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Winds of change for Houlton council

HOULTON, Maine — The winds of change are blowing for the Houlton Town Council following Tuesday’s elections as two newcomers were voted into office.

Out of approximately 3,600 registered voters, only 663 votes (18.4 percent) were cast in the election.

Eileen McLaughlin and Jim Bell were both successful in their election bids for three-year seats on the council. McLaughlin was the top vote getter with 293 votes, while Bell was second with 261 votes.

Incumbents Bill McCluskey and Raymond Jay were unsuccessful in their re-election efforts. McCluskey secured 226 votes, while Jay received 204. Robert Monroe received 154 votes.

Edward Lake was elected to a two-year term on the council with 493 votes.

For the RSU 29 school board, Ellen Askren and Fred Grant were re-elected to the group with 531 and 535 votes respectively. Albert Fitzpatrick and Josh McLaughlin were elected to three-year terms on the Houlton Water Company board of directors with 510 and 463 votes respectively, while Charles Taylor was third with 144 votes.

Priscilla Monroe was elected to the Board of Budget Review with 536 votes and Forest Barnes was elected to the Cary Library Board of Trustees with 563 votes.

At an organizational meeting for the Houlton Town Council on Wednesday afternoon, the newly elected councilors were officially sworn into office. Councilor Jane Torres was also selected to serve as council chairman.

The board also heard a presentation from Dan Nelson, town attorney, on the duties and responsibilities of a councilor.

“You folks, as a body, are responsible for setting policies for the town, and then leave it to the town manager to implement,” Nelson said. “The town council has only one employee they are responsible for, and that is the town manager.”

Nelson added the council was the “last word” on the purse strings, as the board is responsible for finalizing the town’s municipal budget.

He also cautioned them on things councilors should not be doing.

“What you are not is the human resource department,” he said. “The town charter has a clause that says you will not individually or as a body interfere with the administration of town business. You should not be directing, advising, or questioning town employees on what they do their jobs.”

Nelson also reminded the new councilors that they are to refrain from talking about town business any time three or more members of the council are together, as that can be construed as an illegal public meeting if the proper notifications were not given. 

Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson echoed those sentiments and encouraged each new councilor to be set up with a new town email for any correspondence so that their personal emails can remain personal.

“The most important thing to remember is anything that you say or do is now public and you are acting as a councilor whether you are at a council meeting or not,” Anderson said.

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