On June 13, voters in Camden will elect two citizens from a slate of five candidates to serve on the Camden Select Board. There are two open seats this June, both three-year terms. Current board chair Robert Falciani is not running again, but incumbent Alison McKellar is seeking a third term on the board. She is joined by former Camden Select Board member Marc Ratner, who is hoping to return to the board. They are joined by Christopher Nolan, Raymond Andresen and Mary Beth Thomas, all hoping to represent the town.
Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region. Here, Alison McKellar discusses her position on various topics.
Please provide a brief biography of yourself and explain why you decided to seek a seat on the Select Board.
I know most people can't possibly read this whole thing and that many of you are probably concerned about taxes, so I wanted to insert this right at the beginning.
There is a new program from the state to benefit people 65 years and older who have owned their Maine home for at least 10 years. You can apply to have your property taxes frozen at their current level. I'm finding that many of the people who could most benefit from this relief are not applying for the help.
I don't necessarily agree with this approach to tax relief (because it has nothing to do with need and everything to do with age) but I would like to see more people who need the help getting it. Call the town assessing office or visit this link.
I grew up in Camden, splitting my time with my dad on Spruce Street, and my mom in North Union, just on the edge of the Burkettville town line. I attended the Children's House Montessori School, Appleton Village School and Camden Hills Regional High School (two years in Camden and two years at the new Rockport facility).
I attended college at Stetson University in Florida on a full academic scholarship, where I majored in sociology and Spanish, learning the finer points of how to go about quantitative and qualitative research. I loved learning how to search academic journals, conduct surveys, and review data, and this skill has served me well on the Select Board. Researching issues is a big part of what I enjoy.
After graduating, I lived and worked throughout Latin America as a translator and volunteer coordinator for various nonprofit organizations. When I returned to Camden, I imagined it would be temporary, but, like so many, I experienced my hometown with a new appreciation. I got an apartment and worked in jobs ranging from bartending at Peter Otts to legal blogging, from freelance web design to teaching Spanish at the Watershed School. It was the Watershed School that really influenced my decision to stay in the area and I worked there for four years before the birth of my second child.
My husband, Vincent Jones, works in the marine service industry for a company called Safe Harbor and we live on Mechanic Street. Since 2014, our porch has served as a drop off location for humanitarian items bound for Syria. Recently, our group transitioned to focus exclusively on medical supplies through an organization called Partners for World Health. Our porch is still used as a drop-off location and we do weekly pickups at local hospitals. This experience has given me the chance to connect with so many of you and it's one of the best things about living in town.
We’ve been renting rooms in our home to mostly year-round renters who also share our kitchen and we have met wonderful people this way. We've also had many college students living here through the J1 visa work travel program while they spend their summers working in downtown Camden's inns and restaurants.
This has definitely given me an insight into the struggle to find both employees and housing for them and I've enjoyed getting to know many of the business owners this way, too. It allows us to supplement our income and gives me the freedom to have more time for volunteer efforts and for our two kids who attend the elementary and middle school.
I am running for a third term on the Select Board because I believe the community benefits from having a mix of long standing members and fresh perspectives. Many people have invested their time, trust, and energy into expanding my knowledge of issues that impact the community, and I feel I owe it to all of them to give it another three years.
I enjoy the opportunity to be someone who is out and about in the community and approachable for people who cannot always make it to a formal meeting or who don’t feel comfortable speaking in public for whatever reason. Some of the most valuable and thought provoking input I receive is from people who are not going to speak from the podium.
What are the three most pressing issues facing Camden today, and how would you like to see them resolved?
Water related infrastructure: I would include stormwater, wastewater and the water we pump out of our quarry landfill as leachate. And then of course there is the ocean.
In Camden, water has always been both our greatest asset and our greatest challenge. We are in an unprecedented moment in terms of the amount of federal funding available for communities to address vulnerabilities to coastal storms, and we must not miss the opportunity to address these issues in a way that works with nature rather than against it.
In much the same way that the federal government incentivized the erection of wastewater treatment plants in the 1960s through massive subsidies to the towns that moved forward voluntarily, bipartisan funding is available today to help communities rethink and rebuild culverts, sea walls, dams, and public spaces in a way that is less susceptible to damage.
