AUGUSTA — Candidates for City Council, mayor and school board debated issues prompted by probing questions from high school students Tuesday at a candidates forum at Cony High School.

Mayor David Rollins, in response to a question from student Alexis Libby about how to reverse the increasing drug epidemic in Augusta, said a broad, nonpartisan approach is crucial.

“I encourage everyone listening to not politicize this issue,” the mayor said. “This is a very serious issue throughout the state. We need to come up with a multifaceted approach. Let’s get in the room and talk to each other away from political extremes and do what is right for the people of our state.”

Rollins, who was elected last November to serve the remaining year of former Mayor William Stokes’ term, is the only candidate seeking to become mayor. Stokes resigned in July last year when he was appointed a state superior court judge.

About 20 Cony students in the Advanced Placement U.S. government class asked the candidates questions during the forum.

The only contested local race on the ballot is for the Ward 3 seat on the school board.

April M. Cusick and Raymond G. Dostie are seeking the Ward 3 Augusta Board of Education seat, currently held by Nicole Desjardins, who did not return papers to run for re-election.

Dostie, a referee in local youth sports for some 40 years, said he is “running for school board because you’re being shortchanged. When we’re graduating students, they’re functionally illiterate. And that is wrong. It has to stop.”

Dostie encouraged students to get good educations so they can help address the challenges facing the city and society in general, such as drug abuse and crime.

“Pretty soon it’s going to be up to you to do it,” he told students. “So get your education, more than just a high school education. And then you tackle these problems.”

Cusick did not attend Tuesday’s forum.

Marci Alexander, the only candidate on the ballot for the at-large council seat now held by Dan Emery, who did not file papers to seek re-election, was asked by student Andrew Keithley how the city could best use its assets to attract more businesses and residents to the city.

She responded that Augusta is fortunate to be the state capital and thus have some 25,000 people commuting into Augusta each day, which provides opportunity for growth. She said the city has had some good residential development on the east side but needs to encourage more residential development on the west side of the city. She said one of the most important things the city will need in the long term is a qualified workforce. She encouraged the students at the forum to complete their educations and work to become successful employees and entrepreneurs.

Unchallenged incumbent Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant, asked by student Connor Perry what could be done to help homeless people, or people on the verge of becoming homeless, said the city needs to continue to partner with the state and others to help provide resources to help people avoid becoming homeless or escape homelessness.

“It’s hard to tell a single mom or dad with two kids to get a job when they don’t have the means for child care,” Grant said. “We have to help there. We need to make sure there is public transportation to get to a job. And education is very important. All those are important resources. We’ve got to continue to collaborate to make sure those resources are there to help those facing homelessness.”

He noted that the City Council voted unanimously to create a working group on childhood hunger and homelessness that will start meeting next week.

Incumbent Laura Hamilton and Tom Connors, a Planning Board member who has run previously for City Council, are the only candidates for two at-large school board positions. One of those positions, previously held by Amanda Bartlett, who resigned from the board earlier this year, is vacant; the other is held by Hamilton.

Connors, asked by student Dale Lapierre if he supported students being required to volunteer in order to graduate, said he supported that rule and encouraged students to get out and volunteer in the community.

“I think Augusta is in need of having students volunteer for both students to get knowledge on what the community has to offer and also let the community see what students have to offer,” Connors said. “I support volunteering and hope people do so. We can’t get people to run for school board. Or for City Council. Everybody is running unopposed. It’s not just the kids that need to volunteer; it’s the parents as well.”

Hamilton, in response to student Justin Roderick’s question of what can be done to keep Augusta moving forward on the right track, emphasized adequately funding schools.

“The schools are really important,” she said. “The first thing people are looking at when they come into a town is the school system. Schools have to be funded as a priority in the budget. And we need to look at establishing a nonprofit (organization to raise funds) for the schools. We have to be proactive about finding funding in diverse streams.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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