Olmstead: I’ll Make Wolcott Better

by LonSeidman

Steve Olmstead

Two years ago, a picture ran in the Wolcott Community News featuring a dog, Steve Olmstead, and his mother. Above the photo were the words “My Mother Would Vote for Me”. Voters saw an honest, sincere and apolitical man intent on doing what’s right. “That ad is why people voted for me,” Olmstead explains. As folksy as it was, he won a seat to the Council with the second largest number of votes in town.

One day later, he was the newly seated Council’s Vice Chairman’s. The Council was a mix of factions, never seen before in Wolcott history. Four Democrats, one Republican and four Row C candidates all grappling to control the financial body. Olmstead didn’t align himself with any group of candidates in 2009 and was waiting for results on his home TV when a defeated councilman knocked on his door to congratulate him on his victory. The stocky moustached former pastor of Grace Living Church says he recognizes today’s financial difficulties and the need to guide Wolcott through it. “We’ve been here before three or four times since the 1970s and 1980s. Its nothing new,” he tells the Whisper. The local business owner and former pastor has had to balance payrolls, write checks and other tasks which he says will assist him to running the town like a busienss.

Family Life
Its not easy to walk past Olmstead without noticing his slow, thoughtful demeanor. He was a pastor at one time, but his mannerisms probably come from his northern upbringing. He was born in Caribou Maine, the eldest of four boys and one girl. When he was seven, his father moved the family to Wolcott, but he has fond early memories working alongside his father at a logging and mill company.

“I used a pulp hook to grab one end of a log imitating the bigger guys that would use the same tool to bring them into the mill. Obviously I only picked up the small ones at that age.” He isn’t sure why the family moved, (“probably the cold winters”) but pointed out that quite a few friends in the Wolcott area came from Maine. Town Treasurer candidate Roger Levesque is also originally from northern Maine.

After graduating high school, Olmstead began working for his father who started White Oak and then later, Olmstead Construction. Later, his uncle, Maynard Olmstead. Maynard and Olmstead’s father bought land just over the border into Plymouth from a another Wolcott resident, Cliff Andrews (Andrews Rd. is named after this man’s family). The partners called the company Wolcott Sand and Gravel though because everyone involved lived here. Olmstead later ran the family constructruction firm and has since downsized it to a heavy equipment moving company, doing ground work for construction sites. He has tried his hand in other business ventures including running a convenience store. “I’ve been a manager at times, been in a union at others.” Through his work, he has travelled through every state in the country through various gigs with trucking companies in Missouri and Minnesota.

He has two grown children from a previous marriage who both live in town and is married to Christine Nelson, a candidate for Board of Education this year. Son Billy is on the Zoning Board, and Joe Olmstead is on the Inland-Wetlands Commission.

Spiritual Influence’
Olmstead’s devotion to God and loyalty to his family has driven him in more recent years to new experiences. He is an ordained minister and was pastor for fifteen years. His wife Christine is running for Board of Education this year and its clear she impacts his decisions as a trusted partner. “She made me wear it,” he said at a recent public forum referring to the tie he usually skips.

His compassion for people came to an endangering moment while travelling with his wife on I-691 one day. “There was a car that rolled over on the highway and was on fire. We inched past it with the other traffic when my wife looked at the car and said ‘Oh my gosh, Steve there’s someone in it! Steve – go out and save him!'”.

The car was in flames, but both said they had to do something. Steve approached the smoking car and tried to pull the man out, but the seatbelt restrained him in the vehicle. Someone in the onlooking crowd had a knife, but wouldn’t approach the car to give it to the Steve due to the danger. “I had to run to the man for the knife, then back again to the car. He was able to get the seatbelt off the man and drag him a few feet away before a nurse began to help him. “It was like a movie though. We got about 15 feet away when the car blew up.” An ambulance came a minute later and was transported to the hospital. He never was able to find out how the victim fared. “It was so dangerous though, it’s not something anyone would do. I joke around though and say my wife made me do it.”

Longtime friend and classmate Cathy Kirschbaum recalls watching Olmstead growing up. “he’s a guy who had fun at one time. Then later as a father he wanted to know what was going on, particularly with his sincere interest in his children. I’ve watched him grow and mature as a pastor both intellectually and spiritually. He is exceptionally trustworthy and hardworking.”

