The Bangor City Council on Monday chose Rick Fournier to serve as its new chair while the School Committee chose Marwa Hassanien.
The unanimous selections from both bodies came as they swore in their newly elected members following last week’s election. Fournier will take over for Councilor Dan Tremble, who will remain on the council, while Hassanien will take over as chair from Carin Sychterz, who will also stay on the school committee.
The chairs serve yearlong terms in their positions.
Both Fournier and Hassanien are serving their first terms on the council and school committee after their election in 2019.
Speaking after he was elected chair, Fournier said that the council needed to take the lead in addressing Bangor’s homelessness problem in collaboration with other institutions and Bangor residents. Homelessness, along with affordable housing, was by far the most discussed topic in last week’s City Council election.
He noted numerous plans the city was working on that would influence policy going forward, from the comprehensive plan to the strategic plan, as well as the upcoming appointment of a new city manager. Debbie Laurie has served as interim city manager since Cathy Conlow left the position over the summer to serve as executive director of the Maine Municipal Association. City officials stated previously that they wanted to appoint the next city manager by the beginning of the new year.
Fournier said that the city had conducted a round of interviews for the position, but had not found a good fit. It is now looking to re-do the search as it receives new applications.
“Bangor’s kind of at a little bit of a tipping point right now,” Fournier said. “There’s a lot happening.”
Hassanien said she looked forward to collaborating with her fellow committee members and Superintendent James Tager, who started in his post in July. She also praised Sychterz’s leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic and said she would prioritize working with students of diverse backgrounds, including LGBTQ students and those with disabilities.
City Clerk Lisa Goodwin also swore in the winners from Tuesday’s elections.
On the council, those were newcomer Dina Yacoubagha and incumbents Susan Hawes and Gretchen Schaefer. Sara Luciano and Ben Sprague, both non-incumbents, were sworn in as the newest members of the School Committee.
Luciano said her most significant priority was ensuring that students across Bangor had reliable internet access. She had mentioned a broadband hub during her campaign, but said there could be other ways to address the problem.
Sprague said he wanted to prioritize the mental wellbeing of students, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Bangor has long had a history of academic excellence, Sprague noted, but it was important to make sure that students didn’t fall through the cracks.
He also said he would prioritize raising Bangor High School’s graduation rate, which has lagged the statewide rate in recent years.
On election night, Luciano said she was sitting on the couch with her husband, constantly refreshing the results page of the Bangor Daily News until the totals came in. When she saw she met the threshold, her eyes began to water. She thought she was something of a long shot for the seat, being a fairly new resident and having never run for office.
“I’m just sort of overwhelmed by the loving embrace,” Luciano said. “It’s a lot of feelings to put into 2,000 votes. But to me, it meant the world.”
Hawes and Schaefer were both grateful to voters for re-electing them to the council. Hawes said her priorities were to make Bangor more business-friendly and help the city transform blighted buildings into affordable housing.
Hawes, who mentioned the potential solution to the affordable housing shortage during her campaign, said it could be a way to help solve Bangor’s long-standing homelessness problem.
Schaefer said her plans in the short-term were to help the city decide how it will spend federal American Rescue Plan funds. In the long term, her most significant priority is to work with organizations at the county, state and federal levels to manage homelessness, she said.
“I intend to continue to work hard for the city and be a councilor who continues to listen and learn from others,” Schaefer said.