May 24, 2020

Rockland City Council candidates share views

ROCKLAND — On Nov. 4 Rockland residents will choose for a new city councilor, a CPA interested in financial control, an attorney interested in the city’s future, or a custodian interested in “cleaning up the mess at the city dump.”

Dennis Norton, Elizabeth Gifford Stuart and Albert Larrabee, all made their pitches for the “swing vote” on the city council, at a candidates night on Thursday. The council is now split between two warring factions. With the loss of incumbent Bob Gagnon, who did not stand for re-election, the control of the council will be decided at the next election.

All three candidates said they were not aligned with any faction, would make their votes independent of any interest group and supported the $8.5 million sewer treatment plant bond referendum which will share the ballot with them on Nov. 4.

Both Larrabee and Norton supported a citywide valuation, which hasn’t been done in 21 years. Gifford said she would determine whether it was fair for the assessor to complete the job on a piecemeal basis.

All three candidates agreed that there is a lot of room for improvement and agreed that the council made a mistake when it awarded a bid to a Rockport paving firm, even though it was $15,000 higher than another firm. Eventually, in the face of a lawsuit, the council relented and awarded the contract to the lowest bidder.

Larrabee said, “I want to save the city money, not waste it.” Rockland “lucked out” in avoiding a lawsuit which would have cost “big bucks,” he said.

City contracts should go to the lowest qualified bidder, Stuart said. It was both “wrong and inconsistent” to award the bid to another firm, just because they were more local than another. “That was wasting money in the midst of a financial crisis,” a few months after layoffs at city hall and hardly the way to develop taxpayer confidence, she said.

CPA Norton said the bidding award was “unfortunate” and should have gone to the lowest bidder. Norton said he favored a 5 percent leeway to favor local firms which pay taxes in Rockland. But he would not favor arbitrary contract awards to other firms when it cost the city tax money.

In opening statements, Norton underlined his years of service to the Little League, Kiwanis, Red Cross and Boosters Club, as well as SAD 5. He expressed concern with the high taxes and poor long-range planning in the city.

Attorney Stuart favors a city where children have a bright future and can afford to work and stay. She said she disagreed with recent zoning decisions, which approved a Rite Aid store for Camden Street, promised to do her homework and be accountable for her votes.

Larrabee asked how the council could lay off long-term city employees one month, then waste $15,000 in the bidding process the next month. If elected, he promised to treat all taxpayers fairly and equally.

In answer to a question from resident Glen Billington on why a voter should choose them as a candidate, Stuart said she had “no baggage” and belonged to no special interest group. She offered her energy and tenaciousness to city voters. “I won’t let you down,” she said.

Norton said his financial background was vital in a city which needs financial controls and long-range planning. He pledged to work to restore voter trust in city hall. “I can get the job done,” Norton said.

Larrabee said, “I won’t waste taxpayers’ money. I will be fair to all citizens. There are three candidates and may the best person win.”

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