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. ￼
I am very pleased to be able to live in a house that I love on Broadway, and to share that house with my husband. Our house was built sometime between 1907 and 1912; I haven't finished my research to nail down that date even further. Our house is a relatively young example of the historic architecture that exists in Rockland and I treasure those architectural gems.
When I lived in north Texas, I served as a member of the Denton County Historic Commission, which was a county judge appointed position. I served on the Executive Committee of that Commission, as well as the events development committee.
I also served a full term on the City Council of the town where I lived in north Texas.
I am from Austin, Texas. I lived there for much of my adult life. I worked as an arts administrator, a manager, a chief financial officer of a small nonprofit, and as the executive director of a large nonprofit.
I worked for the City of Austin, for the State of Texas, at the University of Texas. I co- owned two successful small businesses.
I have a good, solid education and academic background. I know the value of education and I know how difficult it can be to get an education or to be an educator. I spent many years as a teacher.
I have a very astute father, also a teacher, a professor of aerospace engineering, who taught people to design planes. His example showed me the value of education.
He also passed along his interest in community involvement to me. He attended community meetings, city council meetings, neighborhood association meetings. He usually provided a previously unexamined point of view and he was not timid about speaking up when necessary.
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.
And he always votes and he always insisted that I vote, while I was under his wing. After that he continued to encourage my involvement, he made sure I knew whatever there was to know about the issues. He does his research. I got that from him.
Since I moved to Rockland, I have played a major role in establishing Millay House Rockland, a new organization whose mission is, "To preserve the birthplace of Edna St. Vincent Millay and celebrate her legacy through education, the literary arts, and significant collaborations within the Maine community and beyond." I was a leading force in the development of the Millay Arts and Poetry Festival, which took place in early September and will now be an annual event. T
he Festival provided educational opportunities, added cultural tourism offerings, and brought people here from all over the country to dine, and stay, and shop, and participate in our community.
2). What are Rockland's greatest strengths, and how do you hope to maintain them?
I chose Rockland, as many people here did. I'm happy here in Rockland, I like it here. And, I am extremely aware of the things that convinced me that Rockland was the city I wanted to adopt. And that Rockland is the city I want to work for.
This community can and does create a sense of belonging. The community spirit is strong here. The desire to bond, to be involved, to be a part of something larger than ourselves is readily apparent here.
I didn't have that where I lived right before I moved here. I lived in a small community in north Texas that was fighting to find its place in a very large and dense metroplex. A town that was mostly residential and agricultural, with a small and scattered business district. It's core downtown center eroded away over the years since its beginnings, when it was a market center for trade, mills, shipping (via train), and business. That town did not always value its history nor did it cherish its early story.
That is one of the reasons that I decided to run for, and serve on that town's City Council for one term. I hoped to be able to help that town find its core again. I researched and authored a state historic landmark for that town. I co-founded and served on the Board of an artists collective which painted a 60-foot x 12-foot mural on the side of one of the historic buildings, depicting six scenes from the town's history. I worked to create buffer zones and mixed use areas, which encouraged revitalization of historic residential areas, those in close proximity to commercial activity. I worked tirelessly for that community and I think I made a difference.
Rockland's greatest strength is its people — the sense of community that is felt here, the generous spirit and inclusive nature of people comes to the surface here. That community spirit can be encouraged by listening to each other, talking to each other, and focusing on common goals. When the inevitable happens and people disagree, they can weather that storm and cooperate in a respectful manner if they have a strong relationship.
Rockland is full of strong, hard-working people, lovely historic architecture, thriving businesses of all kinds, unique and vibrant neighborhoods, and varied environmental attributes. How do we maintain these strengths? We talk to each other and treat each other with respect.
We create tools for Historic Preservation that are not weapons but are aids for property owners.
We nurture our existing businesses and invite additional businesses through comprehensive and smart long-range planning.
We support our beautiful and highly successful library and pledge to keep it an active and engaged part of our community.
We embrace the unique qualities of each neighborhood and we focus on keeping those qualities.
We recognize the beauty in the harbor, the bog, the parks, and we work to protect those treasures. We look to other towns and cities in Maine with similar issues and problems and we learn from their journeys, rather than reinventing the wheel every time we face a challenge.
We can be independent and make decisions based on what is best for this city, and also consider ideas, suggestions, and research from other entities that may have conquered a problem in a way that is relevant to our needs.
3). What are Rockland's greatest issues and problems to address?
Housing, infrastructure, revenue. And these issues are all inextricably intertwined.
Rockland is growing. It is a very popular destination and people are moving here every day. If we plan for growth and change, we are less likely to be negatively affected by it when it happens. Real estate agents tell me that inventory of available houses is very low compared to the number of clients they have that want to buy a house in Rockland.
Businesses are looking at Rockland. We may have businesses that move on but we also have other businesses that decide that Rockland is the place to be and they give it a try. We are constantly refining the nature of business in Rockland; will that type work here or is it better suited over there? Does Rockland want this or maybe that is better?
We have existing businesses that are looking for additional property in order to expand. We are going to change - it is inevitable. And change is hard for humans - we don't like it and we don't do it well. But if we proactively manage change, rather than allowing it to wash over us and wash us away, we are more likely to be able to embrace the changes and see a clear path to get us through our growing pains.
Planning will lead to a town where additional housing becomes available. Additional housing stock will lead to an increase in property tax revenue. A well planned and managed city with adequate housing will create an even more desirable environment for businesses of all kinds. Which leads to increased revenues. A leads to B, which leads to C.
4. How would you like to see Camden Street develop or redevelop?
I have studied the Camden Street initiative and it is based on admirable goals: Plan for the long term, create economic opportunity, beautify the area, enhance networks and infrastructure, reinforce mixed use. Make the area more comfortable, pleasant and safe. Create a more interactive environment. All these goals and ideas are admirable.
