The hallway on the third floor of Bangor City Hall is lined with portraits of the people who have served as city council chair — and nearly all of them are men. But there will soon be a new female face.
On Monday, the Bangor City Council unanimously selected Cara Pelletier to serve as the group’s chair and take on the honorary title of mayor. Although a majority of the current councilors are women, she is one of only a handful of women to lead the group, and she is both openly autistic and a member of the LGBTQ community.
“Women still don’t hold enough executive and elected offices in this country, so I hope Bangor serves as an example of what it looks like when women are part of the political process,” she said.
With more than 20 years of specializing in diversity, equity and inclusion and training leadership development in corporate America, Pelletier said being elected chair “feels like a big deal and a personal victory.”
She also knows “representation matters” and diversity in leadership only facilitates better decisions. But, it can be difficult to use the councilors’ differences to aid decision-making rather than letting it fuel disagreements.
“The current council has such a diverse mix of life experience, perspective, places we’ve lived, ages, faith traditions and military service,” she said. “When you’re working with people who don’t think the same way you do, it’s easy to let that devolve into personality conflict. Instead, we have to embrace the idea that creative tension means we’re doing it right.”
Since the Bangor native was elected to the council last year, Pelletier has pushed councilors to spend the more than $20 million in federal pandemic recovery funding the city received from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act.
While she’s proud of the investments Bangor has made in a series of local organizations, many of which provide resources for people who are homeless and struggling with substance use disorder, the city still has a few million left to allocate.
“We’re wiser than we were a year ago, and I can’t understate how hopeful I am about the investment we’ve made in places like the Hope House, the BARN, Fresh Start and Wellspring,” she said. “All of those things will take a while to come to fruition, but I think we’ll look back on this year as a year in which we made a huge investment in our city.”
In the coming year, Pelletier said the city needs to track those investments to ensure they’re being used and making a difference, then report those results to residents.
Pelletier would also like the city to incentivize developers to build more housing, especially for the workforce and those with low to moderate incomes. This could include establishing sewer and water infrastructure in areas the city would like housing created.
Those pre-established sewer and water connections would also give the city the power to require developers to keep a certain amount of housing available as lower income and workforce housing.
“In order for our workforce to expand, we need more workforce housing because right now, we don’t have enough,” she said.
That housing could come to areas like the mall, where the city has already changed local rules on what kind of buildings can be created. Those changes allow higher density housing, like apartment buildings and complexes, to be built.
Pelletier would also like to encourage the city to keep an eye on state bills that could benefit Bangor and work together with the Legislature. She hopes this will lead to more state support on Bangor’s major issues of homelessness, mental health and substance use, since Bangor is a service center for a large swath of the state.
“As long as Bangor continues to be a service center for folks from a broad region, I think it makes sense for the state to take a regional approach and support us,” she said.