On the Issues: Thomaston select board candidate Zel Bowman-Laberge

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 6:15pm

Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for the Thomaston Select Board, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region. The candidate responses are posted as they are returned, and are collected on the Pilot’s Elections Resource Page.

Thomaston voters will head to the polls in a special election Tuesday, Aug. 27, to elect a replacement for Beverly St. Clair, who resigned from her select board seat June 12.

Candidates running are Zel Bowman-Laberge, Charles Frattini and Diane Giese.

The election will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the American Legion Hall. The term will fill the Select Board vacancy expiring 2021.

 

Please provide a concise biography of yourself.

I grew up in Trescott — a small unorganized territory in Downeast, Maine. My mother is an artist and teacher. My father was an engineer who served his community on various boards and committees but also as the town manager of Lubec for many years. I learned how important it is to be generous to your community and support your fellow Mainer. I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with degrees in architecture. I returned to Maine after graduation and shortly after moved to the Mid-Coast to take a job with a Rockport firm. When looking for a home to restore I fell in love with Thomaston for the incredible housing stock and small-town personality. In 2014 I bought a historic farmhouse here where I have lived ever since. I work remotely as a licensed architect for a residential design studio with a head office in Los Angeles, California. My office is out of the Steel House in Rockland where I work on our studio’s Maine projects.

What are the three most pressing issues facing Thomaston today and how would you like to see them resolved?

The most important issue for Thomaston is to keep our property taxes manageable for everyone by evaluating town, county and school district spending. It is critical to continue to review the town properties to make sure we are utilizing our assets to their fullest potential and honoring our history. Another way to reduce taxes is to bring in new businesses. One of the best ways we can make Thomaston attractive to new businesses is by supporting our existing local businesses and making sure they have a voice in our town.

Another important issue is planning for the current and future requirements for facilities in Thomaston. I specifically look forward to working with the Fire and EMS Departments on their new facility. We need to continue to explore the future of Watts Block, Thomaston Academy, the remaining space in the Lura Libby Facility and the Thomaston Green (former prison site).

I have heard many citizens mention drivers speeding through town as a problem they would like to see addressed. I commend the Thomaston Police Department—who are currently raising money for additional signage to reducing speeding—for working hard to address speeding issues. I am interested to explore all ways to reduce speeding and keep the town safe for everyone to enjoy.

 

How will you protect the Thomaston taxpayer as you shape and govern a municipal budget and juggle various interests that request municipal funding through the year?

As an architect I work with a team of people from diverse backgrounds to complete a project. As a Selectman I will be a team player, working with other members of the Select Board, Budget Committee and town departments to accomplish our goals.

 

What is your vision for the Watts Block?

When the Town Office, Recreation Department, Police Station and Food Pantry move into the new Lura Libby Facility in December there will be three storefront spaces available in Watts Block that can be occupied by new businesses on Main Street. I would love to see something like a hardware store or general store that would sell local products and other items such as fishing, gardening or beekeeping supplies. Watts Hall on the second floor of the Block is an important community space that I feel we should retain as an asset to the town and larger community. In order to offset the costs of maintaining the Hall we should continue to upgrade the space to encourage more rentals such as weddings and conferences. The new air conditioning system that was installed recently is a great example of an improvement to make the space more appealing to potential renters.

 

What is your opinion of the Municipal Facility Relocation proposal to the Lura Libby campus?

This is a great project for the town that has been under construction since the beginning of July. I am the chair of the Standing Municipal Facilities Committee (SMFC) which is a committee created to advise the Select Board on Lura Libby and other municipal facilities. The SMFC spent almost a year working with the town and architect John Hansen on the development of the project. I am also a member of the Lura Libby Building Committee which oversees the finances and ensures that all of the town needs are being met. The tax payers of our town approved a specific about of money for the project and it is important to me that we stay within our budget while delivering a wonderful building that will serve the town for generators to come.

 

How do you see Thomaston positioned in the larger regional Midcoast economy?

The historic character of Thomaston is one of the town’s largest assets. With new businesses moving into Watts Block, I look forward to seeing the Historic Main Street become a destination for tourism and the local community. Thomaston’s proximity to Rockland and affordable housing stock makes the town appealing to home buyers. I am also interested in exploring ways to feature the St. George River as a reason to move to or visit Thomaston.

 

Is Thomaston's zoning adequate enough to sustain economic vitality and quality of life?

The Comprehensive Plan Committee is a dedicated group of volunteers that have worked diligently to ensure the continued strength and vision of our town. I admire the members of that Committee, in addition to the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, who are committed to reviewing, enforcing and updating zoning ordinances as the town grows.

 

What qualities would you like to see in your next town manager?

Communication and openness are key qualities in a successful town manager. I would like the town website utilized as a communication tool between the Town Manager and the people of the community. It is especially important to include and inform tax payers who cannot attend all the town meetings because of work or other obligations.

Free space for anything else you’d like voters to know about you and your positions on municipal issues!

I cherish the natural resources of our town including the St. George River for fly-fishing and Georges River Land Trust trails for cross-country skiing. I also enjoy gardening and beekeeping in my backyard where many generations have worked the land before me.