We live where the mountains meet the sea, and that means that when rain falls, water travels quickly and recedes quickly. But on its way down, it puts a lot of wear and tear on our infrastructure and can end up in many places where it's not wanted.
Global average sea level has risen 8–9 inches since 1880 and the rate at which it is increasing has quickened.
In 2021, global sea level set a new record high— 3.8 inches above 1993 levels. For much of the highly developed areas right next to the water, an inch or two makes the difference between waves overtopping a sea wall or not.
For the past several years, I have been documenting storm events and high tides as much as possible. I have received harsh criticism over the years from people who claimed these videos were exaggerating the issue. I know every flooding video or photo I post will mean at least a few people saying something derogatory about me, but no matter what you believe is causing accelerated climate change, we must recognize that building close to the ocean is very expensive and we should pick our battles wisely.
Here's a video from the December storm.
All over Camden there is more water that needs to pass under our buildings, bridges, and drainage pipes, especially in the downtown. Roads, culverts, sewer, and storm drains are already in constant need of replacement and the more water, the faster it all needs attention.
There are incredible grant opportunities available at the state and federal level to address the challenges in a way that makes us more resilient while also restoring habitat for fish and other animals. If we can deal with rising seas and increased rain in a way that makes our town more livable for wildlife and less expensive for people, we can get help paying for it while making Camden a place that's even better for birdwatchers, fishermen, and kids who love looking under rocks.
Affordability/gentrification: This is a fancy way of saying that Camden is becoming too desirable to be affordable and sometimes too fussy to be fun. The affordable, cramped, and noisy second floor apartments above downtown businesses have historically housed working people, recent graduates, restaurant staff, and boat captains. I've lived in more than one.
Even just 10-12 years ago, when I had returned home to Camden and was working at Peter Ott’s as a bartender at night and part time at the Watershed School by day, there were still at least a handful of places that could be counted on to stay open past 11.
People living in apartments nearby understood that the downtown is sometimes noisy and that's part of what made these spaces affordable. Unfortunately, as more buildings were remodeled, many traded out factories and offices for housing closer to town, and complaints about noise often plagued businesses and patrons until they kind of gave up.
People are moving to Camden and investing massive amounts of money into landscaping and remodeling their dream homes (or dream vacation homes as it often is). This is good for the community in many ways because it provides jobs and an increasing tax base that actually keeps tax rates much lower in Camden than in many similar communities. However, we must carve out areas of town where commercial activity and public gatherings are not expected to keep things to a whisper once the sun goes down.
The democratic process: When I first started on the board, only certain Select Board workshops were live-streamed or recorded, neither were any of the committee meetings, and remote participation was not even being considered. Tuesday evenings are never going to be an easy time for people to spend a few hours down at the Town Office Conference Room, especially for those working in restaurants or with kids. I have personally logged hundreds of hours filming meetings myself and administering the Zoom function so that town government could be reachable to a more diverse group of residents.
We are lucky to have any newspaper at all in our small community, but the bandwidth they have to cover everything going on with veteran reporters is not what it used to be. There was a time when local papers went out three times a week and town government evolved under a model where this was our main way of educating residents. Today, we are at a crossroads where people have a lot of power over what gets approved or not but they don't have easy ways of learning the full picture.
For many years I have wanted a town newsletter, but being a Select Board member is a good way to learn quickly that you don't get everything you want. I've tried to do as much writing as I can myself. My philosophy has been that even if people disagree with what I'm sharing, they will at least have it as something on their radar if I post about it on Facebook or include it in my weekly column (which I was writing in the Camden Herald before they made me stop during the election period).
Town politics can be painful for all involved and I continue to believe that we will be better off as a town if we can incorporate public input in a way that is less adversarial such as surveys and community gatherings without a rigid agenda.
So many people in town have incredibly valuable perspectives to offer, but the vast majority will never come to a meeting on their own accord and wait to say these things at the right moment. The meeting process itself can stand to be improved but we must find ways of reaching out to people who might not be inclined to participate from the podium on a Tuesday night while streaming live on YouTube and cable TV.
With residents being busier than ever, it is unfair to expect that everyone can give their opinions during formal meetings or that they have the time to do detailed research on every ballot or budget item. I don't plan to wait around for the perfect system. Stop me on the street, knock on my door, or send me a message. I am a little introverted socially, but I always like it when people approach me to talk about something Camden related.
