ELLSWORTH — Under stage lights at The Grand Tuesday, candidates for City Council let the public know their stance on issues topping the list of voter concerns. Those include visions for the future, the council’s role in economic growth, the local regulatory environment, pandemic response, updates to the comprehensive plan, rainbow crosswalks and funding for law enforcement.
The slate of candidates, Casey Hanson, Edward Mathias Kamin III, John Linnehan and Steven O’Halloran, none of whom are incumbents and who each hope to fill one of two open council seats, spent 90 minutes answering questions posed by moderator Cyndi Wood, managing editor of The Ellsworth American. The American co-hosted the event with Heart of Ellsworth.
Many of the questions were submitted by audience members attending in-person or submitted online prior to the event.
The issues raised, and how the candidates responded, highlighted differing views on local government’s role in public affairs, social issues and community priorities. But when it came to supporting local businesses, all viewed it as a major priority, although details on how best to do this were limited.
The first question posed was why the candidates decided to run for a council seat, and their answers set the tone for the questions that came later.
Linnehan said he is “concerned about the loss of constitutional, spiritual and individual rights” along with high property and business taxes.
O’Halloran was also business-centered.
“I would like to see the city be a little more friendly to business,” he said, questioning the “empty fields by Walmart.”
Kamin spoke of council representation for “younger entrepreneurs” who “may not have the voice they should” in city affairs.
“I want to ensure Ellsworth remains the kind of city that encourages my children to think of [it] as a place to live,” Hanson said. A strategic vision, an updated comprehensive plan, affordable housing and supporting businesses and the schools is the way toward this, she added.
All emphasized the importance of listening to the voices of all citizens and their concerns if elected to the council. Linnehan also emphasized his biblical stance.
“America is based on the Bible,” he said, and that “according to the Bible, homosexuality is a sin.” So, he came down firmly against rainbow-painted sidewalks as a symbol of welcoming and inclusivity in Ellsworth.
The rainbow crosswalk question was posed by several community members before and during the event. O’Halloran avoided the social issue by stating crosswalks should be painted a bright, reflective yellow, while Kamin and Hanson responded favorably to rainbow crosswalks. The council rejected rainbow crosswalks in 2020 in a split vote.
The biggest challenges the candidates see facing the city not only center around business but on how to best serve all citizens in light of divisions in community perspectives. As O’Halloran phrased it, “satisfying everybody’s needs and everybody’s wants … It’s a huge, huge problem … Everybody needs to work together, even if we see things differently.”
Linnehan sees the city budget as the greatest challenge, proposing a “minimum 10 percent reduction” on property and business taxes by going “line by line” through municipal and school budgets and eliminating “any or all unnecessary spending.”
“Sustainable growth and a plan for business development are the two problems facing Ellsworth,” Kamin said, adding that the comprehensive plan update can address this. He said he plans “to make it my number one priority if I win a seat on the council … The city can do so much more to reduce the tax burden.”
Hanson pointed to “tumultuous times” and “fractures and divisions within our community.” She said that “the greatest challenge to us and the council is to find … values and goals we all agree on,” recommending strategic vision and planning “around items we all care about.”
The government’s role in the pandemic also brought a range of responses. O’Halloran said businesses should make their own rules regarding vaccines and masks. Linnehan said government’s role in our lives needs to be reduced and “individual freedoms were paramount.”
Hanson sees the council’s role as helping businesses make safe decisions, and to ensure tests are available for city workers who choose to not be vaccinated, and vaccines, too. Kamin spoke of state pandemic funding available and “what council can do is get that money for us” to help build essential infrastructure such as broadband, water and sewer.
Candidates were also asked the still-hot-button question of whether they supported “defunding” the police.
“No,” Linnehan and O’Halloran both replied.
Kamin questioned “overblown budgets” and the militarization of police, noting the attempt by Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane to order riot gear in 2020. He also questioned the dual city position of police chief/city manager.
“That needs to be looked at,” he said.
“It means a lot of different things to different people,” Hanson said of the phrase “defunding police.” “I have no desire to cut funding to our local department.” But she did note that funding things such as addiction treatment and housing could help police from “having to deal with things they shouldn’t.”
Perhaps the biggest audience applause came when the moderator explained that the council is bipartisan by city charter, so the candidates’ political parties were not a point of discussion.
About 40 people attended the forum in person, and the city and Heart of Ellsworth YouTube stream showed 198 views. The forum was also streamed live on the city’s public access cable channel. The recording may still be viewed on YouTube.