Cumberland County Commissioner: Shaughnessy and Witonis

Incumbent Malory Shaughnessy (Democrat) of Windham is being challenged by Susan Huston-Witonis (Independent) of Casco for Cumberland County Commissioner.

Responses are arranged alphabetically.

Q. Why did you decide to run for office and what strengths would you bring to the position?

Shaughnessy: In my family, we were always encouraged to get involved in our community, to participate and help where we could. This has been the way I raised my four sons as well. I ran for county commissioner initially four years ago because I believe that a strong, professional county government can provide services to our communities and help save us tax dollars. I am running for re-election because the changes I have worked on are not completed, and there is still more work to do.

The varieties of experiences that I bring to this position I believe make me a very effective county commissioner. I have worked for small and large nonprofits, state and federal government and the educational system. I have worked with people in all walks of life and have been able to bring people together for consensus and action. In these times, a county commissioner must not only provide steady oversight to the policy and fiscal decisions regarding county governance, but must be able to bring people together to discover new ways to provide our needed public services with fewer tax dollars. Leadership and creativity are essential attributes for a county commissioner today.

These past few years, my major focus as county commissioner in Cumberland County has been researching and developing alternative solutions for more efficient public services. In addition to expanding our core services such as dispatch and law enforcement, we have convened and participated in gatherings of community leaders and residents to discuss regional approaches to issues in education, economic development, public health, and local service delivery. The county has played the role of facilitator and convener as well as service provider. I believe that my experience suits our needs in these changing times.

Witonis: The main reason I decided to run for the office of county commissioner is to provide the rural communities in Cumberland County with a representative that will be involved with and responsive to our communities. As I travel throughout the region, I am frequently told by community leaders that they do not see their county commissioner. In fact, many citizens do not know their commissioner.

The years I have served as a selectman on the board in Casco, the many committees in our community and as a member of the Cumberland County Budget Advisory Committee, have given me insight as to the importance of building personal relationships with our citizens and community leaders. I think it iscritical that we establish relationships with leaders in each of the communities we serve and that we build trust within county government. I often hear citizens and community leaders say that they do not trust county government.

As a county commissioner, I will be committed to visiting each of the town managers, councils and boards of selectmen within District 3 to discuss how we can work together to help our citizens, to save our taxpayers money and to begin building trust between government agencies.

Q. How do you feel about the emotional climate (primarily discontent) that presently exists amongst the populace toward politics, and how would you make a difference?

Shaughnessy: In my opinion, the discontent is largely stemming from the continued bad state of the economy coupled with a sense that politicians are more concerned about their image than about the state of our communities. As county commissioner these past four years, I have worked hard and am willing to ask the tough questions, and make the tough decisions needed. I believe that by working hard to professionalize county government through things like the new charter that voters will vote on this November, and by positioning the county to provide needed services more effectively to our communities, we can help reduce our property tax burden. Historically, Mainers have relied on the local town government for many of their public services, but to save us money we are going to have to do things differently. I think change is hard, but by building relationships with my constituents and with the leaders in our communities, I think I can help bring about the change we need in how we get public services. I believe that the county can help save us tax dollars.

Witonis: Our citizens are looking for change. We need to elect representatives who are willing to work together to reach the goals of our communities. We also need to elect representatives who are committed to building relationships with community leaders and rebuilding trust in county government. I am committed to each of these important changes in the way we do business.

Q. What do you feel are the three major issues facing the state at this time, and what would you do, if elected, to address these areas.

Shaughnessy: It is hard to winnow the list down to only three as there are so many pressing needs right now, but the top three issues that I believe need the most focus at the county level are creating a functioning regional transportation system, developing stronger relations between the county and our municipalities, and forming a regional vision and direction for economic development to bring more jobs into Cumberland County.

A functioning transportation system is essential in order for our citizens to be able to remain in our rural communities and still get access to the goods, services, continuing education and jobs they need. Many of our senior citizens or those unable to afford a car and the increasing expense of gasoline are trapped at home or forced to move to our service centers. Companies need a mobile as well as educated workforce if they are to locate in our rural areas to provide needed jobs. As county commissioner, I advocated bringing the bus service up Route 302 to connect Bridgton to the Windham area and on into Portland, and we are going to see two energy-efficient buses serving this route sometime in the new year. This is only a first step and I would continue to bring the players to the table to expand this into a real regional transportation system.

We need stronger relationships between the county and our municipalities in order to build the trust to create ways to share service delivery on a regional basis. If re-elected, I will continue the work I started over these past few years to bring our legislative delegation together for common purpose and to bring our municipal leaders to the table in developing creative solutions such as our County Community Development Block Grant program.

Finally, I believe that the county can play a larger role in helping to form a regional vision and direction for economic development, bringing together the various town and local efforts to benefit the entire region. We can develop the infrastructure through enhancing broadband access, through developing an integrated transportation system and through other means so that businesses want to settle here and provide the jobs we need.

Witonis: As a candidate for county commissioner, I’ll answer the question as it relates to county government.

A. Representation. I think the most important issue for me as a commissioner is to serve as a true representative of Cumberland County by meeting and establishing relationships with citizens and community leaders within District 3.

B. Civic Center. There has been a great deal of discussion recently as to what the county should do with the Cumberland County Civic Center. Some feel we should renovate the current center and others feel we should build a brand new facility. While I agree that the Civic Center is too small and in need of repair, I am not convinced that right now is the time to dedicate considerable taxpayer dollars to this project.

Nearly everyone we know is struggling in today’s economy. Many of our citizens are finding it more and more difficult to pay their bills and even to hold on to their jobs. Costs to renovate the current Civic Center have been estimated to be between $40 million and $100 million dollars. Right now is just not the time to place that burden on our taxpayers.

I understand the benefits of having a Civic Center/convention center and the positive impact it could have on our overall economy. I do believe that in a better economic environment Cumberland County would be best served by building a new facility versus rebuilding the current center. I think we would be wasting taxpayer dollars trying to rebuild a worn out, too small facility in the City of Portland. I have always believed that the Civic Center should have been constructed outside the City of Portland in a centrally located community, closer to a turnpike entrance and in a location where we would have ample available parking. Members of the rural communities find it very difficult to travel into Portland, maneuver the very busy streets and find parking to attend an event.

C. Public Safety. I believe that one of the top priorities of government is to ensure that we provide adequate protection to our citizens and communities.  I have always served as a strong advocate for public safety and will continue to do so as a county commissioner. We need to ensure that our public safety agencies have enough staff and the right equipment to get the job done.

Q. Is the proposed casino a good idea or bad idea for Maine?

Shaughnessy: The voters will decide what they want to do on this issue on Nov. 2. My personal vote will be against having a casino for a number of reasons. I do not believe that it is the type of economic development that helps the whole community over the long run. I would rather see a more strategic approach to developing long-term sustainable jobs for western Maine. There is also research to show that it will not bring in new money to our communities, but will simply replace spending that is currently put to other forms of entertainment and consumption of goods. While it will bring in some construction jobs initially, the long-term jobs it will bring are not highly paid jobs.

Witonis: It is a good idea. I have supported the concept of a casino in Maine for some time. Cumberland County, as well as the rest of Maine, thrives economically when we have more tourists visiting our great state. The State of Maine has a lot to offer our visitors and would benefit even more from a professionally constructed and managed casino.

We are blessed with numerous visitors to summer camps, state parks, ski resorts and many other attractions throughout the year. I think our entire tourist industry would also benefit if we coupled those industries with an opportunity for visitors to enjoy a casino, see a big name show and simply enjoy a night out.

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