ELLSWORTH — For the first time in recent memory, there are contested races for two seats on the Hancock County Commissioners board.
Incumbent commissioner and board chairman Bill Clark, representing District 1, is seeking re-election. Clark is a Republican who resides in Ellsworth.
District 1 encompasses the municipalities of Amherst, Aurora, Blue Hill, unorganized territory in Hancock, Eastbrook, Ellsworth, Gouldsboro, Great Pond, Mariaville, Northwest Hancock, Osborn, Otis, Sorrento, Sullivan, Surry, Waltham and Winter Harbor.
Challenging Clark is Democrat Rebecca Wentworth of Blue Hill, who has not held elected public office before. She is vice-chairman of the Blue Hill Democrats.
Meanwhile, incumbent Commissioner Antonio Blasi is not seeking re-election. Blasi represents District 3, which includes Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Trenton, Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Tremont, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Swan’s Island and Frenchboro.
Two Mount Desert Island residents are seeking Blasi’s seat: Republican Paul Paradis of Bar Harbor, a 13-year veteran of the Bar Harbor Town Council, and Democrat Ian Schwartz of Mount Desert.
A divisive issue for the candidates is funding for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.
Last spring, protests were being held across the country after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Four former Minneapolis police officers have been charged in Floyd’s death.
Peaceful protests were held locally.
In June, Sheriff Scott Kane had submitted and then withdrew a funding request for “riot gear” for his officers. The proposed gear included helmets with face shields, batons and protective gloves.
Kane said at the time, there may be times when protests “go south,” when residents are protesting peacefully but there are “antagonizers.”
“More than likely you’ll never see it,” he said. “It’s to protect my officers and the people.”
However, that request sparked controversy among Hancock County residents. Opponents said the equipment was unnecessary and its presence could escalate previously peaceful demonstrations.
The American asked each candidate: What are your thoughts on current and future funding of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office?
“We are blessed to have in Maine the level of dedicated, professional police officers we have,” said Clark, who served as Hancock County sheriff for 34 years. “Considering Hancock County only has seven organized police departments in all of the 35 communities and considering the state police are trying to push more patrol services onto the sheriff, he needs a board of commissioners who support his operations.”
“Before I look at future funding of the Sheriff’s Office, I see a need to expand relationships between all agencies involved in community safety,” said Wentworth. “We need to come together and explore many possibilities for solving times of crises.”
“Last year, the sheriff told me at a Budget Advisory Committee meeting that he had helped ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) deport two of our neighbors who couldn’t make bail,” said Schwartz. “Then, last summer, the sheriff requested riot gear to attack protesters, even though all of Hancock County’s protests were peaceful. Instead of funding this behavior, the immense amount of your property taxes we spend on the jail and the Sheriff’s Department should be used for preventing violent crime, which is at historic lows, in spite of what billionaire-owned media says. As Second Amendment advocates like myself will also say, Maine is safe.”
“I’m excited about stopping crime at its source: poverty, which is created by capitalism,” said Schwartz. “By providing necessities for all, we further decrease violent crime. By utilizing restorative justice — where victims and perpetrators work out their differences with community guidance — we keep people away from our draconian legal system.”
“The county Sheriff’s Office is the first line of law enforcement for many Hancock County municipalities,” said Paradis. “It also serves as law enforcement and emergency response at the Bar Harbor-Hancock County Airport. With that said, I would be very reluctant to support changes in funding of the Sheriff’s Office without a thorough understanding of ramifications to the many folks this office serves.”
Each candidate was asked: What changes would you like to see in county government?
“A move from electing to appointing the county treasurer,” said Clark. “It is archaic to let just anyone get elected to manage over 7 million county dollars in Hancock County.”
“The changes I would like to see are more direct communication between commissioners and their community, more fact collection as to what is going on in the various NGOs (nonprofit organizations) and town governments,” said Wentworth. “I especially would like to see a good working definition of ‘Community Benefits’ and what they should be applied to.”
“Coronavirus has shown us that we can’t depend on the market to solve our problems,” said Schwartz. “Union jobs with excellent benefits are extremely rare here, and all of us have seen plenty of small businesses close down permanently during the pandemic. No matter how hard people work and no matter how intelligently we scrimp and save, we cannot make ends meet. Multiple towns in Hancock County have already informed the commissioners that they cannot meet their property tax obligations this year.”
“At the same time, in a town like Mount Desert, dozens of empty billionaire-owned mansions are just sitting there while their owners — who have never worked a day in their lives, and who have either stolen or inherited every penny to their names — travel the planet on permanent vacations,” Schwartz said. “As county commissioner, I will work with the state Legislature to pass a special tax on residential properties worth more than $10 million and use the money to pay for necessities for all. Not a single person in Hancock County should be without good food, clean water and air, quality shelter, education, health care, heating, electricity, internet, clean transportation, community, purpose — you name it, we’ll provide it. Since the market has repeatedly failed so many of us, the people must step in — especially because all of that billionaire money belongs to us anyway.”
“My strengths are planning and budgeting,” said Paradis. “I would like to work with fellow commissioners and county staff towards a formal capital improvement program. My experience in Bar Harbor town government is that this helps facilitate long-range capital asset planning to avoid spikes in tax rates and reduce costs in the long run. I would also like to see the commission work with county staff to formally set and publish goals early in the year so that county municipalities have a better understanding of the county’s finances and operations.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified candidate Rebecca Wentworth’s role in the Democratic Party. She is vice-chairman of the Blue Hill Democrats.