Camden Select Board candidate Alison McKellar
1) Please provide a concise (paragraph) biography of yourself.
I grew up here in Camden, splitting my time with my dad, who still lives on Spruce Street, and my mom in North Union, just on the edge of the Burketville town line. I attended the Children's House Montessori School, Appleton Village School and Camden Hills Regional High School (2 years in Camden and 2 years at the Rockport facility). I attended college at Stetson University in Florida on a full academic scholarship, where I majored in Sociology and Spanish.
After graduating, I lived and worked throughout Latin America as a translator and volunteer coordinator for various non profit organizations and since my return to Camden I have worked in various jobs ranging from bar tending at Peter Otts, to legal blogging, to freelance web design, to teaching Spanish at the Watershed School where I worked for 4 years. I live with my husband (Vincent Jones) and 2 kids (Colton and Mason) on Mechanic Street.
Other relevant experience includes serving on the Board of Directors of two international non profit organizations (NuDay Syria and Partners of the Americas) as well as many town volunteer committees and elected boards including the Budget Committee, the Personnel Board, the Conservation Commission, the Town Manager search committee, and Mid-Coast Waste Watch ( a citizens advisory committee to the Mid-Coast Solid Waste Board).
2) What are the 3 most pressing issues facing Camden today, and how would you like to see them resolved?
- Transparency/Financial Oversight/Access to public documents: There is a wealth of public knowledge in Camden and we have recognized experts in virtually every field who have shown willingness to review documents, read financial statements, and go digging for information when things do not add up. If elected, I will embrace robust public discussion and scrutiny, both online and in public meetings. When citizens express concerns or criticism, I will thank them for their time and refer them to additional information when I feel they don't have a full picture. The independent audit revealed that the Select Board needs to receiving monthly financial reports on all town wide programs as well as monthly reports on all fund balances. Following through with this and making the reports available to the public would go a long way in restoring public trust and preventing future problems.
Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for the Camden Select Board, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region.
There are three seats available on the Select Board, two three-year terms currently held by Jim Heard and Don White, and one one-year seat, following the untimely passing of Select Board member Leonard Lookner, last winter.
Heard is not seeking reelection, but White is.
Both Jenna Lookner and Steve Beveridge are seeking to fill Leonard Lookner’s seat.
The candidates have responded with their individual written answers.
Communication and Online Presence: At this point, the town's public outreach and communications strategy seems to rely mostly on local journalists to get the word out about things and virtually no effort is made to engage or educate citizens unless they actively go looking for information. A regular town newsletter letting people know about everything from construction projects to special town meetings, as well as a properly managed town calendar and an updated website, would go a long way in helping people understand what's happening and participate in the things that matter to them. Just like at the state level, our public hearings could easily be accompanied by online "public comment periods" and many towns, and even our school districts, have implemented community wide surveys (made available both online and in paper form) to allow residents to provide feedback in a way that is more convenient than an evening meeting.
- Aging infrastructure/pollution: Last year it was discovered that a collapsed sewer pipe on Mechanic Street meant that approximately 30 houses were flushing their toilets directly into Megunticook River. My house was one of them and I cringe to think what toxic cocktail we were all unknowingly depositing into our river and harbor. I am relieved that this issue has been fixed but we know that others remain. When it rains very hard in Camden, go down to Bayview Street and watch as water comes gurgling out of the manhole covers from sewer system in the area around the old lock marina. This is due to the large amount of stormwater that infiltrates the sewer system from faulty connections and failing pipes, and results in raw sewage (albeit very diluted) spilling into our streets. These issues and others are being slowly identified and addressed, but more will continue to arise. With my fellow members of the Camden Conservation Commission, and in cooperation with town employees, I have already volunteered many hours designing educational flyers that were sent to wastewater customers, proposing and assisting with storm drain stenciling programs, and reviewing water quality data. I will continue to be vigilant in planning and monitoring in this area.
3) How will you protect the Camden taxpayer as you shape and govern a municipal budget, and juggle various interests that request municipal funding throughout the year?
Protecting the Camden taxpayer begins, in my opinion, not with the budget but with a clear understanding of the town's current and forecasted financial commitments. It is easy to waste significant time and energy on arguments over office supplies and related minutia, while losing sight of the bigger picture and missing opportunities for significant savings. This requires reading reports from independent auditors, seeking out second opinions on financial reports, understanding the issues and opportunities laid out in our comprehensive plan and annual reports, and staying on top of new ways that municipalities are solving problems around the country.