I continue to look for ways that people can give input quickly and I will continue to use social media and letters to the editor to share thoughts and solicit comments. I see the job of the Select Board as really being the voice of people who cannot show up to meetings all the time or follow along with every issue (this includes being a voice for non-human Camden residents as well).
How will you protect the Camden taxpayer as you govern a municipal budget and juggle various interests that request municipal funding throughout the year?
Protecting the taxpayer means different things to different people. Some of the best advice I ever received was the simple line: When in doubt, do what is best for the majority of residents.
This isn’t always perfectly clear but it does help cut through some of the distractions and debates that can easily hijack town staff time. The Town of Camden, like most small towns, can easily be consumed by individual complaints at the expense of broad community goals. Since the biggest part of the town budget is dedicated to wages and salaries, protecting the taxpayer means thinking about how we are spending our time and being willing to take the heat occasionally when doing what is best for the majority means doing or saying something unpopular with people we may know and like.
The requests to the Town for free services are usually innocent enough but there is no such thing as free and we often don't see the full cost.
The town used to subsidize waste disposal for everyone. You could throw away as much as you wanted at the town dump and the total cost was rolled into everyone's taxes. Today, each resident pays for their own trash and not their neighbor's trash. It seems logical enough now and it has saved taxpayers many tens of millions of dollars but it was incredibly controversial at the time.
A little information about the impact of certain budget items on taxes was helpful to me when I was a budget committee member. First, keep in mind that the municipal budget accounts for roughly ⅓ of your total property tax bill. The rest is from the school district and county.
Camden’s mill rate is $13.20 per $1,000 of assessed value of your property. This means that a property with a fair market value of $100,000 would pay $1,320 in property taxes.
In order to reduce the mill rate by $1, we would need to reduce expenses in the town budget by $1.32 million. This would result in a tax bill that would be $132 lower for the $100,000 property. Our home is assessed at $355,000 with the homestead exemption factored in. A $1.3 million dollar reduction in the town budget would save us $462/year.
By the same token, a revenue increase of the same amount would have the same effect. For example, getting grant funding for $1.3 million dollars worth of improvements rather than raising the money from taxpayers is a good place to start when this makes sense. This means planning way ahead and watching out for the intersection of town needs and state and federal priorities.
I was very eager to pick apart little things in the budget when I first started or to suggest major overhauls like reducing the police department and using more volunteers. I haven't found that this type of flag waving is very useful. Drastically reducing the size of the police department means a lot of calls would go unanswered for a relatively minor decrease in individual tax bills. What does make sense is supporting good quality long term planning with qualified people.
Things that can really move the needle in terms of taxes are less exciting and they are no fun to implement. This is one of the reasons that many towns implement some form of seasonable paid parking and that every committee to ever study the issue in Camden has recommended it. The additional revenue is used for roads and sidewalks and is enough to save the average resident far more than they would ever pay in parking fees.
New private, residential piers are one example of the problem in Camden. They take a lot of staff, board, and committee time to review and they permanently occupy a portion of public space in the intertidal zone forever. Staff time should be dedicated to things that improve and expand public and business related access to the harbor, but a strong select board is needed to even have a chance against the well-funded campaigns of a few litigious oceanfront property owners.
What is your opinion of the Megunticook River restoration project and what do you envision as the future of the Montgomery Dam?
The Megunticook River has been changing slowly for thousands of years and relatively quickly over the past couple hundred. My hope for the future of the Montgomery Dam is that one day people will visit the site and be able to experience and learn about both the natural and industrial history of this special place where the mountains (and the river) meet the sea.
Camden is blessed with some of the most unique and scenic natural resources anywhere in the world and rivers are like a circulatory system for the planet, connecting land and sea in an eternal exchange. We are lucky to have this incredible feature here for everyone to experience.
The topography of the town and the steep bedrock river channel naturally produces cascading waterfalls that made the river especially suitable for small mills at the time of European settlement, but the Megunticook River served as a critical part of the ecosystem for native people long before that. Natural waterfalls at the head of the harbor were noted on the earliest surveys.
