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Board of Selectmen candidates for two-year seat talk about issues, Madawaska future

MADAWASKA, Maine — The town of Madawaska will hold special elections to fill the vacancies for two of the Board of Selectmen’s five seats. 
Brenda Theriault submitted her letter of resignation June 12 followed by shortly after by Danielle Campbell submitting hers. 

There is one one-year seat available and one two-year seat open. David Morin is running unopposed for the one-year term while Bryan Albert and Laurie Gagnon are vying for the two-year term. 

The following is a question and answer questionnaire completed by Albert and Gagnon.

What other political offices have you held? If none, what other offices, honors or titles have you earned? Or groups do you belong to (Elks, Rotary, etc?)

 Albert: None

Gagnon: Red Arrow Snowmobile Club president for three years in the late ‘90’s, early 2000s but I honestly don’t remember exactly which three years that it was. I was on the Rec committee in St. Agatha around that time as well. Most recently the Booster Club, Class of 2018 Project Grad Committee, Class of 2019 Junior Class Adviser, then chair of their Project Grad the following year. Volunteer coordinator, Bike Maine 2018. All in St Agatha. Grand Plan Committee for Madawaska since September 2018 and was recently appointed to the Community Development Advisory Committee although we haven’t met yet. 

What is your career background? 

Albert: My career has been varied. In my career, I have been mostly a business owner and commercial construction project manager. The business was a Hardscape Construction company. The business began as a startup in 1992 with no employees and within three years had as many as 30 employees. I understand what it is like to begin a business and be responsible for making payroll. Most recently I was in the mid-Atlantic working with and managing Spanish-speaking crews. I was able to learn Spanish and will be working on learning French. Other things I have done in my career include driving trucks and most aspects of general building and sitework construction. 

Gagnon: Since July 2016 I’ve been at Evergreen Trading Company and Albert Farms Inc, currently doing accounting,and executive assistant type functions for the president of both companies. Prior to that I was with Evergreen Manufacturing Group for 12 years. My last position there was director of Plant and Administrative Operations. As odd as it may seem to go from accounting to complementary medicine, I just completed my Certification for Clinical Hypnotherapy and have started a new business called Peaceful Soul. I’m offering Hypnotherapy Sessions in Madawaska, and balancing that with my current job. From May 2003 to August 2004, [I was] Greater Madawaska Chamber of Commerce executive director.  At the time, the Chamber was in charge of the Acadian Festival so I helped execute the one in 2003 and chaired the one in 2004. During that time, I was on the Maine Acadian Heritage Council and International Snowmobile Festival Committee.

What made you decide to run for the Madawaska Board of Selectmen? 

Albert: My roots are deep in Madawaska.This place for me is the most unique place on earth. I have a passion for the place and its people. I recently have returned to Madawaska and established residency. In talking to people in town, I discovered there is a great deal of frustration. The people feel disconnected from their elected officials. I would like to begin to increase public involvement in the affairs of the town. Also, I would like to be part of positive change in these areas: 

Promote a deeper connection between the people and the Board of Selectmen. 

Promote ways to increase the understanding of what is happening in town matters with attention to the downtown revitalization project and the new international bridge. 

Promote new business growth and entrepreneurialism. 

Promote Businesses that have a manufacturing base producing products that can be marketed outside the Valley. The world is our real marketplace. Business today is not limited to geographic barriers. A great strength of the town of Madawaska and the St. John Valley is the geographical location. It is also a great weakness. It is a very long way to commercial markets. One reason that the trucking industry is such a viable business here, is once the truck is out of the Valley the revenue stream is not tied to the Valley. 

Promote the business model of internet-based businesses whose sales are not tied physically to the valley. This model can employee people in the valley with sales and revenues outside the geographic limitations that are part of living in Madawaska. 

Promote small manufacturing opportunities producing products that can be sold and shipped using existing small package delivery companies. Products like clothing manufacturing or processing finished paper products with the paper produced in our mill. 

Gagnon: I have two teenagers who want to make their life right here. Both of them have girlfriends who are trying to build small businesses in this area. I’m selfish in that I want to ensure that my kids stay close. I want to retire here and watch grandchildren grow up in this beautiful place just like I did. 

What do you feel should be the board’s top priority moving forward? 

Albert: Downtown revitalization is a very important issue. The area of KMart and the parking lot and the other old buildings owned by the town contribute to a very negative perception of the town. I would encourage the use of the available revitalization funds to be used to remove the old buildings and existing parking lot and install a large greenspace. This would dramatically change the perception of this area as you enter or leave the town. It would also allow the property to be ready for the future use that will develop. It would be a dramatic visual change for the town and the logical first step in finding the next phase of life for this valuable downtown space. 

Gagnon: I think No. 1 is communication. They are doing a lot of good things but the one sentiment that I hear over and over is that community members don’t know or understand what exactly is being done. People are angry about things not getting done when in reality they have been. I believe that the people need to take some responsibility. They can show up for meetings, ask questions, read minutes, and get involved, but I think the council can find ways to get information out of the town office in a more user-friendly way.  

What do you see as the most important issue facing Madawaska today and in the future? 

Albert: Economic growth and job development. Since returning to Madawaska I have talked to many people about the privilege of living in the St. John Valley. I have not met anyone who does not love being here. I have also met people who feel like they have to leave in order to find employment. I would like to see an increase in small manufacturing employment in Madawaska. 

Gagnon: I believe that the root cause of every issue that Madawaska is facing comes down to good paying full-time jobs. More jobs would increase the population, thereby increasing activity for the local businesses, strengthening our economy and providing a better quality of life. 

What do you see as your primary goal, if elected? 

Albert: Work toward increasing voter participation in local affairs. This is likely not going to be a popular position, but you give up the right to complain if you don’t vote. My personal viewpoint about voting is a very simple one. VOTE OR BE QUIET. I don’t care who or what you vote for, just vote! It is a privilege that American service men and women have protected since the beginning of this nation. I am calling for wider voter participation in the process beginning with this election! 

Gagnon: Some of the Community members believe that the town manager’s job is to bring in new business and fix all of the issues that we have. I see the town office as a business. The town manager is busy running the business of the town and trying to provide service to its customers at the lowest possible cost. There’s only a certain amount of income that comes in without raising taxes, and as each year goes by, services are more and more expensive. How much of those funds should we use toward wining and dining businesses that may never come here? I think the answer is for the community members to get involved. I’d like to facilitate that. We are making paper and shipping it elsewhere to be converted. Couldn’t we do that? Why aren’t we using the natural resources that are right here to create jobs? I don’t have the answers but I think we need to help ourselves instead of relying on someone to swoop in and save us. I would like to see fundraising activities with the goal of providing small business grants to community members who want to start or improve an existing business. 

Why should people vote for you? 

Albert: I prefer collaboration to competition. I believe in a wider vision for the St. John Valley. The reality is that all the towns in the St. John Valley are interconnected. We are all in this together. What is good for Madawaska is good for the Valley as a whole and what is good for the Valley is good for Madawaska. I would promote a wider cooperation between the towns in the Valley and look for ways to increase for all the towns. 

Gagnon: While I lived in St. Agatha from 2005 to 2018, I have been working in Madawaska all along. The first thing I did when I moved here is speak to the director of Community Development at the time and ask her what I could do to get involved. I care about the community and its people and would appreciate the opportunity to help move it forward.

Elections will take place 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, in the basement of the KC Hall in Madawaska. 

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