Race for Bridgton Board of Selectmen

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

It’s a four-way race for two open seats on the Bridgton Board of Selectmen, with two newcomers trying to oust two longtime incumbents. Doug Taft, a nine-year board veteran, and Bob McHatton, who has served on the board off and on for 26 years, are being challenged by Greg Watkins and Robert Murphy. Taft is running as a write-in candidate, so voters will need to pencil in his name if they so choose, underneath the names of the other three official candidates.

All of the other local elections to take place by secret ballot on Tuesday, June 9, are uncontested. Incumbents Dee Miller and Mike Figoli are running for reelection to the Planning Board, and incumbents Dorothy Stoddard and Karla Swanson-Murphy are seeking another three-year term on the SAD 61 Board of Directors. Todd Perreault is running for Water District Trustee. A write-in ballot will choose a person to serve as a Planning Board Alternate, since no one took out papers.

In addition to local elections, the June 9 ballot will contain citizen-led referendum questions on funding the Lakes Region Bus, deferring funding for Town Hall and preventing changes to current sewer system operations. The Planning Board is also seeking voter approval on amendments to several town ordinances.

Last week, the News profiled candidates Greg Watkins and Robert Murphy. This week, profiles on Robert McHatton and Douglas Taft:

Robert McHatton

Robert McHatton

Bob McHatton, candidate for Bridgton Selectman

It’s an old joke, but Bob McHatton never ceases to smile when someone makes a crack at a meeting about how long he’s been on the Bridgton Board of Selectmen.

After all, it has been 26 years, on and off. On June 9 his name will be on the ballot to serve another three years. Why does he do it?

His answer is simple: “To do what I feel is right for the town of Bridgton.”

McHatton fell in love with the town of Bridgton four decades ago, while vacationing from his home in Framingham, Mass. He bought a home on South High Street, where he and his wife Patricia raised three children: Doreen, Robert Jr. and Kimberly.

He started is own business, McHatton’s Cleaning Service, in 1988 and retired in 2012, after turning the business over to his son Bob and wife Debbie. He is a longtime member of the Bridgton Lions Club, where he received the prestigious Melvin Jones Award and has been in charge of the Lions/Knights of Columbus Golf Tournament. For many years, he also has been in charge of the town’s Fourth of July Parade.

Now that he is retired, he said, he can devote all his time on projects he considers crucial to Bridgton’s future.

One such project is the athletic fields off Portland Road that the Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group, or BRAG, has been working for years to bring to fulfillment. McHatton feels strongly that the time has come for the town of Bridgton to step up and take over the project, since BRAG has reached the end of what it can accomplish as a nonprofit fundraising group.

As Selectman, McHatton has served along with Doug Taft as board representatives at BRAG meetings and negotiations, so he knows well where things stand. The punch list that was created of projects that must be finished there, before the town takes over ownership, needs to be renegotiated, he said. And, if elected, he said he will work to help set up a plan so that the transfer of ownership can take place.

McHatton also wants to continue serving in order to shepherd the town through the hard road ahead in implementing the Comprehensive Plan. “It won’t be an easy plan to implement,” he said, because the land use plan as envisioned “is a town-wide zoning law.”

It will require “delicate” work, he said, to convince property owners to embrace the concept of zoning, and he feels his experience and knowledge of townspeople can help greatly with that. The first priority of the zoning, he said, must be the Route 302 corridor. McHatton is with the camp that favors moderate commercial growth along the corridor, a mix of retail and commercial uses. He thinks anything larger than the size of the Hannaford supermarket, at 35,000 square feet, might be too large for Bridgton’s comfort. “We do not want a 100,000-square-foot retail store,” he said.

As work progresses to other areas of town, McHatton said some neighborhoods, such as North Bridgton, might not want to be zoned. “And that’s okay,” he said.

Another priority for McHatton is improving the town’s sewer system, with the possibility of extending lines along Portland Road to Sandy Creek and up South High Street.

“Again, not a light project,” he said. “It’s going to be very costly, and the voters have not been asked yet how much growth they want.” Residents need to know that if the system is extended on Portland Road, “You can sewer every piece of land on Route 302” and potentially draw businesses needing a large workforce.

