On June 14, voters in Camden will elect two candidates to serve on the Camden Select Board. There are two open seats this June, one is a three-year term. Thomas Hedstrom is running against incumbent Marc Ratner for that seat.
The other seat is a two-year position, and Robert Lawson is running against Stephanie French for that seat.
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, Candidate Marc Ratner discusses his position on various topics.
1) Please provide a brief biography of yourself and explain why you decided to seek a seat on the Select Board.
I’ve been doing public service work for many, many years. First as a reserve deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department where I joined to do mountain search & rescue work and did that for over two decades. (In California – the county sheriff is responsible for search and rescue work – in Maine it’s managed by Maine Game Wardens.)
Because of my experience in the music business (Vice-President of Promotion at Warner Bros. Records etc) – when my wife noticed that the Camden Opera House was looking for committee members a number of years ago she suggested that it might be a good fit for me. I applied. Eventually I became the committee chair – and helped present our budget to the town budget committee. I also joined the energy committee and became more and more interested in how the town operated and started attending Select Board meetings.
After watching the process there for two years I ran for election to the board. Now, being the longest serving current member on the board – with a good foundation of institution memory about the town’s workings - I know there is now and will always be much to be done. Even when it’s difficult I enjoy the work of being able to help and make a difference in people’s lives.
2) What are the three most pressing issues facing Camden today, and how would you like to see them resolved?
There are of course are the high attention matters like the tannery situation and the controversy over the dams and river restoration but those in reality are small issues.
The first of three things that come to mind out of so many issues is housing, affordable housing. How do we deal with unrealistic housing prices that impact our property taxes – partially brought about by remote landlords buying houses to Airbnb. That raises housing prices and at the same time leaves entire neighborhoods empty in the winter – which impacts our ability to be a strong, functioning year round community.
We need a year round downtown with stores that contribute to the well being of the town instead of just selling t-shirts in the summer to tourists. We can’t support them if we have no winter residents.
Since my first day on the Select Board I’ve been a strong supporter of the need to have high speed - fiber based internet – going to every residence in Camden – no matter how remote. I’ve been saying for a long time that electronic remote jobs will be an important future for our community.
We don’t have the land or the population to support the development of factories or large companies in Camden. But remote working will hopefully be our future…and the resilience of people nationwide working from home during the pandemic has shown us that this vision of the future is already here. We need high speed internet built to every location in Camden.
The elephant in the room is global warming and sea-level rise. We cannot be a Select Board or a town that says “We don’t what to do – so let’s not do anything”. We need to study hard and produce a vision and a working plan on how to protect our cornerstone harbor. It can be done - it needs to be done.
3) How will you protect the Camden taxpayer as you govern a municipal budget, and juggle various interests that request municipal funding throughout the year?
Every year the Select Board makes difficult decisions on the town’s budget. We need to keep focus on improving our infrastructure – because if we don’t – we will run into the “pay me now or pay me later” problem where the “pay me later” will be hugely more expensive. But we also look closely at our expenses and our town manager – Audra Caler – has been especially good at looking at our long term expenses and coordinating expensive purchases and funding balanced with what loans are being paid off so we avoid taking a hit to our budget in any one year.
We also keep our reserve funding at a reasonable level so we have to ability to deal with the year to year emergencies that happen and at the same time – the select board - always as our last piece of budget business - asks ourselves what amount of funding can we contribute to the budget to help lower our tax burden. It’s important to ask that question last during the budget sessions and make sure there’s a good answer that will help.
4) How important are municipal volunteer committees to a town’s governance?
As someone who came from volunteer committees I’m a huge supporter of them. And I seem to be in the minority right now about reestablishing some of the committees that have taken breaks during COVID. I understand that there are issues of properly managing the efficiency of the committees and how they fit into the town structure but I know that just because the select board members happen to be the town’s elected officials – it doesn’t mean we’re the sharpest tools in the shed. So many great ideas over the years have come from committees and members that have amazing expertise and when the select board recognizes those strengths and ideas and brings them to fruition it’s a win-win for the town.
I learned a long time ago that I don’t have to be the expert on everything – it’s impossible and arrogant to think that I ever could be. But if I can learn who is an expert on whatever information I need and I can go to them for the answers or work that is necessary – I’ll be very happy with the results.
5) How do you see Camden positioned in the larger regional Midcoast economy?
As I mentioned above – we don’t have the land or population to support large businesses – but there are two things we do have. We truly are a jewel on the coast of Maine and being that - we attract amazing people that want to live here. We have an incredible school system (our high school was just rated the sixth best in the state!).
With high speed internet, high quality of life, exceptional schooling, an extraordinary library etc we have and are attracting more and more people that can accomplish wonderful things in this world – all the while keeping Camden as their home base. I visualize Camden as being an intellectual center that reaches out regionally, nationally and worldwide. Two such examples of that already existing right now are the Camden Conference and the Camden International Film Festival. That’s my vision of the future.