The power of the river has been harnessed in different ways since the beginning of time and the Montgomery Dam has had many different purposes, names, and configurations which were all related to the very specific purpose of hydropower. Its current purpose is a scenic attraction which creates a type of overflowing reflection pool that must be drained every time the surrounding buildings need to perform certain maintenance work. Within this pool there is a mud pit filled with 200 years worth of cables, pilings, an abandoned fuel tank, extension cords, hoses and more. And everyone agrees that it looks terrible!
There are many times when so much water is coming from the lake that it is not possible to drain the pool to do bridge work on Main Street, access underneath the buildings, or even do work on the dam itself. Just recently, the state had to mobilize a dive team to get logs and debris that were stuck in the bridge. We are lucky that another big rain event didn't come along before that was possible. There was a time when work on the Seabright Dam depended on draining the entire river near Shirttail Point, but we no longer rely on this method. Thank goodness!
Stand at the dam and you can observe pieces of buildings quite literally falling off into the water. From above, you can see an old fuel tank submerged and partially buried in muck. Some of this is invisible as long as the pool is full, but that is an unsustainable solution and it's not the kind of reflection pool we should be proud of.
People hate the way it looks when the water is low there and I agree with them, but the solution must start with cleaning up our mess. There is federal money available to help the building owners with the foundations of their buildings and to design the falls in a way that doesn’t create the need to drain a pool.
We have three dams that will remain forever to control the level of Megunticook Lake and Norton Pond (East and West Lake Dams) and the river between Molyneaux Road and Mount Battie Street (Seabright Dam).
The Seabright Dam has already been designed for a 500 year flood and safely passing water does not depend on opening a gate. Below this dam is a lovely park and riverwalk area. The spillway here will come due for expensive repairs in the next few years and that would be a great time to add fish passage and maybe even kayak passage (or a portage). If we choose to make no improvements to benefit wildlife, we'll be paying for it all alone.
The two dams at the lake also will also need to stay forever but they have greater operational challenges and do not have spillways that allow for enough emergency overflow in the event of extreme flooding. They also have trash racks that are susceptible to clogging, with potentially disastrous results. These will be costly problems to eventually solve, but if we do a lot of it in conjunction with the restoration of fish passage, we become eligible for federal help.
It would be inconceivable to us to block the passage of migratory birds into our airspace, and we now know that migratory fish are just as important. The health of the ocean depends on the connectivity it has with inland waters, and many types of fish that are critical in the ocean can only spawn in freshwater. This is why restoring connectivity in coastal watersheds like ours is a national and international priority.
In addition, Maine is the last holdout for wild eastern brook trout and Camden, Hope and Lincolnville have a lot of good habitat for them given the abundance of cold mountain streams that make up the Megunticook Watershed. Trout need cold, well oxygenated water to survive and they need gravel streams to spawn. This means they need to move around the watershed as temperatures and conditions change.
However, each time fish pass over a dam or go through certain culverts, they become stuck on the other side. I've filmed countless brook trout in the harbor fighting to get back into the river. By slowly recommitting to fish passage throughout the watershed, even our culverts become eligible for new forms of funding that we cannot access if we continue to treat different sections of the lake and river as a closed system.
There are successful and aesthetically pleasing examples of river restoration all over the country. Check out the Kent Ohio Dam restoration project for an example of a highly contentious historic structure, a water quality problem, and an award winning compromise.
For an example of a dam removal project that also restored magnificent waterfalls, visit Bad Little Falls park in Machias. For a naturalized river with a bedrock channel and natural falls in our area, visit the Ducktrap River at Turner Falls in Tanglewood or one of the waterfalls on the Medomak River.
To see the incredible tourist attraction that restored fish passage can create in the Spring, check out Damariscotta Mills.
I've spent countless hours down at the Harbor with my kids, filming fish, and talking to tourists and locals. People are so curious about the wildlife, the history, the tides, the river, how to get to the water, and more. When the original design was created, the Montgomery Dam parcel was privately owned and producing power and the river was still being treated like a sewage canal to a very polluted harbor.
Mary Louise Curtis Bok and the Olmsted Brothers never got to see their vision for the waterfront completed but while they were alive, they pushed the town for more trees and less parking, and even proposed removal of the buildings blocking the view from Main Street to the Harbor and a more beautiful bridge in the middle of town. We don't need to do all of those things but honoring the contribution of these historical figures means recognizing that they were always looking for ways to improve on the design, always seeking greater harmony with the natural environment.
