Houlton Council receives single applicant for vacancy following member’s resignation

3 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Town Council received just one applicant to fill a vacant seat on the board.

Councilors announced at a Monday, June 28, meeting on Monday, June 28, that James Peters, a helicopter pilot for the Customs and Border Patrol, was the lone individual to express interest in filling the seat left vacant after councilor Nate Bodenstab moved to southern Maine. 

The person filling this vacancy would only hold the seat until the next general election in November. At that time, the person would have to take out nomination papers and run for office, should they so choose.

Peters included as a reference current council member Dennis Harmon in his application. But other council members expressed concerns about the fact that Peters’ works in Old Town, an hour and 35 minute drive from Houlton, and that his work could send him to different locations, raising the question of whether he would be able to attend all council meetings. 

“I think that this sort of borders on unacceptable,” council member Eileen McLaughlin said. “I don’t think if somebody is out of Houlton for months and could be in any state or any country for that matter, I just don’t think it’s appropriate if we’re doing downtown business.” 

Harmon said that with the advent of Zoom in town council meetings, it could be possible for someone like Peters to attend council meetings remotely. Peters did not attend the council meeting on June 28. 

“It’s not like 20 years ago where if you commuted to Bangor every day for work you were considered a little on the crazy side,” Harmon said. “If we’re going down that road where we want to scrutinize someone where their place of employment isn’t within an X number of commuting miles, we’re selling ourselves very short.”

Council member Sue Tortello said there should be another advertisement for the vacant position, saying the town had not yet put out a notice for a two-week time period, as is customary for openings on any boards or committees. 

“I mean no disrespect to our applicant, in fact we’d very much like to thank this person for coming forward,” Tortello said. “I don’t want to delay this any more than we have to, I really think in all fairness it would be good practice if we put out [an advertisement] again.”

Ultimately, the town decided on tabling the vote for the appointment until the position has been further advertised, following Tortello’s suggestion. 

Council chairman Chris Robinson also said that he hoped to vote on an applicant when all council members could attend in person. Councilor Bill McCluskey was not present at the June 28 meeting, and McLaughlin was attending the meeting via Zoom, occasionally disconnecting due to internet problems. 

“You can see how disruptive or sometimes complicated this Zoom stuff is,” Robinson said. “If we’re going to vote on a candidate for this position, I would hope all members of the council can be here physically, and able to have rapport back and forth with each other, because I think it’s important that we would be able to do that.”