McHatton wants voters to know he was against selling the Salmon Point Campground and supports the library’s request for $9,000 in increased funding. He especially wanted to explain why he is against the citizens’ petition that would delay funds to fix the Town Hall until all costs are known.

“I still believe in Democracy, and in 2014 voters approved $400,000” to stabilize the building, he said. “I believe I should follow that, and that’s what I’m doing.” Referring to the failed furnace at the Town Hall that sparked the latest controversy, he said, “My furnace died in September, and I didn’t tear my house down. I bought a new furnace.”

McHatton said he believes the citizens’ petition, which will be Question 2 on the June 9 ballot, “is interfering with the vote that was taken” in 2014. “Town Hall is not a rec center, it’s a multi-purpose building,” and stabilizing the damage that has been done by water intrusion issues is needed irregardless of the town’s recreation programming needs.

McHatton is also voting “No” on Question 3 regarding sewer allocation rights, believing that it will severely tie the town’s hands in terms of improving the system.

He said that irregardless of the question or the particular differences of opinion he’s seen in town over the years, it is his experience that “Both sides are fighting for what they think is right for the Town of Bridgton.” And he has another axiom he’s lived by since day one on the board:

“You can make a friend out of your enemy and an enemy out of your friend.”

Douglas Taft

Douglas Taft

Write-in candidate: Douglas Taft

Douglas A. Taft has decided to become a write-in candidate for the Board of Selectmen for the Town of Bridgton.

At the urging of some of his constituents, Doug was asked to reconsider running based on their knowledge of him and his leadership role in the community as a public servant.

Doug graduated from E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, Conn. in 1961. In 1964, he joined the U.S. Army serving three years and was honorably discharged as a Sergeant in 1967. He then returned to his old job working in a wire and cable mill, holding several positions of authority in the production line.

In 1972, Doug joined the Willimantic Police Department and served there with distinction until 1977 earning the rank of Patrol Sergeant. In 1977, he moved to Bridgton and made it his home, dedicating his career and life as a public servant to this community.

After leaving the employment of the Town of Bridgton, he joined the Oxford County Sheriffs’ Department, where he served as School Resource Officer at SAD 55 until his retirement.

There have been several changes to the town since he has served on the board and he has played an active role in many of them; selecting a new police chief, finding a new town manager, he helped create a Code of Ethics and Conduct for the Board, as well as for the committees of the town, and was part of the negotiating team for Pondicherry Park, just to name a few.

“I firmly believe that there is a balance this town needs to preserve its history as well as moving forward with responsible growth,” he said.

Doug has served as board vice chairman twice and chairman of the Bridgton Board of Selectmen in 2013, clearing the desks of numerous items.

In regards to a couple of the controversial issues of the community, the first being the Town Hall, Doug believes in the stabilization of the building as the voters declared on the first straw vote, as well as the last vote which was taken.

“It will be a multiuse facility until a more suitable one produces itself, which will be soon I hope,” he said.

Secondly, “the Wastewater System is an absolute necessity to continue to offer opportunity for growth to our community,” he added. “We need to continue with the upgrading of our roads, and complete more projects to our infrastructure such as Depot Street. We further need to actively explore the use of grants to support projects and encourage our department heads to do the same.”

He believes that Bridgton needs to look out for seniors and that the youth are the future.

Doug belongs to St. Joseph Church in Bridgton; is a member of the Bridgton Lions Club, a senior member of the Student of the Month Selection Committee, Oriental Lodge #13 of Bridgton, as well as Past Master of Delta Lodge #153 in Lovell, and District Educational Educator for the 16th Masonic District.

He has cooked spaghetti suppers for Project Graduation and the Bridgton Literacy Group. He has also worked on fundraiser breakfasts for Bridgton Recreation Advancement Group (BRAG) and the Fourth of July Fireworks in Bridgton, a fundraiser raffle for Friends Helping Friends and lastly supporting the Masonic Grant of $2,000 recently awarded to the Bridgton Community Center.

“If re-elected I will continue to bring your voice to the table and hold myself accountable to you the taxpayers of our town,” Doug said.

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