I would never oppose a more comfortable, pleasant area that encourages economic opportunity. I embrace long term planning and I welcome the ideas of others to help make those goals a reality. As a city, we will always have disagreements about exactly how to accomplish those goals, about exactly how that will look, how that will work.
But those disagreements can be worked out, updated or revised plans developed as needed, and objectives can be clarified. The major problem is always funding. Initiatives such as the Camden Street plan are costly.
There are ways to manage that cost, get funding, and manage that change but we, the citizens of Rockland, have made it clear that we cannot handle an additional tax burden. We must look elsewhere for financing of our common community goals. We must decide carefully what those goals are, and then find a way to work towards realizing those goals, as a community that is bonded together by common goals. I welcome the addition of our new Economic and Community Development Director and I greatly look forward to the possibility of working with her to identify community goals and move towards an even brighter future.
5). How do you envision Rockland to be 10 years from now?
I believe in Rockland. I believe in the people who live here, work here, are educated here. The people who have been here a very long time and the people who have recently discovered Rockland. I believe that we have the power to figure out as a community what is most important to us all and work towards creating or maintaining that. Work to stabilize a harbor and working waterfront, protecting the environment and enhancing the opportunities for all that want to use the areas.
Work to maintain the beauty and attraction of downtown, in conjunction with working on other areas of the city.
Work to make the city an easier place to live and to make a living. A place where people can reside and work in the same city without long commutes. A place that has found a way to respect the historic architecture and concurrently make sure it is being utilized and not just deteriorating. A place that has welcomed new businesses and new residents and has created paths to an even stronger community spirit. A walkable city.
A thriving service center with a balanced mix of residential neighborhoods, business districts, parks and green spaces, and thoroughfares to take us from place to place. A place where we move from work to home, from play to school - where we exist more easily and enjoy the journey from one aspect of our life to another.
6). What is your position on marijuana sales, shops and social clubs in Rockland?
Legalized medical and recreational marijuana is now a part of our world and we are going to have to figure out how best to manage that new part of our world, much like our predecessors did with liquor sales. It will require implementing a system in order to deal with all aspects of this burgeoning industry — growing, distribution, wholesale, and retail businesses. The change in legality and regulation of this controlled substance will have far reaching and multi-faceted implications. Close on the heels of the question of retail shops, sales, agricultural zoning for growing, and social clubs will be large scale distribution, storage, and processing issues.
The State of Maine is deeply engaged in the process of legislating and regulating many of the first round of questions resulting from the recent legalization of recreational marijuana.
The City of Rockland, and indeed all towns and cities in Maine, will soon be able to take that work and decide, more specifically, what these new regulations mean for each of us. Much like our predecessors had to when deciding where liquor stores are to be located, where bars and breweries and allowed, what age limitations are included, hours of operation, rules of decorum.
The City Council of Rockland, in conjunction with the citizens of the city, will have to weigh all these factors and make decisions about how this new segment of legal, but heavily regulated business will fit into our town. Additional workshop sessions are in order, so that all voices and all angles of this complex issue are discussed. State regulations will soon be in place and can be used as a structure for municipal decisions. It's here, we just have to decide how best to deal with it.
7). Does Rockland need to adjust zoning to accommodate business growth, housing construction and industry expansion?
Rockland does need to review and update its zoning. Our zoning structure is filled with accommodations - issues that have been considered and acted upon in order to accommodate changing needs of the citizens of Rockland. The zoning needs to be simplified, broadened, and expanded in order to stay current with the city as it grows and changes. We need to look at our zoning regulations and analyze what is working, what is not working, and what is likely to need revision in order to plan for City growth, protect what is important to us, and concurrently invite expansion of business, residential and industry.
8). What is the importance of local government, and how do you see yourself, as a city councilor, in it?
City government should be a tool and an aid, not a weapon or a deterrent. Our city provides much needed services, assistance, education, opportunities and options. We rely on the city to plow our streets in the winter, make sure our wastewater systems are functioning properly, protect our health and safety with police and fire departments, and generally aid us in making life a bit easier.
My role as a City Councilor would be to proactively address issues, by inviting voices to be heard, listening to those voices, researching to ensure accurate information comes to the table, and taking action based on the needs of the majority of the citizens of the community. My job would be facilitation of ideas, creating opportunities for smart growth, outreach to solve problems, and acting with integrity and professionalism.
9). How do you see Rockland fitting into the greater regional economy and culture, and how would you like to develop that?
I think Rockland is a major player in the regional economy of the midcoast of Maine and beyond. We are a service center, and that fact alone means that we have an impact on the economy of the region. Being a service center also brings issues and problems — increased use of facilities, infrastructure, and services also means an increase in business for restaurants, retail, and cultural outlets.
Rockland has the potential to be a leading force in the region in so many additional ways. We have a busy and prosperous harbor and working waterfront. The cultural tourism segment is firmly established in Rockland and I suspect it will continue to grow and prosper.
We do not have enough housing stock but we do have people who want to buy a house here in order to join our community - at least part of that equation is established. We have some industry and more is possible. The availability of high-speed fiber optic internet means that the technology sector, while currently a relatively minor player in the overall economy of the region, could be encouraged even more. A livable city, where people want to visit, shop, learn, work, and live means increased prosperity. We need to work together, with common voices and common goals, to figure out the future of Rockland.
10). Free space! Anything else you'd like to say to the voter that we haven't thought about?
Please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out the spiffy new Facebook page that a couple of my supporters created for the campaign.
VOTE on November 7 or before (absentee ballots available now).
Reach the editorial staff at the Pilot at email@example.com; 207-706-6657