AUBURN — Mayoral candidate Peter Letourneau challenged incumbent Jonathan LaBonte Thursday, saying City Council meetings should be more open and inviting to residents.
“Our current mayor is articulate, and he has fine qualities,” Letourneau said. “But he thinks he’s the king of Auburn, and he’s not. He’s the mayor and it’s a whole different thing. It disturbs me greatly and it disturbs some of the citizens of Auburn to some extent. So it’s time he had opposition.”
Thursday was the last day candidates for city office could pass nominating petitions to confirm a spot on the fall ballot.
Voters go to the polls Nov. 3 for state and municipal elections. All seats on the City Council and School Committee are open, along with the mayor’s seat.
LaBonte said he has worked well with the City Council and staff and has gotten results, with new development projects on the horizon and a new contract with the city manager.
“This is a team, right? LaBonte asked. “The mayor has a role, the manager chairs and runs the staff and management team and we have a strong working relationship and it’s getting better.”
Letourneau said his goals are to listen to residents and bring civil discourse back to local government and it centers on the mayor.
“I think the mayor’s job in Auburn is what some folks call a soft job, in that it’s mainly ceremonial,” Letourneau said. “He facilitates the City Council meeting. He’s not in charge of the City Council. He’s not in charge of the city manager or his direct assistants. He ain’t the boss.”
Letourneau also criticized LaBonte for working for state government in Augusta, saying it could be a conflict of interest.
“I think a key ability to be mayor is to be available,” Letourneau said. “I’m a retired guy in good health who is available. He works 30 miles away out of town five days a week.”
LaBonte said his goal is to keep moving Auburn forward.
“Policies we’d been using for 30 years just no longer worked, so we had to shake those up,” LaBonte said. “A lot of the contacts we’ve built are beginning to bear fruit and we are going to continue carrying that forward. People like the vision we’ve had for building place with opportunity. So we’re going to carry that forward.”
The bulk of the City Council seats were mostly settled Thursday. Four of the seats had one candidate and no competition, meaning that they’re practically guaranteed the seat unless a popular write-in candidate steps forward.
Those candidates are Ward 2’s Bob Stone, Ward 3’s Andrew D. Titus, Ward 4’s Ernestine M. Gilbert and Ward 5 incumbent Leroy Walker.
Newcomer Matt Leonard was the only candidate for the Ward 1 council seat until Thursday morning, when Jim Pross filed his paperwork.
Pross, president of the local land trust, said he objected to Leonard getting the seat without an election because Leonard is the newly hired president and CEO of the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce.
“I don’t see how the president of the chamber, the paid voice of the business community in this county, can stay true to the people of the city of Auburn and separate his professional interest and paid job and not end up the voice for the business community on the City Council,” Pross said.
Leonard said that was a false premise.
“So the president of the Androscoggin Land Trust and the representative of a New Hampshire company would be a better representative for Ward 1?” Leonard asked.
The chamber’s business is the community’s business, he said.
“What we are doing is creating an environment that allows business to thrive and our community to grow,” he said.
Four people are vying for the remaining two seats on the City Council — the at-large seats. Candidates include incumbents Belinda Gerry and David Young, former Councilor Bob Mennealy and newcomer Grady Burns.
Mennealy said he can be useful as a councilor at least one more time.
“I’m excited about this new development at The Barn, and I hope it comes to fruition,” he said. “And I think it would be nice to get Auburn a new high school.”
Gerry said her big concerns for the coming year are taxes and a proposed merger of Lewiston and Auburn. No matter what plan a charter commission draws up, she’ll oppose it.
“In the end, Auburn taxpayers are going to not get the best part of the deal,” she said. “It can’t be equal benefits for both sides.”
Young said the proposed merger is on his mind, as well.
“If it’s going to happen, it needs to happen in a thoughtful process with people getting involved,” he said.
Some last-minute entries rounded out the list of candidates for the seats for School Committee, with candidates stepping forward in all but Ward 1.
Auburn Ballot November 2015
James F. Pross
Ward 2: Bob Stone
Ward 3: Andrew D. Titus
Ward 4: Ernestine M. Gilbert
Ward 5: Leroy Walker
David C. Young
Grady R. Burns
Robert C. Mennealy
Ward2: Bonnie Hayes
Ward 3: Thomas M. Kendall
Ward 4: Tammy L. Neilson
Ward 5: Daniel F. Poisson
Brent M. Bilodeau
Lawrence B. Pelletier
John B. Carney