6) What is your opinion on the current impasse between Camden and Rockport over Rockport’s use of the Camden sewer system and Camden’s demand for payment from Rockport?
It’s unfortunate that we’ve (both sides) allowed this impasse to happen. We should have worked out a new agreement two years ago when the last contract expired. To start I believe Rockport has to work out a way to pay their bill – it’s difficult for me to suggest to Camden ratepayers / taxpayers that they need to pay the bill for Rockport. Then we need to get all the adults together in a room without social media, letters and lawyers and talk this through. I’ve never found any problem like this to be difficult to solve once you start talking.
7) What is your opinion of the Megunticook River restoration project and goals?
It’s no secret that river restoration nationwide and particularly in New England has brought wonderful results to local watersheds. I don’t think there’s a person in Camden that has any doubt that restoration of the Megunticook River will be a wonderful thing. Particularly when there is grant funding available that will save Camden money. The difficulty of course is what does river restoration mean for the Montgomery Dam. Obviously there is much anguish here.
I come down strictly on the side of science. I feel we don’t have enough facts about how the dam impacts safety and flooding. I was certified in swift water rescue in California and I’ve seen the serious results of substantial storms both there and here in New England. I voted to – not deny – but postpone – the vote on both the Montgomery Dam and river restoration because we need more research – and we are working towards getting more research done – impartial and fair research.
This is a serious decision and it should be based on fact not emotion. And let me be specific here – it is a vote that the town citizens will make – not the Select Board. All the Select Board can do is vote on when to put the deciding vote on the ballot for the all the citizens to decide. My vote will be no more and no less counted than any other citizen’s vote in Camden.
8) 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?
Of course I agree. I wish there was a simple remedy. We should look closely at absent landlords and their ability to buy and Airbnb our housing stock. I would like to find a way to encourage absentee landlords to rent long term instead of short term.
We have just put on the June ballot new zoning amendments that will allow more housing to be built on existing lots.
Camden’s largest piece of town owned undeveloped property is Sagamore Farms. Although there are complications – this may be our best opportunity to build affordable housing. It’s been vacant since the 1940s.
Let’s concentrate on seeing what we can do there. It is home to our town’s solar farm – the first change there in all that time – which we accomplished about 5 years ago. We can make change if we put our mind to it.
9) What would you like to see for the future of the Tannery Park on Washington Street.
I’ve been going to meetings for years and years about Tannery Park. I know there are people who are adamant about having business property there, others look for the tannery property to be used to help our housing crunch, and of course a very vocal community has been working for the property to be a park offering facilities not available elsewhere in Camden (fyi – there is no park available with appropriate equipment for pre-schoolers in Camden – that is not on working school grounds).
At this point – personally for me – I feel we don’t have the people to support a new business property – where are the workers going to come from? Our current business owners can’t find the employees they need now. Housing? It’s a small property and would hardly put a dent in our housing needs. (Sagamore Farms gets my housing vote).
So after a few years of watching how much used the space is for the farmers market – where they are more successful than they’ve ever been – and knowing it’s adjacent to our river walk – when the time comes I will vote for it personally to be a park. Although let me add – a park is not free and can be expensive.
I think it should be a combination of private and public funds that build and maintain it. That’s key for a park to get my vote.
10) 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?
Having been a Select Board member for six years I’m a bigger supporter than ever of keeping the select board as opposed to a city council.
First – people certainly confuse the two. A select board in almost all instances has to go to the town for a vote on almost all matters. As I’ve mentioned above – our duty is to mostly make sure the matter is appropriate and it’s the proper time to put it before the citizens. A city council has much more ability to make decisions themselves. Watching our country’s politics these days keeps me firmly in the belief that I want the people to make the important decisions. Not the politician. Even if it’s me.
11) 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?
Yes. But an appropriate building that fits the future of the mountain.
12) Where is your favorite place in Camden?
I spent my first summer in Maine in 1959 as a young child when my father spent that summer teaching here. I loved that summer and in 1981 my family after visiting other places in the state over the years vacationed in Camden for the first time. That was it for me – I knew right away I wanted to live here and I visited and vacationed every year afterwards until I finally found a way to move here with my family.
I can truthfully say – I love the harbor, I love downtown, I love the Camden Opera House, I love Mt. Battie, but when it comes down to it – my favorite place in Camden???
Is our home.
Camden is my home.
13) Free space! Please add additional thoughts as you see fit.
I’ve been a member of the Camden Select Board for six years. I’ve worked with three different town managers and ten different select board members. The one thing I’ve found very important to remember is that the select board is not a company. The people don’t work for us – we work for them. It’s seems like a simple thought – but it’s the most important foundation that supports all that we do.