Two years on the Budget Committee and countless conversations with employees, residents, Select Board members, and interested observers has given me much insight into the way the budget is developed and the way spending priorities are set. While certain things associated with our aging infrastructure, like collapsed sewer pipes, are somewhat non negotiable expenses, there are other areas where our community must make choices about the level of service desired. We cannot be everything to everyone all the time, and I've learned that no matter what decision is made about adding or cutting any item, there are people who will be unhappy. Still, providing more robust opportunities for public input as well as modernizing the format of our budget so that it is easier to understand, would help the Select Board to get better input and make better recommendations about where cuts can be made. Can residents tolerate a few more potholes? More snow accumulating on the roads? Do they mind standing in line longer at the town office? Do we need 11 full time Police Officers? What does it really save us to take action in any of these areas? I have my own personal opinions on things like government transparency and environmental stewardship, but on most issues, my primary concern is with using technology, surveys, and other tools to get a better picture of the level of service residents do or do not need in any particular area. For those interested in reviewing the current proposed budget to be voted on at town meeting, it can be found here: http://www.camdenmaine.gov/vertical/sites/%7B12179FA6-CABE-432E-868D-862BE81D9F03%7D/uploads/FY_18_Budget_-_BC__SB_recommendations_05.02.17(1).pdf
4) Camden has refined and promoted itself as part of an outdoor recreational economy for several years. Do you believe that is worth continuing, and if so, how so?
I see Camden's place as part of the outdoor recreation economy more as a natural progression than a direct result of promotion, branding, or marketing. People visit here for some of the same reasons they choose to live here, and it makes perfect sense for us to encourage the creation of businesses that revolve around skiing, mountain biking, paddle boarding, and kayaking just as we do with the downtown restaurants and shops. The harbor and downtown area are a shared resource and the maintenance of trash cans, docks, public restrooms, and sidewalks helps to create a place where businesses can thrive. I think there also additional ways we can responsibly make use of our public spaces that are beneficial to both outdoor recreation type businesses and residents.
5) How do you see Camden positioned in the larger regional Midcoast economy?
First and foremost, we need to realize that Camden is in fact part of a larger Midcoast economy and that very little of what we do can or should occur in a vacuum. The challenge of economic development for small towns like ours is often one of scale since our size is not large enough to have sufficient funding and incentives available to impact economic development in the same way that is possible in larger cities. For this reason, it is far better to work with neighboring towns through regional efforts than to try and compete against them.
6) A proposal has been made to transform the 77 acres of town-owned Sagamore Farms, on Route 1, to a park with trails alongside a business center, or some other entrepreneurial use. It has also been suggested that such a building have a green roof, and the farm becomes a model for business/park land development. What is your opinion on that idea?
Thanks to the initiative of Morgan Laidlaw and the Mid-Coast Chapter of the New England Mountain Biking Association, the public now has access to an impressive labyrinth of multiuse trails throughout the wooded portion of the property. All of this has occurred at no cost to the town. The proposal to put solar panels on a one acre portion of the field looks like it may actually happen, and will be another beneficial development for our town, and for the environment, at no cost to taxpayers. I'm not sure why any eventual building on the site would need to have a green roof. If by "green" we mean "vegetative" then I'd have to learn more about why it's desirable. I've heard many ideas for the property but I hadn't heard that one! It doesn't seem wise to plant grass on top of a roof when we are talking about 77 acres of land with plenty of places to grow things. After going through such a long exercise identifying the site as ideal for solar panels, one would imagine that solar panels (and not grass) would be appropriate for the roof of any building to be cited there. If the entire goal of the green roof would be to make it blend in visually from the top of Mt. Battie, I have a hard time seeing the value.
I am skeptical but open-minded about the benefits or viability of a business park there. A number of commissioned reports have discussed the pros and cons of developing the site but the Select Board has always declined to fund a full survey of the property, in favor of focusing on our downtown area. I've twice spent the afternoon venturing around the property, on and off the trails, and there are significant areas of manmade and naturally present wetlands. Currently, our only access to the property for development purposes is by way of an easement through private property, due to the fact that Sagamore Farm road has some limitations. However, thanks to the generosity of Jim Burgess, the public has been invited to use one of the parking lots at the Lodge at Camden Hills in order to access Sagamore Farm. Stay tuned for details.