How will you vote on the 2023 June Town Warrant Articles 3 and 4, the proposed amendments to the Code for Retail Adult Use and Medical Caregiver Cannabis?
It is clear that cannabis products, like most if not all mood altering substances, can have negative short and long term effects, especially for those whose brains are still developing. A lot of research has been done in the past 20 years since I was a teenager growing up in Camden, but the use of cannabis felt just as prevalent back then, if not more so.
The difference then was that the majority of what was consumed in Camden was completely unregulated and the only people who could make money off of it were those willing to break the law, many of them brutal criminals in Latin America. The appetite of Americans for mood altering drugs is not easily reduced and someone will always make money off of it. I prefer it not be Mexican drug cartels. I'll admit that the idea of something being locally produced, where the entire supply chain can be observed, is appealing to me.
Yes, I understand that supporting legalization in the state need not be synonymous with supporting sales in Camden and I dislike the aesthetic of many of the stores that I see while driving through other towns, too. There are many ordinances in Camden, and other ways of having a different outcome here, though. Camden's sign ordinance is 9 pages long. I also support state regulations on the type of product packaging, potency, and flavors. There are many of these regulations now and they will continue to evolve, just as we see happening with flavored tobacco products.
After much thought, I will vote yes. As many have noted, the shops are prevalent in other places and so I do not believe that Camden will become a destination for people looking to buy only this one product. I do know that many of our residents and visitors already purchase the products in other towns and take some of their other business with them too. I believe in walkable towns and I agree with inn owners who don’t want to have to tell people to get in a car and drive to Rockland.
Personally, I do not like the system where it can only be purchased in dedicated stores. It would make more sense to me to treat it like all the other things that are located in aisles at the supermarket that you don’t browse with your kids. I have conversations with my children about alcohol, marihuana, tobacco, nicotine, sugar, and even caffeine. The things I worry most about now are the things they can buy downtown without parental approval.
This town debate, while unpleasant, has given me the opportunity to talk to my kids about the issue. They don't like the smell of cigarettes or marijuana when we smell it downtown and they join me in cursing all the beer bottles on the side of the road during our roadside cleanups.
A little over two years ago I decided I didn't have a good answer for my kids when it came to drinking wine a few nights a week. Why was I doing it? I decided to stop drinking altogether, at least for the time being, and it was a great choice for me. Instead of a glass of wine after a Select Board meeting, I go down to the harbor and shine my flashlight into the water. That said, I think Camden needs more bars open late, not fewer, and I do not think that whether or not something is sold in town should be used as a litmus test for our kids to determine whether something is good for them.
I am glad that this issue is being decided by voters at the polls and not by the Select Board, but residents should be aware that if the ordinance changes are approved, no retail cannabis business would automatically have the ability to open, and all of Main Street would be excluded as a potential location.
Business licensing is one of the few areas where the Select Board does have significant power. In my opinion, this has sometimes been used too heavy-handedly, but it should give voters some peace of mind if they are on the fence. Another area the Select Board has authority is setting the licensing fees.
If either article 3 or 4 (or both) are approved and a retail cannabis business applies for a license with the town, they are of course also subject to significant state requirements. Once the town codes and planning office considers the application complete, it goes before the Select Board for a public hearing, just like a liquor or lodging license. Here, it can be approved outright, approved with conditions or denied altogether.
Some businesses in Camden, like book stores and art galleries, only need to seek administrative approval to open. No public hearing is held and new stores open and close all the time without public notice. This would not be the case for cannabis related businesses. Just like stores that serve food or alcohol, these would go through a different process that requires a public hearing and review by the Select Board annually, not just when they first open. Any complaints that have come to the police department get logged and reported as part of this process and the public has the opportunity to comment.
If the time comes, my questions and concerns would be with signage and potentially the type of products sold and the packaging. I would also want to be sure that the store owner can make sure to educate shoppers on the rules that prohibit smoking of any kind in town parks or sidewalks.
I am supportive of state regulations that make mood altering substances of all kinds less likely to be appealing to young people. Along the same lines, I would be supportive of limiting the sale of flavored tobacco products as they have done in other towns if the state legislature fails to pass the measure currently being considered.
How do you see Camden positioned in the larger regional Midcoast economy?
