route 15. “I think it’s an ideal situation for businesses.”
Balancing economic growth and residential neighborhoods: Residential growth is stagnant. Biggest problem, especially as it effects town budget, is not a lot of expensive shore property. Town has reputation as being “unfriendly to business” but is not.
In favor of entertainment ordinance: Yes. As proposed, “it will give the town a good handle” on regulating permits.
Colby Pert, Second selectman, three-year term
Pert has served 17 years total as selectman, but has been off the board since 2013. Born in Blue Hill, he lives in Sedgwick with his wife of 58 years, and is retired as a “jack of all trades.” Pert notes a combined 23 years of service on the school board, board of appeals and budget committee.
Why seeking election: “Numerous people have asked me to run. They felt my opponent shouldn’t be unopposed.” Would like to “bring some civility to board, work with the people. At times you don’t know the route they want but you can get there.”
The board should “do what the people tell it to do at town meeting, bring up things that might need to be done and let the pole vote. I’m a firm believer that the people run the town, not the select board.”
Biggest challenges facing Sedgwick: 1. The cost of education. “It’s no different than anywhere else in Maine. But it’s a problem and it’s not going away….One of the things we can do is consolidation. It’s a dirty word when you bring it up but I don’t see any other way.” School was built for 130 students and “costs the same” with less students. “There’s no reason” Sedgwick can’t consolidate with neighboring towns “in an amicable way.”
Sedgwick’s strengths, and how to use them to better the town: “Its rural character. Therein lies some of its problems, too.” For example, the town has a lack of WiFi, which is needed by businesses today, so new businesses “pass us by.”
Balancing economic growth with residential neighborhoods:
“We don’t want a smelter but we do want the [Strong’s] brewery” and similar home occupation businesses. “I think this is the way we have to go….In these little towns things come down the road you don’t see coming. If people don’t like it we can change the ordinance.”
In favor of entertainment ordinance: Yes. “We have to have one by law.”
Sommer Anderson, School board, three-year term
Anderson moved from Penobscot to Sedgwick last year. “We chose Sedgwick for the school,” she said. A bus driver for Brown’s Busing, she studied culinary arts at Southern Maine Community College, and has two young children.
“This is my first real interest to be on a committee,” she said. “My goal and thought in running is to be more involved in decisions that will potentially affect my children. I feel I have a personal interest in the school and the community.”
Job of school board member: School board member should keep students’ best interests in mind. “I believe the board should be engaged in the school. Looking at a piece of paper and budgeting is different if you’re not involved in the day-to-day school.” The board should communicate with parents, which is “tricky,” since parents don’t come to board meetings.
Challenges facing school: 1. Budgeting. “Everyone wants their school to be the best but you don’t want to tax your town dry.” 2. Superintendent search.
Traits to look for in new superintendent: The superintendent should be knowledgeable in how to run a school and district, be a “people person,” and “have the energy to keep up.”
Balancing programs and budget: “Nobody wants to see the budget increase but also doesn’t want a mediocre school.” Keeping the budget down can mean cutting programs. “We should offer more to our school so we can attract younger families to Sedgwick.” Anderson is in favor of proposed pre-K program, moved to Sedgwick because of the Head Start program that was then closed.
Sedgwick and Union 76: “The future of Union 76 is unknown but I can say that joining with Union 93 seems financially feasible.”
Why vote for her: “I am new to the process…but I would like voters to know I am a very eager, driven individual. I feel I could serve well on the school board.
Marti Brill, incumbent, School board, three-year term
Brill was appointed to the board in 2013 and then was elected the following year to serve a two-year term. She was involved in different aspects of the school when her son, now in college, was in the school. Brill has a degree in Fine Arts in Industrial Design, and a certificate in environmental horticulture focused on landscape design. She is in the process of starting a small farm in Sedgwick.
Job of school board member: “The job of the board, and therefore the school board members, is to provide the means for the best possible education for the children of the community. ‘Best possible’ includes trying to develop best case scenarios given budgeting constraints of the community.” She believes it’s “very important” that community is involved in budget discussion. “It’s up to the town to decide” if it can or can’t afford what the board presents in its budget. Board members should spend some time in the school, “as appropriate.”
Challenges facing school: 1. Being able to maintain and expand regular education programs. “These are the programs hit when we have expenses [such as] special education and high school tuition.” 2. Meeting the needs of gifted and talented students. 3. Physical plant of the school. “The physical plant is this enormous asset that belongs to the town. It is our responsibility to maintain that asset.”