This report through the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research (2011) actually identified several other parcels of land and action items that may be more appropriate for business development than Sagamore Farm. Overall, I'm open minded and supportive of what has already gone on, but have not seen compelling data to support investing in a business park.
7) What municipal committee would you like to be a liaison to, and why?
Typically, Select Board members are asked to be a liaison to 5 committees, but my greatest interest lies in the Mid-Coast Solid Waste Board. I have been attending meetings of the Board for the past 3 years and have a strong interest in continuing this work. There is high turnover on that board, but the learning curve is steep (not a great combination). I have invested significant time in understanding the solid waste and recycling issues facing the region as well as the history and environmental challenge that goes along with monitoring an active landfill (which has at times posed a threat to surrounding ground and surface water). This responsibility far exceeds the typical expectations of a Select Board liaison to one of our volunteer committees as it carries with it a separate fiduciary duty as director of a quasi-municipal corporation managing an annual budget of roughly one million dollars. Whenever possible, I will push for the operation to be funded by user fees and not tax assessments. I prefer to pay the cost of my own waste disposal and recycling and not the cost of the waste my neighbor produces.
I would also be interested in continuing my work on the Personnel Board that I currently serve on by being a liaison to it if elected to the Select Board. The Personnel Board is one of Camden's only other elected (not appointed boards) and I believe it is an underutilized resource that can and should play a much bigger role. I would also recommend that Dave Miramant be added in as a write in candidate for the vacant position on June 13.
Finally, I think we need to take a good look at incentives for affordable housing and would be interested in assisting with a committee or in bringing the issue to one of our existing committees. The Conservation Commission and the Energy Committee are of course also strong interests of mine.
8) How will you protect the town-owned Ragged Mountain Recreation Area from overuse as the region becomes more attractive to biking, skiing and hiking?
The best way to protect Ragged Mountain, Hosmer Pond, and the surrounding area is proper site planning and ongoing oversight. New trails and paths must be well planned to account for drainage, erosion control, vegetative buffers, slope, and soil type, and existing trails and trouble spots must be monitored for warning signs. When it comes to projects in areas like this, the town cannot continue the practice of farming operations out to the lowest bidder and hoping for the best. Due to the high level of interest in the area and the potential for overuse (and mismanagement), I would be interested in pursuing a structure that gives the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area a separate board of Trustees that would operate with a similar structure to that of the Public Library. I see Ragged Mountain and the Snow Bowl as one of the town's biggest assets. It attracts visitors and new residents and provides the community with great year round activities, particularly during the winter when many of us may be more inclined to stay inside and be sedentary. There is much room for expanding access and activities for those unable to invest in expensive ski gear or for those simply more inclined to things like snow tubing. The challenges and opportunities associated with the Snow Bowl may be better managed by a dedicated board of its own rather than entirely funneled through a Select Board that often juggles many other demands and has few of the necessary skills or experience required. Again, I am open minded and will rely heavily on the input and experience of the many people in our community who have proven themselves to be advocates for the mountain, the pond, and our town.
9) How do you envision the future of solid waste processing for the four towns; i.e., recycling, waste stream reduction?
There are significant opportunities for improvement in this area and my main concern is with increasing efficiency and expanding opportunities for salvage and reuse. Increasing recycling rates for household containers, cardboard, and mixed paper is an important goal, but we can likely accomplish more for the environment, with less public investment, by simply creating ways to facilitate reuse of materials destined for the landfill or incinerator. Through my work collecting donations for Syria from hospitals, hotels, businesses, and private citizens, I see the immense amount of material that is being discarded when it could be reused.
Expanding the Swap Shop (both in size and hours of operation) as well as developing a sensible policy that allows for salvaging of building materials and demolition wood from the landfill would go a long way in both reducing our disposal costs as well as our carbon footprint.
I recently worked with the Midcoast Waste Watch group to conduct a successful survey of residents regarding waste and recycling, and the results are a available at this link. People appreciated the opportunity to provide feedback and it was heartening to read hundreds of thoughtful comments from residents whose opinions otherwise would have gone uncounted. This is a model I would like to expand to other town issues.