Camden often appears to be teetering on the brink of a real estate and vacation based economy. The commodity that never fails to increase in value is property within walking distance of downtown. High end residential development is suffocating our industrial and commercial opportunities and more and more people who work in Camden find they can’t afford to live here. Camden is so sought after as a place to live and vacation that property owners are investing in catering to this market.
Camden has always been a place that has benefited from real estate investment, improvements, and short term rentals. None of that is a bad thing on its own, but we are missing the other side of the coin which must involve the creation of additional lower cost housing and protection of some districts for commercial activity.
Camden has changed a lot since its early years. Like all towns, we had a major industrial component to our economy, but this has slowly faded away in favor of more scenic and outdoor recreation oriented businesses. One area where everyone seems to benefit from is a focus on outdoor recreation and the economic activity that comes along with it. We should lean in and take the opportunity to prosper through protection and showcasing of our natural resources rather than through exploiting them.
Camden’s most enduring and important asset has always been its natural resources. Since the early 1800s, people have been writing about Camden for its natural beauty. People visit Camden for the same reason that many of us live here. We have an ecological and geographic diversity that is unrivaled in most of the state. Within walking distance, one can enjoy Penobscot Bay with its islands and sea creatures, Megunticook River and its numerous tributaries, lakes and ponds, mountains and valleys, and a plethora of excellent restaurants and specialty shops.
There is a basic human desire to interact with nature in a somewhat wild form and the opportunity to be surrounded by it is an irreplaceable commodity. Unfortunately, Camden still has a long way to go in fully recognizing our responsibility as stewards.
We have one of the dirtiest harbors in the state after rain events due to our failure to manage sewage and stormwater, and we should not be satisfied with that. Most of Camden's downtown business owners know that without the natural wonders we were blessed with, few people would visit.
I agree with those who push for the Town to support businesses that embrace outdoor recreational opportunities like skiing, mountain biking, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, fishing, birdwatching, climbing, camping, sailing and more. We have done a lot but we can do better.
The good news is that help is available to solve these problems. The opportunity to see fish, birds, and other wildlife in the harbor as well as explore trails and mountain vistas is dependent on clean water, protected habitat, and our willingness to evolve and improve town infrastructure. If we want to support ecotourism and outdoor adventure sports, we will have to be willing to give up parking spots in favor of bike and kayak racks and replace some infrastructure (like certain culverts, dams and seawalls) with solutions that make way for sea level rise and habitat restoration. The Town of Camden received $1.6 million dollars in grant funding from the National Coastal Resilience Fund to work on design solutions and millions more is available for implementation.
What would you like to see for the future of the Tannery Park on Washington Street.
For many years, I have advocated for a return to commercial use at the site or as a site for the development of affordable housing, but I believe now that it is time to go in a different direction. I would advocate for asking voters if they would like to permanently protect more of the property (in addition to the already protected riverwalk) as a natural area and flexible community and farmer’s market space.
For many years, the town failed to make good on its promise of finding a buyer that would return the property to the tax rolls. The Select Board put out a broad RFP and received proposals that were vetted by a committee and ultimately put to a public vote. That vote was not successful and I do not believe that another round of requests can produce anything that would be more acceptable to voters.
The property cannot be everything to everyone. It's a mostly cleaned up former industrial property with a beautiful section of river and a riverwalk that I used to think was a pipe dream. It's one of the few flat spaces where people can congregate, and it's also in the flood zone. Some affordable housing or flexible commercial space could be good near the road but coming up with the perfect plan shouldn't stop us from asking voters if they want to preserve town ownership.
The fight over this issue is depleting community energy. I can certainly see the other side of the issue too, and wrote a column about the history of the property a couple years ago:
Over the years, I have spent great amounts of my free time researching past decisions regarding town properties and many of the public properties that were sold now feel like a big mistake. Sherman’s Point is a good example.
Camden has many parks and a great deal of space that is permanently protected with land trusts. However, most of the downtown parks are very limited. The Village Green and Harbor Park are historic properties with significant rules and red tape and there is a need for flexible, undeveloped space for public gatherings, the Camden Farmers Market, and perhaps a little section that could be left for some future commercial activity.
