In Augusta, voters are no longer deciding who will serve on the City Council. Instead, the council is selecting its own members.

If you are an Augusta voter you probably didn’t learn there would be a municipal election this November until two weeks after the candidate filing deadline.

When I retired last year from 25 years of active participation in Augusta politics, the same year the Good Government Committee ceased to exist, I wondered what future city elections might look like. Now we know.

No contests for mayor, two City Council seats or two (at-large) school board seats. (There is one contest, for the Ward 3 school board seat.)

In the 1990s, when I was first elected to the council, there were nine candidates, and eight the next election.

Let me tell you the story about what has happened while you weren’t looking, and Augusta voters lost control of their elections.

Prior to the last election, three councilors were observed meeting at the State House cafeteria (a city charter violation?) with assistant attorney general Linda Conti and former state legislator Anna Blodgett.

Following the subsequent election, Conti and Blodgett, the councilors’ candidates, became your new councilors.

A few weeks ago, undoubtedly benefiting from behind-the-scenes knowledge that council short-termer Dan Emery would not seek re-election, political newcomer Marci Alexander filed papers, and is now running unopposed, for Emery’s at-large council seat. Alexander served for 11 years as a fellow assistant attorney general with Councilor Conti.

After the last election, I alerted you that our city center was morphing into something resembling the State House parking lot.

City councilors now include: Conti, an assistant attorney general; Derek Grant, former state Senate secretary; Pat Paradis, former assistant majority leader of the Maine House; Blodgett, former state legislator; Dale McCormick, former state senator, state treasurer and Maine State Housing Authority director; and now Alexander, a former attorney general.

In a post-election column last year, I raised the ire of the council and manager when I pointed to a council membership that by party affiliation and political philosophy was becoming ideologically identical.

Councilor Grant came to the defense of the city manager’s political independence after my column.

Grant’s re-election has been assured by the deft appointment of Tom Connors to the Planning Board. Connors will now run for school board, unopposed, rather than against Grant for council.

The point is that there may be a singular political philosophy developing in our local city government. It is dangerous to allow any city council to recruit and elect those whom they have hand-picked to join them (qualified or not).

The popular new mayor, “Big Dave” Rollins, has my empathy in dealing with this council.

Rollins, while previously serving as a councilor, survived an ouster attempt by some councilors who are still serving. They recruited and supported an opponent to run against him.

Was this the harbinger of continued incestuous election activity within the council?

Serious questions exist.

Is the Augusta City Council chamber becoming a political frat house?

Are Augusta voters being disenfranchised?

Is it healthy to have no choices for mayor or council, while sitting councilors name their seatmates?

Next year, three more council seats will be on the ballot. McCormick will seek re-election at-large, while Cecil Munson, at-large, and Paradis in Ward 3 are term-limited and will complete their service.

Voters will get a chance then to begin to take back control of their elections in the capitol city.

IN MEMORIAM

Many hearts were broken this week when former state Senate President Bev Daggett passed on.

While working together on several successful campaigns in Augusta, for Mayors Stokes and Rollins, Councilor Munson, and more, I came to have great affection and respect for her.

Bev Daggett was undoubtedly one of the finest people I have ever known, and one of Maine and Kennebec County’s best ever public servants.

Don Roberts, a former city councilor and former vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta, is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District.

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