On July 14, voters in Union will choose two of four total candidates to serve on the Union Select Board, filling two seats. 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.
Please provide a biography of yourself
I was born in Augusta but raised in Union, entered the US Army shortly after high school and trained as a helicopter pilot. I was sent to Vietnam where I flew helicopter gunships and when my tour there was complete, I decided I would make the Army my career.
During my time in the military I attended night school whenever possible and eventually obtained a degree in Business Administration & Accounting from Troy State University. One of the highlights of my career was as an instructor for the military’s Maintenance Test Pilot Course; from there I was one of two pilots chosen to work with Boeing and Sikorsky on the development of the Blackhawk and helped in the writing and execution of the Test Pilot Program for that aircraft.
Shortly following my retirement in 1989 I was called back to active duty for the Gulf War. I retired again from the Army in 1991 with the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 – at the time the highest rank available for a Warrant Officer. Upon my return home to Union I worked as the manager of the Knox County Airport for 14 years until I had to retire for health reasons.
Since 2003 I have volunteered in a number of capacities and activities here in Union. Some of these include organizing a committee to raise funds, research names and erect the Veterans Monument on Union Common listing all Veterans from Union that entered the service since WWI (several years later we added the Fallen Soldier statue); I organized and acted as emcee for several Memorial Day and Veterans Day Services; I have built structures and refurbished benches on the Common; I was instrumental in starting the annual display of flags on our streets leading to the Common from Memorial Day to Veterans Day, and created a memorial sign which is placed on the Common whenever a Union Veteran passes.
Just recently I worked with another member of the community to honor our 2020 high school graduates with a display of banners, purchased with a private donation, on the Common Road. The banners seemed a fitting way to celebrate our seniors, who have lost so much this year due to COVID-19. My volunteer projects have nothing to do with notoriety or recognition; it is simply that I love this town and take joy in doing things that reflect pride and kindness in our community.
In addition to my position as a Selectman I have been a member of the Board of Directors for the TCC, volunteered for Founders Day events, and have participated in many more activities within the town.
On a personal note, I am married to my wonderful wife Mary Joyce and between us we have 5 children, 13 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.
What are Union's greatest strengths, and how do you hope to support them?
Union’s greatest strength is its people. We’re small enough to maintain a community where everyone knows each other and when help is needed it is easily found. Our generous residents have donated thousands of dollars that have been given to those who have needed help during the pandemic. Union is unique because we still have “The Common” as the heart of our community. The center of town hasn’t changed that much since it was established in 1786 because changes have been managed by being smart and planning with vision. The Union Common has been identified as a Historical Setting and we have developed ordinances to protect this beautiful community asset.
What are Union's greatest problems to address?
There are some problems in Union that need to be addressed. We need to decide what we are going to do about the Old High School/Thompson Gym.
We did have an opportunity to have the outside totally refurbished and the inside remodeled to allow approximately 28 apartments for seniors. It would have been maintained and managed at no expense to the town and the gym, food pantry, day care and thrift store would have been allowed to remain.
Although that was a missed opportunity, I am hopeful that another sound plan for the building can be developed that will provide a lasting benefit to the citizens of our town.
Does Union need to adjust zoning to accommodate business growth and housing construction?
As far as adjusting our zoning I will just say extensive research and work has been done over the last several years to bring Union’s zoning ordinances up to date. During that process both business growth and housing development were taken into consideration, as well as maintaining our attractive and thriving small village.
We have been very lucky to have a Planning Board that was willing to work so hard.
Given the shortfall of housing in Maine, how should your municipality approach the need for more workforce housing, as well as re-entry housing for the formerly incarcerated, and emergency shelter for those suffering through extended power outages?
There is definitely a housing shortage in Maine, particularly affordable housing for young families and smaller units for senior citizens wishing to downsize. That is why I was such an advocate for the proposal to turn the Old High School into a senior housing facility.