Over the past several years I have spent a lot of time going out in the rain and documenting where we have water issues, and with a lot of this property part of the delineated flood zone, it’s no surprise that there are water issues as well as sewer overflows and stormwater problems along Washington Street.
As much as I would like to see the town aggressively encourage affordable housing, there are a lot of unresolved water problems in this area and significant grant funding available if we think about this public space in the large context of river resilience and stormwater planning.
Camden has a lack of workforce housing, as articulated by the current Select Board. Do you agree, and if so, what remedies would you suggest?
Yes, I agree. Camden most certainly has a lack of affordable housing. For over 100 years, Camden has been aggressively marketed as the wonderful place that it is, both to visit and reside and our success has caught up to us but without a commensurate increase in the total amount of housing available. What little there is has been slowly renovated beyond recognition and even the once affordable neighborhoods are becoming desirable at higher and higher price points.
The only way to make our existing housing stock less pricey would be to somehow make Camden less desirable or to turn these single family dwellings into multi-family units.
We have rented rooms in our home since 2008. We share a kitchen with our tenants and we have seen first hand the housing desperation. Many of our renters do not have a car and depend on being able to work within walking distance of where they live. I’d love to see this model expanded in Camden, but I know it is not enough.
The existing affordable housing developments would be good places to try and incentivize redesign and additional units, but the municipality can only do what its voters will support, and private property owners have their own constraints.
I wish we could tax properties at different rates based on whether they were providing long term housing or short term rentals, but the state doesn't allow that. Major projects on town owned property have not been supported to date and I think it’s time to partner more closely with private landowners and organizations like Habitat for Humanity to identify ways we can support projects and models that are already working.
Another positive development is the work of the Midcoast Regional Housing Trust. I have and will continue to support the work that these excellent organizations are doing.
Camden has been governed by a five-member select board for decades (it once was a three-person board) but in recent years has informally discussed moving to a city council form of government. What is your opinion having a select board vs. a council form of government?
The Townspeople actually used to decide every year how many selectmen they wanted (3, 5, or 7) and then after the voting on the number they wanted, they'd vote on the actual people with both the Republican and Democratic caucuses making nominations. A lot has changed and a lot is still the same but I am not aware of any serious discussion (formal or informal) to move Camden to a City Council, although this has occurred in the past. Anyone involved in town government tends to be in a constant search for a better way, and I'm certainly in agreement that things can be improved.
Like most people, I like the opportunity for the entire public to vote on every ordinance change and long term contract sometimes, but other times it feels too onerous. Sometimes the people of Camden want the Select Board to be able to act more quickly and sometimes they want to slow things down. For those who are not aware, you can read a breakdown from the Maine Municipal Association on the way city councils work as opposed to select boards. https://www.memun.org/Training-Resources/Local-Government/Forms-of-Govt
Personally, I think I have often found the zoning questions to be very difficult to understand, and before being on the Select Board, I wasn't always sure what the impact of my vote would be. I found myself seeking the input of people I trusted and voting the way they suggested.
Since the Town often lacks the bandwidth to do rigorous public education and is also extremely cautious about being perceived as trying to influence people, we do really need town staff and appointed officials to take responsibility for thorough review.
It used to be that the only way to vote on the Town budget and many other town decisions was by showing up in person on a Wednesday evening in June at the Camden Opera House to argue with neighbors in an open forum and vote by a show of hands.
Some loved it and some hated it, but no matter how much anyone said they loved it, the most I ever saw there was 400 people. More common was much fewer than 100.
During Covid, this method was simply unthinkable and most towns put everything that would normally have been voted on at the opera house on a paper ballot. People were free to vote privately and research their answers and could take advantage of early and absentee voting (the entire month before election day).
Again, I'm uncertain what these informal conversations might be but I can only surmise that it's a misunderstanding regarding the switch from an in person town meeting to a paper ballot. I liked the in person annual town meeting personally and I don't mind discussing contentious issues in a format like this, but for many, it constituted a form of voter suppression. It benefited those that were familiar with the process and available to give up a large portion of the evening at the expense of the majority of people who could not attend or weren't comfortable.
In 2021, we asked voters in a non-binding advisory referendum whether they preferred voting on the budget at an open town meeting by a show of hands or if they preferred a paper ballot as they had been doing the past two years. The advisory vote was very strongly in favor of the secret ballot paper option and the Charter Commission and the Select Board held public hearings and drafted charter revisions to again put out to voters for approval. Again, it was very strongly approved by voters.
