ELLSWORTH — Four candidates for two open City Council seats took to a virtual stage Oct. 20 to talk to voters ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
One-term incumbent Dale Hamilton was joined by Gene Lyons, Bronson Platner and Mike Springer to air their views on the challenges facing Ellsworth, the search for a city manager and COVID-19, and then field audience questions.
When asked what the biggest challenges are facing Ellsworth, the candidates covered a range of issues but mainly focused on the city’s economic health during and after the pandemic.
Springer questioned how education is being delivered during the pandemic, and the condition of city streets, which he acknowledged was a “financial hardship.”
Platner named maintaining and improving services without “unduly burdening the property tax rate” through the council “actively pursuing” grants and partnering with local nonprofits and businesses.
Hamilton cited “a convergence of many different issues we ought to be paying attention to” related to the city’s stability and sustainability.
Lyons was unable to respond, as he was driving city streets trying to find a strong enough internet connection.
Hamilton favored strategic long-term planning for the expected economic hit from the pandemic. Springer seeks a “greater fiscally responsible approach” by city departments, while Platner said he would need to review the city budgets before recommending any potential cuts.
Hamilton, Platner and Springer all said that communication skills are key for a new city manager, with Platner seeking “not an empire builder but someone who wants to run the government as efficiently as possible.” Hamilton emphasized a manager with a “demonstrated history” of leadership and planning for specific outcomes, while Springer pointed to one “engaged in every level of the city.” He and Platner favored a candidate either from Ellsworth or who is willing to relocate to the city.
An audience member asked about bringing broadband internet service to all residents, an issue highlighted by Lyons missing most of the virtual forum after losing his internet connection.
Unsurprisingly, all candidates favored better and widespread internet service, although how to get there wasn’t as clear.
“If it were easy, it would be done throughout the state,” Hamilton noted.
Springer, a 20-year employee of Consolidated Communications, described how the company wired Brooklin, using a hybrid of fiber optic and copper cable, for a minimum speed established by the town.
“We were able to deploy that at a reasonable cost,” he said.
All acknowledged how critical good internet service is at present, with a significant number of students and employees connecting remotely to school and work.
Another audience question, from Nate Hanson, asked what the candidates would do to encourage public health measures if the pandemic gets worse. All candidates shied away from police enforcement of mask wearing and instead focused on securing grants for personal protective equipment such as masks, hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies for local businesses and organizations.
Each candidate articulated why he seeks to serve on the council.
“I want to take part in looking out for the community,” Lyons said. “Instead of being part of the problem, I’d like to be part of the resolutions.”
Springer and Platner both spoke of their desire to “give back” to their community, while Hamilton said that under COVID-19 conditions, the community “needs strong leadership.”
The forum was hosted by Heart of Ellsworth in partnership with The Ellsworth American and Gibson Financial Solutions, with Ellsworth American Managing Editor Cyndi Wood serving as moderator.