The proximity of the building to the post office, library, ambulance, eating establishments, church, etc. was ideal. The town has designated the grammar school as an emergency shelter for power outages and/or other disasters. Our Emergency Management team is very capable and has a response plan in place to meet whatever need may arise.
What is the importance of local government, and how do you see yourself, as a potential select board member moving forward, in it?
Local government is necessary for all the day to day operations and although Union now has a Town Manager there still is a need for an elected board to oversee growth, and to plan, not just for the short term but to look to the future with long range planning. There will be growth and managing it is vitally important. No one person can do it all; there needs to be a body the citizens can trust and to whom they can express their thoughts and desires.
Moving forward I will continue to work on the concerns I have heard regarding County and School Budgets and other matters effecting our town.
How do you see Union fitting into the greater regional economy and culture, and how would you like develop that?
Union fits into the regional economy very well as it is already pretty much the hub of surrounding towns for many activities and needs. While Farming and Agriculture among the top operations there is still room for other low-impact businesses, for example the citizens of our town would certainly benefit from a small satellite pharmacy for drop-off and pickup plus basic medical needs.
Perhaps a small bakery or pastry shop? Specialty shops of this nature would benefit us all and our neighboring towns. We’re not large enough for full sized stores but these could work really well. All we need are people with good ideas and vision.
Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Union community?
It’s really hard to specify a few favorite places. We are so fortunate to live in a town that is so full of natural beauty and historical spots. I love this town and I am happy sitting on a bench on the Common reading over the monuments or watching the people meeting, interacting and so on. I visit all the shops quite often and used to meet every day with fellow coffee drinkers at Come Spring Cafe. The top of Clarry Hill is breathtaking and I never get tired of the beautiful view.
What is your opinion on how Gov. Mills’ administration has handled the pandemic in the State of Maine?
At this time, I am not interested in commenting on how Governor Mill’s administration is handling the pandemic. I think there has been way too much politicizing of the pandemic and I do not wish to be part of that. I am more concerned on how our town has handled it by making sure the citizens of Union are kept informed.
If there is a second wave of COVID-19 in the near future, how would you seek to shape how Maine responds the next time around?
I am proud to say our Town Manager has done an excellent job of sharing whatever information he has received from the State through the town’s Facebook page and email information program. He has also worked with citizens who wanted to create a fund to help their neighbors who were financially affected by the pandemic and he has done an excellent job administering that program.
What is your vision for the Thompson Community Center's future?
Something has to happen with this building. A recent engineering report addresses the concerns about the deteriorating condition of the facility and we need to face up to the fact that we are on “borrowed time” before we are past the point of no return. We desperately need a plan for how we can make this building functional while at the same time preserving the school’s historical setting. Hopefully we can find a way to have the exterior of the building restored to its original look while converting the inside to usable space, whether that be for housing, community events or whatever else may emerge as a possibility.
What is your opinion regarding the possible sidewalk project from the Post Office to Ayer Park?
Another big decision we are facing is the sidewalk issue. Keeping the historical character of the village is important, and sidewalks are not a new concept; I have a picture from the late 1800’s showing the old wooden sidewalks. Keep in mind the historical nature of Union — the sidewalks may be updated but it’s still what the settlers pictured in this town. People buy homes close to the center of town because they are attracted to the village concept. Wouldn’t it be nice for our citizens to have a safe way to walk to and from the village and perhaps to Ayer Park at some time in the future?
The sidewalk project would be done by the Maine Dept. of Transportation and the cost to the town would be minimal.
Free space! Anything else you would like voters to know about you?
Keeping the citizens informed is a very important issue and the Board of Selectman has accomplished this through programs such as the e-mail system which anyone can sign up for through the Town Office, Newsletters, Annual Informational Meetings, and the Town Manager’s Facebook Site “Union Maine USA.”
I love this town and take great pride in doing as much as I can to help our citizens and to maintain our small-town personality while managing the inevitable changes that come our way. I believe party politics and personal agendas have no place in the Board of Selectmen, and I have always strived to avoid both of those.