Rockland City Council Candidate Valli Geiger
ROCKLAND — Three candidates, Valli Geiger, Gregory Mason and Lisa Westkaemper, are competing for two seats on the Rockland City Council. In an effort to better understand their goals and philosophies, Penobscot Bay Pilot sent them all a list of the same questions via email. What follows are their individual responses, as they have returned them.
My name is Valli Geiger, I have lived in Rockland for 20 years and in the Midcoast for 39 years.
Three Rockland candidates are vying for two open seats on the Rockland City Council. Penobscot Bay Pilot asked them a set of questions via email; here are their complete answers.
I am a nurse and currently work with veterans at Togus VA. I also have a master's in sustainable design, which allowed me to design my own house, a 1,050-square-foot post and beam cottage, walkable to downtown, designed to use zero energy, and to be composed of the least toxic materials available.
It is my commitment to sustainable communities and my love of my adopted hometown that brought me to serve on City Council.
I was asked to join Rockland's Comprehensive Planning Commission and after a few years serving there, was asked by several people to run for council. I am now running for my second term. My interest is in how to create a thriving community, finding the line between appropriate zoning and building codes and regulations that strangle development, growth, and hurt neighborhoods.
2) What are Rockland's greatest strengths, and how do you hope to maintain them?
I think Rockland is a fantastic town. I remember in the late 1970s how sad it was; half of Main Street boarded up, houses being divided up, many left to ruin.
It has been an amazing thing to watch Rockland pick itself up from the collapse of the fishing industry and recreate itself for the fourth time in its history.
Rockland's strength are its people, their diversity, their toughness, their passion for their city; from the locals whose tenacious roots go back generations to the newcomers with fresh energy and talents, who fall in love, come to stay and want to give back.
We have affordable housing, beautiful historic neighborhoods, an ability to walk from most of those neighborhoods to town and services. We have a deep harbor, a breakwater and a boardwalk that allows us access to our harbor.
We have a vibrant downtown, are a services center and a source of jobs for thousands in Knox county.
The job of us all, is to continue to the work of so many others, to continue the renaissance and to make sure all are included in its prosperity. City Council will need to find the line between spending on infrastructure and keeping property tax increases to a minimum.
3) What are Rockland's greatest issues and problems to address?
Our greatest issues are a need for housing at all income levels, stability of property taxes and improving our schools and their reputation.
We have retirees moving to Rockland and some millennials, but few families with children.
We still have some affordable housing for sale, but less and less, and even fewer rentals, especially quality rentals. We have businesses that want to expand but cannot find employees.
4) How would you like to see Camden Street (by Walmart and Home Depot) develop, or redevelop? Three years ago, there was much conversation, and plans, to address that stretch. Have you looked at the plans?
I attended most of the Camden Street planning efforts. It was a fantastic project developed by the Rockland Economic Development Advisory Committee under the direction of Joanne Billington and with the help and expertise of Jane Lafleur.
We had the opportunity to hear from experts around the state and around the country about what makes a small city thrive and grow. They made compelling arguments that walkability was key, that density downtown brought far more revenue to both store owners and the city coffers than big box stores with acres of parking. More density also requires less infrastructure for more people.
The original plans were great then and are great now. I still agree that connecting Camden Street to the rest of town with sidewalks and shade trees, bringing buildings right up to the street, making the street friendlier and mixing commercial and residential development is important.
It seems like the era of the mall and big box stores is over, it is not clear what comes next. I think we must start, however slowly, putting that vision into place.
5) How do you envision Rockland to be 10 years from now?
I can really see two visions of Rockland depending on what happens with state revenue sharing and education support.
If Rockland remains dependent primarily on property taxes to fund our schools and services, we will have slow growth, continued infrastructure deterioration, higher property taxes and perhaps an end to Rockland's renaissance.
Those on fixed or low incomes will be forced to escape to towns with lower mill rates. If however, the public and municipalities speak loudly to our Legislature and next governor that we expect them to follow the law and send 5 percent of the sales tax we collect back to us, that we expect them to follow both law and a citizen's referendum that requires the state to fund 55 percent of the costs of public schools, we can expect a lower mil rate, continued growth of population and opportunity, improving infrastructure and the ability to hold on to Rockland's economic diversity.
6) What is your position on marijuana sales, shops and social clubs in Rockland? The state committee has almost finished its regulatory language, which means the towns and cities will need to address their own ordinances.
The city of Rockland has held one workshop; we will need to hold more. I voted for the marijuana amendment because I don't want any more people, especially young people turned into felons.
That said, I am of mixed feeling about social clubs.
Medical marijuana seems to bring much comfort to many, it may turn out to play a role in helping with chronic pain and allowing some people to taper off of opiates.
