S3-EP5: Kathleen Billings on Steering a Small Town in Maine Through COVID and a Tense Election Year
Debbie Weil talks to Kathleen Billings about the challenges of running a small island town in the year of COVID and high political tension.
Debbie wanted to talk to a local leader about the challenges of this election and pandemic year and Kathleen was the perfect person. She is matter of fact, deeply knowledgeable, and forthright.
Kathleen, 56, has been Stonington’s Town Manager for almost 20 years. She tells us how the town’s twin industries of fishing and tourism have fared (Stonington is Maine’s largest fishing port with close to $60 million in seafood landed in 2018), and how she began to prepare for COVID back in February. She and Debbie talk about the friction between People From Away (PFA) and locals and how it was exacerbated by COVID.
They also talk about the political tensions that Kathleen has had to face this year and how she‘s handled them. On a side note, Kathleen talks about the very real issue of rising sea levels and how the town is addressing them.
They end by reflecting on the year 2020 and how Kathleen has focused on maintaining a positive atmosphere so that everyone can get through this time without being “ground under,” as she puts it. She expresses gratitude for the many nonprofits on the island that address community needs.
ALL PHOTOS: Debbie Weil
Mentioned in this episode:
- Town of Stonington, ME
- Town of Deer Isle, ME
- Hancock County, ME
- Stonington, Maine on FB
- Manager embraces town’s waterfront way of life (Ellsworth American, July 17, 2019)
- Maine’s attitude towards outsiders ignites fears during pandemic (Bangor Daily News, April 13, 2020 )
- Stonington’s little houses removed after one is vandalized (Island AdVantages, July 30, 2020)
- Maine’s Coastal Vulnerability to Sea-level Rise (University of Maine)
- Obit for Kathleen’s legendary uncle, Neville Hardy
- Island Women Speak and the podcast episode
- Frank Weil’s blog on liberal politics
Some of the local groups on Deer Isle that work together:
- Healthy Island Project (HIP)
- Salt Air Seniors run by Barrett Gray
- Opera House Arts
- Stonington Library
- Island Ad-Vantages (the local newspaper)
- Deer Isle-Stonington High School
- Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries
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