I would also like to implement after hours drop off locations for waste and recycling that are monitored by video surveillance and yellow bag vending machines. The survey provided a lot of feedback about the impact of limited hours, and it's time we got creative. This model has worked well in other rural areas and people are less likely to engage in illegal dumping if they have a convenient option available at all hours. Here is an example: http://ruralaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Logan-County-Recycling-singlepage.pdf
Due to our high volume of summer traffic and the number of businesses and residents using private trash pickup services, single stream recycling may be inevitable and productive. It is very difficult to teach our 8 category recycling system to visitors during their short time here, and impossible for some people to accommodate so many bins or to transport the material to the transfer station themselves. However, a switch to single stream recycling would likely mean exporting local jobs and possibly raising taxes unless we can get creative, and I think we need to be upfront with the community about the costs and benefits.
I hope to expand the use of backyard composting systems as well as options for people unwilling or unable to compost at home. Our survey identified a large number of local farmers and pig owners who would be interested in accepting food and organic waste from the community. My hope is that we might develop a system where people could deliver organic waste to the Farmers Market and local farmers would take the waste for a small fee to utilize in their composting programs. I would like to see options that may benefit local businesses pursued before contracting with large out of town companies which require significant transportation, higher costs, and higher carbon footprints.
10) Various municipalities in Maine have invested in solar farms. Should Camden?
Yes. The current proposal to enter into a Power Purchase Agreement with Revision Energy at Sagamore Farm makes excellent economic and environmental sense and will cost the town nothing. Revision will take advantage of the federal tax credits and the town will enjoy a lower electricity rate than the market price with CMP. If state law changes in the future and allows for larger solar arrays, there is enough cleared land already at the Sagamore site to increase the number of panels and produce enough electricity to cover all our municipal electricity needs including those of the Snow Bowl (the town's biggest electricity user).
12) Is it important for municipalities to invest in high speed internet infrastructure (as Rockport and Rockland have explored) or should it be left to market forces?
It depends. For some communities, the existing coverage is so poor and the speeds so slow that it makes sense to spend taxpayer money investing in it. I am intrigued by the idea of how Camden could benefit from access to fiber-optic connection speeds but have not yet seen enough evidence to be convinced that any taxpayer money should be spent. By most standards, the Broadband access is available virtually everywhere in Camden. However, it could be faster, and there are certain individuals and businesses who certainly need the super fast speeds. Rockport's Maine Media Workshops was one such example and making a fiber-optic connections available to them was an important and wise investment in my opinion.
At my home on Mechanic Street I have basic service with Time Warner (now Spectrum) and can mostly count on 20mbps download and 2.5mbps upload speeds. If I wanted to pay more, they offer a service of up to 100mbps and I think this will be more than sufficient for most businesses. How many businesses really need access to faster speeds than that? Maybe there are more than I realize. That said, high speed fiber-optic internet is much faster than what is currently available in Camden, and the backbone is already in place by virtue of the "three ring binder" running right through Camden along Rt 1. The trouble is finding companies willing to invest in expanding the network and making it available to people. At this point, I would support studying the issue but have not seen enough information to support a large expenditure of public funds to achieve it. I would be interested to hear more input from individuals and businesses.
13) Camden and Rockport now share a police chief and an assessor. Are there other cost-sharing arrangements that Camden could do, with Rockport or other towns, to spread the staffing responsibilities; e.g., share a planner? Public works director?
I am open to all possibilities in this area. Although it's nothing I would propose right away, I could even get behind the idea of eventually rejoining the towns into one if the data and the public support were compelling (it was too bad that a fight over a bridge ended something that worked well for around 100 years). The sharing of a Police Chief has been an outstanding success in my opinion and Camden and Rockport's shared Assessor has been equally beneficial for even longer. Aside from sharing department heads, it would be interesting to pursue the idea of inviting neighboring communities to share in the costs and benefits of operating the Snow Bowl and maybe even the Library. For instance, since many Rockport residents have been actively involved with the Snow Bowl on so many levels, perhaps Rockport could share in some of the capital costs associated with purchasing some of the equipment and in so doing be entitled to take advantage of Camden resident special rates as well as the possibility of representation on some sort of Ragged Recreation Board of Trustees.