The benefit of the open town meeting is that you can ask questions at the opera house and hear a discussion among the people who show up for it as well as from the relevant town staff. I liked it when I was able to make it, but many other people did not. Many other towns have asked their voters a similar question with similar results. Forcing people to attend an in person meeting with no option for absentee voting is not fair. I wrote a column about this called "the limits of confrontational democracy" for anyone who likes this topic.
In 2013, Camden voters approved a $2 million bond to complement a $4.5 million private fundraising effort to fund a redevelopment project at the Camden Snow Bowl, including the construction of a new lodge. To date, a new lodge has not been constructed. Should a new lodge be built?
Camden needs more space for the Snow Bowl lodge. The budgeting for the 2013 referendum question was overly optimistic. Some people think the lodge should have been the first thing built and some think the Town and the foundation were right to do the mountain expansion first. I do not have strong opinions on that.
I think we have an amazing community of people well qualified to set the direction. I do not support another multimillion dollar bond at this time but I will listen to the opinions and concerns of others and will try not to get in the way. My son Colton is an avid skier and getting more excited about mountain biking all the time, so I do get a fair amount of lobbying from him. I'm grateful that he has something that he loves to do outside and I want to work on ways of making it more affordable for all residents.
Where is your favorite place in Camden?
It is too hard to choose just one place, but near the top of the list would be the public landing side of the harbor and the town floats, especially at night when almost no one is down there. Shining a flashlight into the water at night reveals a whole world we are only beginning to explore and understand. I love the Megunticook Riverwalk, the Harbor Road and Marine Ave public harbor access points.
Free space! Please add additional thoughts as you see fit.
Ultimately, I see the job of a Select Board member as primarily one of asking questions, trying to share the answers with the rest of the community, making recommendations as appropriate, and helping others to navigate the process.
Many in Camden have the means to hire a lawyer to review all the town processes and identify the best way to advocate or lobby for themselves and what they think matters. Many others, however, have neither the money to hire someone, nor the time or self confidence to March down to the town office or write letters advocating one way or another.
I enjoy the responsibility to seek out the opinions and perspectives of people who may only have time to chat for a minute at the harbor or while we are watching our kids at a track meet. I have always been a little bit introverted and shy in group social situations but brave when it comes to asking questions.
I try to write and share about town issues as much as possible because I remember what it felt like to have no sense of what was going on in town government. I depended on people like Leonard Lookner to let us know something was going on worth caring about. Even when I didn’t agree with him, I appreciated him bringing up topics like zoning and budgets.
The Camden Select Board and even the Mid-Coast Solid Waste Board can be incredibly draining emotionally, but I have been so fortunate to have such a large and supportive network throughout the community.
If the Select Board were my only volunteer activity, it would eat me alive, but thanks to my work with Syria relief and Partners for World Health, multiple local churches, roadside cleanups, recycling promotion, the transfer station swap shop, the Camden-Rockport Historical Society, local schools and environmental groups, I get all the energy boost and inspiration to feel like I can still contribute something on the Select Board. Thank you.
I also want to thank so many of you for the kind words and support over the past few years with the death of my sister, Kristen, and most recently my mother. Suffering the untimely loss of loved ones is something that I had been spared until Kristen's death and the kindness I've been shown even from people who disagree with me on town issues has been heart-warming to say the least. Both Kristen and my mom were champions of the "underdog" and avid rescuers of actual difficult-to-adopt dogs.
When my mother passed away unexpectedly, we inherited both her and my sister's animals and found that they were too much to keep contained safely in our yard in Camden. My husband and I are taking turns doing a lot of driving back and forth to Lincolnville as we line up the next tenant that can hopefully share in the property upkeep and animal care.
Someone told me the other day that they were told not to vote for me because I was moving to Lincolnville, which is a little silly and not accurate. I suspect it is all related to the threats I received vowing to run me out of town after I was interviewed for an article about sea level rise.
I love where we are in Camden and finally have the dream situation with my dad in the house right behind me on the river. My mom wanted her farm to be an animal sanctuary at some point and we are taking our time figuring out the next steps while carefully caring for the creatures she and my sister loved.