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
Martha Johnston-Nash is well-known in the area, having grown up in the neighboring town of Washington and attended all four years of high school at, and graduating from, Union High School, just before it closed in the late 1960s. She moved back to town in 2004 after living in nearby towns in order to start and grow a successful business, Crowning Touch Embroidery.
The years spent in other towns has provided a variety of experience for Johnston-Nash, with positions in administration and human resources management; safety training; permitting and regulatory oversight; insurance contracting; customer service and relations; special project development; and systems management.
Outside activities have included advisory positions at Maine Maritime Academy and the Capitol Area Technical Center; Board positions with Maine Marine Trades Association, American Boatbuilders Association, and Camden Rotary.
Upon starting business in Union, she joined the faltering Chamber of Commerce and after joining the Board as Secretary, became President for three years, increasing membership three-fold. She continues to work with that organization as a board member.
It was important for me to open my business in this town, because Union was where I wanted to live and help the community. I knew the town was strong economically and has a very good work ethic, and my business would be able to help other businesses and organizations become stronger with the promotional products I could provide. I have focused on those sectors of the industry for that reason.
What are Union's greatest strengths, and how do you hope to support them?
Union has great people, and it's the people living here who have attracted those who have decided to move here. It also has a very stable economic base, which is one of the reasons I wanted to start my business here. I've lived in Knox County all but about one year of my life, and have been able to see the growth and adjustments of many businesses and organizations in Union.
What are Union's greatest problems to address?
If you look at the Comprehensive Plan, concerns include a lack of housing, recreational facilities, and higher property taxes. Those need to be addressed, but I also find in talking with my customers concerns of a lack of work force, openness of local government, and the increases in school budgets.
Does Union need to adjust zoning to accommodate business growth and housing construction?
There are always things that can be improved in zoning laws, as we find new and different ways to accommodate ideas and dreams. Look at the tiny house nation and the effect it's having in the housing industry! We have to be very careful,
however, because we are an agricultural community and our open fields and spaces are important to us, as are our single homes and businesses.
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?
The best way is to encourage private development, since we need to keep our tax base intact. Worker and elderly housing are challenges that can be met if approached with common sense and general agreement. Emergency shelter functions are being taken care of very successfully by our Knox EMA, which we help fund; even though most of the time it's our neighbors who help each other the most.
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 in place to coordinate things we cannot handle as individuals, such as providing road maintenance, education, fire and ambulance protection, and developing guidelines for property use. When we stray too far from those goals, we can expect more disagreement and higher taxes. I think my background lends itself well to bring citizens together to learn what is needed and wanted for the town. My experience includes working with zoning ordinances, state regulations, planning and development. I believe that working openly and honestly with the people here is the best way to accomplish our goals.
How do you see Union fitting into the greater regional economy and culture, and how would you like develop that?
When I was the Union Area Chamber president, we were eyed by the larger local chamber for inclusion into their organization. My board and I felt that because our focus is different in that we are much more agricultural than our local coastal tourist-related group, it would not serve our membership well to make that change. But we can and do work together on encouraging business-to-business relationships, bring visitors to our community for those who are more tourism-related, and educating the public about our services and organizations.
Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Union community?
My home has a large open field which I enjoy walking and watching our wildlife of deer, foxes, birds, and other critters. I am a member of the Union Country Club. Our local businesses are inviting and community-minded and I love patronizing their services. Visiting with neighbors and friends is relaxing and informative. It's just a great community in which to live and work.
What is your opinion on how Gov. Mills’ administration has handled the pandemic in the State of Maine?
I believe the Governor has handled it to the best of her ability. I would like to have seen more coordination with members of our legislature and business community for more guidance.
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?
There should be better communication and guidance from the state on what they do that affects our town and citizens. It's difficult to make plans for something so unexpected, but now that we have some experience behind us we need to use that to
help us plan ahead for the future.
What is your vision for the Thompson Community Center's future?
This is of great interest to me, since I was instrumental in bringing together the community in a meeting that essentially asked the people what they want for that facility. To me, it's better to put together concrete information and have that in hand before making a suggestion to the voters to vote for a single use. We now have that, and the results are that people would like to see it used locally for a facility that would give us a base for recreation, meetings and community gatherings, possible education; in other words, a mixture of uses that enhance the quality of life here. Now we have to see if that's feasible and answer a number of questions about the viability.
What is your opinion regarding the possible sidewalk project from the Post Office to Ayer Park?
Communication is key when developing any plan that would effect property values, taxes, state regulations, ongoing costs, etc. While I like the idea of a sidewalk, in any future planning we have to first see if the neighbors are in agreement; if it fits our goals for the community; if the general public is willing to fund it; and if we can maintain it in a proper way.
Free space! Anything else you would like voters to know about you?
I grew up in this community, having been raised with traditional values in Washington, and going to high school all four years in Union. I believe that it's important to bring people together and work together as a community in order to accomplish what we set for goals. When we disagree, we can do it in a constructive manner and all come out ahead. My experience with committees and boards and in advisory capacities has given me a good perspective of how to get things done in a positive way.