Traits to look for in new superintendent: “Clearly we need someone who understands the financial end of the superintendent’s job. Other than that, I would look for someone committed to being supportive of the administration and staff of the school.”
Balancing programs and budget: “People in the town of Sedgwick feel their taxes are too high. I get it.” The board has been “very careful about cutting frivolous expenses everywhere we can.” But pre-K can “save money in the long run,” and attract residents. “The Peninsula towns are competing for residents. The more we have, the more people [there are] to share the tax burden.”
Sedgwick and Union 76: “I definitely think we are at a pint now where it makes sense to look at the possibility of changing our alignment.”
Why vote for her: “I am running because I have long-term experience with the school and have now been on the board. There’s an enormous learning curve to understanding how the budget works, how setting policy works….I have that under my belt now. I feel I understand how things work and would like to continue.”
Clare Grindal, incumbent, School board
Grindal seeks a fifth elected term on the board. A school teacher in Stonington and then Deer Isle-Stonington for 35 years, she is now retired. Grindal has been married for 47 years, and has two grown children.
Job of school board member: “You have to be a person who looks at both sides [of issues], and listens to people on both sides. You can’t be a one-issue person. There’s a whole school to run.” Being on the board takes dedication. “It’s not 12 meetings a year; it’s a lot more than that,” including budget and Union 76 meetings. Board members should spend time in the school “any chance they can. How can they know what’s going on if they don’t talk to the teachers, staff and find out what they need? Those are things you have to discover.”
Challenges facing school: 1. The budget. “It’s been very difficult” because of high special education and high school tuition costs and having “to have the budget done so early.” 2. Hiring a new superintendent.
Traits to look for in new superintendent: The new superintendent should have “a strong business sense, to start with. I’d like to see a person who talks to the public. That tends to cause fewer problems.” While “it’s fine to worry about curriculum, in a small school district it’s all about the books and the paperwork.”
Balancing programs and budget: “You have to take higher special education and high school tuition [costs] into consideration. But you can’t have nothing for kids in the regular curriculum.” Students are “doing well,” with improvement in reading, and doing advanced math. “We keep rolling along.”
Sedgwick and Union 76: Board is having “very strong thoughts on getting out” of Union 76. “When the superintendent’s office moved [to Deer Isle], we didn’t see the superintendent much. We were second class citizens.”
Why vote for her: “I have experience. I understand all the major problems facing us. At this time, the board needs experienced people.”
Rhoda Astbury, Tax Collector, two-year term
Astbury has lived in Sedgwick her entire life, has two children and is currently engaged to be married.
Professional experience: “I’ve always been in the position of an administrative assistant or office manager. I’ve always worked with numbers.” Astbury has worked for two local real estate companies, is “very familiar” with tax information and properties tax filing, and is “open to what townspeople want as far as different hours and expanding hours” of the tax collector.
Why she is running: “Looking at what the job entails, it seems interesting and fun to me and I like challenges. I’m just real community involved and the opportunity came up and I thought why not it fits me well and my job background fits it well.”
Why vote for her: “I feel I have great background dealing with the public. I’ve always dealt with people. Knowing databases and systems is another big thing. Both of my [previous] jobs entailed that.”
Elizabeth Gray, Tax Collector, two-year term
Gray is a Sedgwick native who attended University of Maine at Fort Kent and is currently taking an extended period of time off.
Professional experience: Gray worked as an administrative assistant in the university admissions office for three years while attending school. Her duties included data entry of records, scheduling appointments, maintaining accounts, and interacting with the public. She was also a student tele-counselor, responsible for contacting prospective students. “I have a huge background in working with the public.”
Why she is running: “I’m running because I think in this day and age the town office would benefit from a different perspective in the office. A lot of people may wonder if I’m qualified at age 23 years old but I don’t think age should really limit someone if they’re capable of doing the job.”
Why vote for her: “I think I can bring a positive light to the town. If I am elected I’m looking to get feedback from the residents of Sedgwick so I can see what hours they are interested in having [the town office open] to register their vehicles and pay taxes. You’re working for the town so you should provide back to the town.”
Incumbent Paul Carter seeks reelection to continue as road commissioner in a three-year term. Cynthia Reilly, also an incumbent, seeks reelection to a three-year term as town clerk.