There is a place for the marijuana growing business and marijuana shops in Rockland. Once state regulations are in place, it will be council's job with input from Rockland citizens to change ordinances and develop regulations much like the alcohol industry was regulated decades ago.
Like alcohol, marijuana is a two edged sword with some evidence that regular use decreases the brain's ability to absorb new information (nurse talking here). Finding the right line will require many more workshops, drafts of ordinances and conversation.
7) Does Rockland need to adjust zoning to accommodate business growth, housing construction and industry expansion?
Yes, all cities and towns grow and change and need periodically to look at their zoning rules and ask if they are still relevant, still serve the city and its residents. Times and tastes change.
When Rockland was built it was built on a model that created a dense downtown, surrounded by mixed use zones, surrounded by dense neighborhoods, walkable to downtown and each outer ring further from the downtown having larger lots, and a more rural character.
In the 1960s to 1990s, philosophies changed again and cities and towns across the country wanted to look like a suburb, so zoning reflected a strict separation between business/industry and residential with a huge preference for big lots and big single family houses and a need for cars to take you everywhere.
Now, we are in the midst of another change. Rockland's walkable downtown neighborhoods and thriving downtown are part of the reason for its recovery after the terrible 1970s and 1980s. People again want to live in communities, to know their neighbors and walk to the library, shopping, the movies and restaurants. The housing that is selling most vigorously in Rockland are in neighborhoods within walking distance of downtown. But those are limited and we have a housing crisis. It is time for another look at Rockland and what's working and what is not. I believe Rockland's original design is a great model to start from.
8) What is the importance of local government, and how do you see yourself, as a city councilor, in it?
Local government is the place where citizens can interact most intimately with the rules and regulations that effect their lives and the people who create them and change them.
Local government is this amazing cross roads, where decisions are made by volunteer committees, hired professionals and elected officials.
Those volunteers, employees and officials are your neighbors, your friends, your family. They are no more than a phone call or an email away.
Being a city councilor is an odd thing. It is a volunteer position, it takes hours per week but most councilors also work for a living. That means councilors are dependent on volunteer committees and city employees for information.
We set policy, take votes, but it is others that must be trusted to implement them. One councilor is one vote only, no single councilor can speak for the city, our power lies in being part of a council of 5.
That said, as an individual councilor, I see myself as both leader and listener. I meet with citizens, home owners, business owners, anyone with an issue that involves the city. I do my own research but also look to citizens and public employees to give advice and recommendations. I try to meet regularly with fellow City councilors one on one, to maintain cordiality and build trust. I believe that all transactions have as their foundation relationships. How well or how poorly a transaction goes will depend in large part on the relationship between the parties. I believe in transparency, I believe is dialog,
I believe that the city is better served when all voices are at the table. That is why, as Chairwoman of Comprehensive Planning Commission, I worked hard to make sure the commission had renters and home owners, locals and new residents, young and old and an equal balance between men and women. It remains my belief that silos between committees, between council and school board need to come down. Problems are solved when walls are knocked down and every one works to create a shared vision for what the goal is.
9) How do you see Rockland fitting into the greater regional economy and culture, and how would you like develop that?
Maine is the state with the oldest population. People are aging and many younger people are finding work consumes most of their hours, decreasing towns ability to rely on volunteer services. The time of every town, no matter its size having its own library, schools, police and fire and emergency service are fast coming to an end.
Rockland as the service center of Knox County has an opportunity to be the source of those services to its surrounding towns. Sharing municipal resources in an age of constraints makes sense. Rockland as a service center is a regional hub already, I would continue to promote that, to ensure our future growth by increasing housing, encouraging business expansion, supporting our downtown economy, and investing in our city's infrastructure, including fiber optic broadband access.
I believe firmly that if a town or a region does not invest in itself, no one else will. I also believe Terry Pinto is right, if you create places where people want to live, business will follow.
10) Free space! Anything else you'd like to say to the voter that we haven't thought about?
Lately, I think about two ideas: In India, they divide life into three phases: the student, the house holder, and the forest dweller.
The last is the time between the empty nest and death — how do you spend the last third of your life?
Collecting more things or giving back to the community you live in, to be of service?
In this age of the con artist and love of money, we need more Forest Dwellers.
The other is a Sufi saying called the Three Gates of Speech: First gate, is it kind? Second gate, is it true? Third gate, is it necessary to say?
If your thoughts pass all three gates, then and only then, do you speak. In this age of anger, and incivility, it seems a good practice, one I fail at everyday, but continue to attempt.
Reach the editorial staff at the Pilot at email@example.com; 207-706-6657
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