Town Councilor Steve Russell listens last Tuesday to a resident during a meeting at the Winslow Parks and Recreation Department building. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WINSLOW — Steve Russell sauntered last week into the Winslow Town Office with five dozen organic eggs in hand, fresh from his farm.

“He brought them in for anyone who wanted them,” Winslow Town Clerk Lisa Gilliam said, “and then there was a mad rush to the kitchen.”

Tanya Groce, Winslow’s human resource and finance director, was among those who took them.

“It was refreshing, really nice,” Groce said. “Steve Russell? Oh gosh, I respect him.”

Those around Winslow often describe Russell, Winslow’s District 5 town councilor and a member of the council for almost three decades, as a voice of reason and a person for whom community comes first.

Russell, 62, is not running for reelection this fall after 26 years on the Town Council. Last Tuesday night marked Russell’s final meeting before the Nov. 3 election. He could be back, but is “taking a vacation from all the hoopla.” He has two more meetings before his term ends Dec. 31.

There will soon be a new town manager and Election Day is just around the corner.

“I guess it’s been long enough,” Russell said. “A qualified candidate took out papers, and in the past that wasn’t the case. A lot of times no one took out papers.”

Five years ago, Russell was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes cancer, which occurs when blood-forming cells in bone marrow become abnormal, but he said he is “pretty much recovered.” However, the coronavirus pandemic is having an impact and part of the reason Russell is not seeking another term.

“This COVID-19 thing makes me kind of wary of being in public,” Russell said. “Until there’s a safe vaccination, I have to be very careful.”

Joseph Roch Gravel is running unopposed, so Russell’s successor is all but decided.

“He’s a good friend of mine,” Gravel said. “He’s common sense, brought up in a farm family. They go back quite a ways, so he had a good handle on issues in our neck of the woods.”

First elected to the Winslow Town Council in 1995, Russell served as its chairman in 2009 and 2010 and from 2017 through 2019.

Barring additions to the calendar, the November and December Town Council meetings will be Russell’s last two. He said being on the Town Council is “in my blood.” Much of his family has participated in smaller-town politics.

Russell said he is proud Winslow is ranked among the best communities to live in Maine. Winslow was the first community in the state, he said, to adopt voluntary municipal farmland preservation, for which farmers sign agreements with the town that they will not subdivide their land for 20 years and, in return, they receive a tax rebate.

Town Councilor Steve Russell stands last Tuesday for the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of a council meeting at the Winslow Parks and Recreation Department building. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“Now, other towns are using it as a blueprint, not only through Maine, but throughout New England,” Russell said. “Once someone’s in this program and realizes the benefit, maybe they will continue on.”

Russell said the biggest challenge to the town during his tenure came when Kimberly-Clark Corp. closed the Scott Paper Co. mill in 1997.

Russell said the closure cost the town $90 million in property valuation. Russell said those who represented Winslow in the Maine House of Representatives and state Senate helped pass legislation to lessen the closure’s impact.

“It was pretty scary,” Russell said. “We didn’t know for sure it was going to close, but we sort of had a hint. We were able to build our fund balance for a year or two so we were able to weather the storm by the leadership of our town manager, Ed Gagnon.”

Russell said he hoped to see more changes. Garbage, for example, now goes to a landfill, but it used to go to the waste-to-energy PERC incinerator in Orrington.

Russell said he was disappointed the town is not recycling. He also said Winslow’s roads are not doing well “due to circumstances beyond our control.”

Russell is one of three Winslow town councilors to have served more than 20 years. Roland Michaud served the longest, 31 years, from the council’s inception in 1969 until 1980 and from 1991 to 2011. Donald Carter served 21 years, from 1969 until his death in 1990.

As a farm owner and father with children in the school system, Russell said he always wanted to keep Winslow affordable for families.

“When I talk about it, it’s not like I’m talking about what I did. It is what the council did collectively,” Russell said. “One thing we always try to do is collect as much data as we can, analyze the facts and try to make the decision that is in the best interest of the community.”

Ray Caron, chairman of the Winslow Town Council, is in his 11th year on the Town Council with Russell. Caron commended Russell for his efforts in helping approve the new Winslow Junior High School, the addition to the police station, property tax relief for certain farm facilities and more.

“When Steve speaks, everyone listens with respect, knowing that all statements are researched and carefully thought out,” Caron said. “I will miss Steve on the council. Steve is the person we go to for clarification and a common sense approach to tough issues.”

Russell owns Pine Hill Jerseys Farm in Winslow. His family’s Winslow roots trace back generations. He was born in Sidney and spent many of his younger years in Manchester. He moved to Winslow after attending Monmouth Colleges in Illinois for a few years.

Russell returned to Winslow in 1980 to help his brother, Andy Russell, at the family farm in Winslow. The Russell family has had the farm since 1820, when his grandfather married into the Garland family.

Russell is now semiretired, having sold his cows to his son, Barrett, who tends them at the family farm.

Russell said he planned to remain involved in town matters, including certain committees, after leaving the council.

“There are times where I think, ‘Jeez, there’s unfinished business that I want to work on,'” Russell said. “It’s not rocket science, and there’s a lot of good people running in the council right now. It’s a transition period.”

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