Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Candidates line up for county charter commission

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Nine local residents have put their names in for candidacy for the Cumberland County Charter Commission, which will be elected in November to find ways to improve county government.

Some issues that seem certain to come up in the discussions, no matter whom is elected, are increasing the size of the county’s governing commission, appointing rather than electing certain county officials and consolidating emergency services dispatching.

Seven are running in District 2, representing Baldwin, Cape Elizabeth, Frye Island, Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland, Standish and Westbrook. Voters will choose two.

Shawn Babine is a town councilor in Scarborough who believes “it’s the perfect time and opportunity” to look at “how we can improve all levels of government.” He wants to look at whether the county should have its own taxing authority, rather than sending bills to the towns, which then impose taxes. He wants the town to have a voice. “As Scarborough is growing, we need to become more involved in regional issues,” he said.

James Damicis of Scarborough also is running. He worked on a project 12 years ago at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service that predicted regionalization would have taken place around the year 2000. Formerly with the Planning Decisions company as a consultant for Scarborough’s Growth and Services Committee, Damicis wants to “make county government more efficient.” He also wants to make it “more visible.”

In Aroostook County, people who are asked where they’re from will say “The County,” while here, “they might not even know the county that they’re in,” Damicis said.

David Bourke of South Portland spent 30 years in private industry and plans to advocate for what members of the public say they want from the county during a series of workshops with the charter commission. He said his experience living in other areas of the U.S. could give him valuable ideas on how to do things differently here. “New England is really behind the times when it comes to” regionalization, Bourke said.

Nancy Larsen of South Portland said she has not had a lot of time to look at the charter. A former city councilor and mayor in South Portland, she said she knows that city’s charter very well but did not know the county doesn’t have one.

John McGinty is a Cape Elizabeth town councilor and a member of the county’s budget advisory committee who has expressed reservations in the past about the county’s budget process. “One of the first things on my mind is to make the county more accountable,” McGinty said. He wants there to be more commissioners. Now, “essentially you have two people controlling a $25 million budget.”

Harold Parks of Gorham spent his career working in public administration, including as administrative assistant to the mayor in Westbrook. He wants to regionalize services, including emergency dispatching. “We have these needs and at the same time we have limited resources,” Parks said. A regional view could help meet those needs with less money.

Robert Reynolds of Gorham, a Portland firefighter, said he believes it is time to consider “regionalization or consolidation of services.” He said 495 municipal entities for a million people is too many. At the same time, “I also want to make sure that there’s no degradation of services.” Now, there is too much fragmentation. “Every community acts as if the world stops at the town line,” Reynolds said.

For District 3, representing Bridgton, Brunswick, Casco, Freeport, Gray, Harpswell, Harrison, Naples, New Gloucester, Pownal, Raymond, Sebago, Windham and Yarmouth, there are three candidates, including Thomas Bartell and Lani Swartzentruber, both from Windham.

Bartell, a town councilor, said he wants to continue his involvement in county government, where he has served on the budget advisory committee and is now a trustee for the Civic Center. He wants to look at what other counties do, both in the state and around the nation. “I’m for effective government,” he said.

Lani Swartzentruber is a Portland attorney specializing in corporate charters and bylaws. She wants to do thorough research on the issues involved in a county charter. She supports smaller, more efficient government with fewer regulations but is reluctant to cut government positions in a state that “needs more good jobs.” And though if elected, she herself would be representing people in Brunswick, she disputed the ability of a Brunswick resident to accurately represent the needs of people in Windham, where she lives. “You can’t tell me that someone who lives in Brunswick” knows what’s best for Windham, she said.