PARIS — Incumbents and political newcomers Monday, June 5, addressed the public on how they would guide the town if elected to the Board of Selectmen.
Paris attorney Sarah Glynn moderated the Candidates Night forum at the Town Office, where roughly 30 people attended.
Board Chair Janet Jamison and Selectman Kathy Richardson are being challenged in the Tuesday, June 13 election by Economic Development Committee Vice Chairman Gary Vaughn and EDC Chairman John Andrews, respectively.
Candidates were asked to share their best qualities they would bring to the board.
Jamison, a longtime letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service, said her best quality is finding common ground. She said she has upset people over the years because she is candid, but she reaches out to mend fences.
“Even though we’ve had some rough moments together politically, I can always always find common ground,” she said.
Vaughn, a retired iron worker, said his best quality is common sense.
“I try to look at things from all directions and pick the choice that fits the situation,” he said, noting he’s not opposed to differing views because it helps educate him on the facts.
Richardson, a retired school teacher, said she’s a listener and facilitator.
“You have to listen,” she said. “Even though I talk a lot, I’m a good listener.”
Andrews, a stay-at-home dad and former national nonprofit manager, said he has a unique skill set with “out-of-the-box thinking [and] creative problem solving.”
“I really think we need long-term strategic planning to see where we’re going,” he said.
The candidates were asked about their goals and how they would implement them.
“We need to be real [on] how we look to people coming into our community,” Jamison said. “The soft infrastructure is important.”
Andrews said a stable tax rate leads to economic development. To bolster that, he wants Paris to become a certified business-friendly town through the state, and start a nonprofit, similar to Norway Downtown for Paris, focusing on community and fundraising.
Vaughn said he agreed with Jamison that the town needs to look nice.
“If you want to keep your tax rate affordable, you either have to maintain your level of spending or you have to add more people to the pie,” he said. “I am afraid when we have a high tax rate, that doesn’t make us attractive. … If we could go a few years with a stable, livable tax rate then we could start having people come in here.”
If that happened, he would look to developing Route 26 North.
Richardson said, “We need to be fiscally sound, but more important than that we have to maintain a level of stability and integrity. … Working with towns in the Oxford Hills is the future. … Who’s going to want to work with you if you’re not very nice? Paris needs to work on that.”
All of the candidates agreed the schools are important and stated slightly different strategies to deal with the rising school bill.
Vaughn wants to get town officials from all eight municipalities in the district, along with school officials, to form a coalition to “explore some of the reasons why the state is not living up to its promises.”
Andrews agreed with Vaughn and also suggested having the town’s school directors give a brief report to selectmen and answer any questions.
Richardson agreed with getting the towns together to discuss the issue, but wanted to take it a step further by going to Augusta to lobby.
Jamison said she didn’t have a magic bullet to fix the problem, but would support getting a group together to talk about the issue.
Two of the candidates had their pasts surface Monday night – Jamison and Vaughn.
Armand Norton, who used to manage the Frost Hill site for Norway-Paris Solid Waste, spoke of the 1990s when he worked there and Jamison was on the Board of Directors. He said he was falsely accused of a burglary and the Maine Human Rights Commission found the Board of Directors guilty of a human rights violation. After he began to speak about things that happened in executive session, moderator Glynn asked Norton if he had a question to ask.
“How have you changed?” he asked Jamison. “That was [a violation] of a human right.”
Jamison said she didn’t recall it that way.
“I know you just want to disparage me and provoke me … this is hearsay,” Jamison replied. “I have nothing to hide from people. I am not ashamed of my behavior. … I am sorry, Armand, that after all this time, you harbor some animosity toward me.”
Vaughn’s past regarded his brother being shot in an armed robbery 18 years ago and run-ins with the law.
“Eighteen years ago, I made some bad decisions,” he said. “I owned it; I paid for it. During my payment period, I was given quite a bit of counseling; I had great family support. I was taught I had to be remorseful for what I did but I needed to move on.
“If this is going to be held against me instead of what I bring to the table … it’s a bad message to anyone who’s made a mistake,” he said.
In closing, Jamison noted her institutional knowledge from having lived in Paris for 30 years and being in politics, her “hobby.”
“I got involved because I’ve got a big mouth and I am willing to speak up and do the right thing every time,” she said. “If you put the incumbents back in, we have been working well and we will continue to work well moving forward.”
Richardson noted the importance of good leadership.
Vaughn spoke of the importance exploring ideas to benefit the town.
“There are ideas; we just have to pursue them,” he said. “We have to figure out which ones work for us and which ones don’t.”
Andrews said he loved the town. Before closing statements, he called himself and Vaughn fiscal conservatives and Richardson and Jamison tax-and-spend’ers.
“Even though I have the shortest time in town, I am the most invested of anybody up here,” he said, noting children are going to live in Paris for the next 20 years.