One of the City Council candidates in Augusta recently made some interesting statements. Linda Conti is chief of Maine’s consumer protection division and an assistant attorney general supervising the division responsible for prosecuting anti-trust violators in business and charities. Some of her surprising comments, made at a local candidates forum, are in this column.

Last week, members of the Augusta Good Government Committee, meeting at Lisa’s Restaurant in the capital city, had an opportunity to hear and question candidates for council.

Wards 1 and 4 will elect successors to term-limited councilors Byron and O’Brien. Anna Blodgett, a former Democratic state representative, is unopposed in Ward 4 and will assume interim Mayor Mark O’Brien’s council seat.

However, in Ward 1 there is an interesting three-way contest for Mike Byron’s seat. Conti, a newcomer with strong early support, and former councilors Stan Koski and Mary Mayo-Wescott are the candidates.

The Augusta Good Government Committee, formed three decades ago, meets monthly. It is not a PAC nor does it endorse any single candidate. The committee merely attempts to make sure that there are qualified candidates for all elective offices.

As election time nears, we meet and greet the candidates individually, giving them one of the few opportunities available to express their views.

Since Blodgett has no opponent, at the most recent meeting last week most of the questions were fielded by Conti, considered the favorite in her race.

A member of the Planning Board, Conti gave her views on business in Augusta, the roles of Planning Board vs. City Council, and her relationship with some current council members who urged her to run.

Conti said, “We have enough businesses in Augusta. I would generally oppose [Tax Increment Financing Districts], because I think they are corporate welfare. The balance in our city between business and neighborhoods is not benefiting the neighborhoods.”

Commenting about the roles of Planning Board and City Council, Conti said, “The council gives the Planning Board no deference. Changes to existing zoning are generally not good.

“The council tampers with ‘one-off’ changes,” she said. “That practice should be eliminated.”

She added, “The Planning Board needs better qualified members, such as lawyers, planners, engineers and environmentalists.”

Conti said that she became interested in running for council when her friend, Councilor Dale McCormick, along with councilors Cecil Munson and Pat Paradis, urged her to run, promising their help and support.

Opponents Koski and Mayo-Wescott will be guests of the GGC next month.

MAYORAL RACE

To just about everybody’s surprise, there will also be a contest for mayor in Augusta. After three months of campaigning, Augusta at-large Councilor Dave Rollins discovered with just three hours to go to the filing deadline that a mayor from a few years ago wants to be mayor again.

So there will be a contest between third-term Councilor Rollins and Bill Dowling, a former mayor (1999-2006).

Dowling had previously stated that there should be a contest for mayor, and Rollins had agreed with him. So the stage is set, with Rollins seeking to serve as a new mayor and Bill Dowling hoping to return.

Dowling’s last election was in 2003, when he was nearly upset for re-election by Councilor Stan Koski, who is also trying to make a return to city government — in Ward 1.

In the campaign for mayor, I have withdrawn from any and all personal involvement with the Rollins campaign (paid or volunteered) in order to maintain independence for this column. Avoidance of the appearance of any conflict of interest is vitally important, especially in politics. There will be no further opinion offered in this column on the race for mayor in Augusta, until it is over.

So, I proudly settle for an undefeated record in managing numerous political campaigns for others for 25 years, and now concentrate on my role as a rookie political columnist.

I love writing “All Politics is Local,” and there is a book that I am working on while taking a DVD course in creative non-fiction writing. The professor is Tilar J. Mazzeo of Colby College. Her lectures are great.

Writing is my new passion — and at my tender age, obviously, a final career.

Don Roberts is a former city councilor and vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta. He is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District, and a representative to the Legislative Policy Committee of Maine Municipal Association.

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