‘I Was Never Interested In Politics’
Olmstead’s interest into politics never occurred until just a few years ago. “I was never interested in politics,” he tells the Whisper. Then he had a realization of what was going on in the national scene.
“A friend, Al Dugan called me asked me to run. I told him ‘no’. I hated politics.” He recalls watching the animosity on television, wondering how the federal government is in a poor state today. “Its terrible the – Why are we going backwards? Our state and national politicians are spending so much money – they can’t all be that clueless. How can they not see this?”

After discussing the opportunity with his wife and prayed about it. “If I get involved with anything I want to be confident about it 100%.” He joined the ticket. While other Row C candidates ran largely as a closely run race with organizer Robert Ficeto, Olmstead simply collected the necessary signatures and placed the single ad in the newspaper. “I didn’t campaign at all,” he says. “I didn’t even leave the house.” The result was the second highest vote count for any Councilman.

“He rode the coattails of the Row C campaign to get elected,” says Ficeto of Olmstead’s success. 2009’s Row C campaign ran an aggressive campaign targeting a poor back tax collection rate. Olmstead dropped out of the alliance after learning this. “He was best friends with the tax collector’s son-in-law. It didn’t fit for him,” recalls Ficeto.

Run for Mayor

Steve Olmstead’s run for mayor has been building over his tenure on the Council. He is calling for improvement in communication and open government. He says ‘poor decisions’ have led to lawsuits against the town, particularly stemming from problems in the police department. Olmstead refused to elaborate on what those decisions were, however. The “favoritism is ridiculous,” he says referring to two of Dunn’s relatives working in the mayor’s office and Town Attorney, respectively. “Vacant positions will be posted so that everybody can have an opportunity to have a shot at the job.”

Other pieces of his platform call into question the practice of $12.5 million bond package bonding $12.5 million for roads and other projects which passed in August. Olmstead was the only Councilman to vote against the bonds. “We should be building that kind of thing into the (annual) town budget. Bonding was necessary because of the neglect (of the roads).” Dunn asserts that a previous smaller road bonding project failed several years ago and there’s only so much money they can allocate annually without raising taxes. “The money in the budget doesn’t go very far. There’s only so many times we can spot patch a road before it falls apart,” says Dunn.

A recent ad in the Wolcott Community News outlines Olmstead’s platform in fairly vague terms. “I’ve watched things that should be done aren’t, and things that should not be done are.” When asked to expand on this, he declined. He says that since earning a seat on the Council, he has met frequently with the Mayor to discuss concerns on a variety of issues, but declined to share these with the Whisper. “I made a promise not to embarrass the mayor, and I’m going to stick to that promise.”

Olmstead feels that new leadership and more open communication is necessary. “If you ask the mayor a question, he can’t give you a straight answer.” Olmstead calls Dunn a ‘politician’ – “Both in the positive and negative sense,” and pledges to be more open with residents. One of his proposals was to revamp the Town website, which has since been overhauled and re-released last month. He points to a question he asked the mayor at Tuesday’s meeting over snow removal. “I asked him why snow often accumulates before a plow will push it away. In the meantime, you have two or three inches of snow and tend to slide around in your vehicle. It isn’t the way it should be done. Its done that way to save money – but its not safe. When I worked for the state, when the snowflakes began hitting the ground, we kept working throughout the night plowing it off.”

He also says that the Town Council doesn’t get enough credit for keeping taxes low. “We approve the budget, but the Mayor takes the credit.”

He has not escaped controversy in his two years on the Council. In May and June of this year, his son Joe was accused of flaunting town wetlands regulations when fellow Commission member Mark Garrigus observed him clearing trash, brush and vegetation along a small creek in his backyard. Commissioners told him to take out a permit for the work, but the younger Olmstead refused. A Town Council hearing was held on whether Joe could remain on the Inland- Wetlands Commission. Council members were unsure what to do, most of them preferring to see if an ethics investigation would yield additional evidence. “Why is this before the Town Council?,” asked Republican Dave Valletta at the time. “This should be in the ethics commission,” echoed Democrat Mike Perrone.

Councilmen Michael Bokon and Gale Mastrofransesco were adamant that he should follow the rules of his own commission.
Two Councilmen voted to remove Joseph Olmstead, and two voted to keep him on, including Steve Olmstead. Three abstained from voting. Chairman Santogatta declined to vote.
To date, nothing more came of the matter. “It wouldn’t have been an issue if my dad wasn’t running for mayor.” Joe Olmstead said at the time.

Yet, some observers were surprised that the senior Olmstead didn’t recuse himself from voting on his son’s fate. “I don’t think you should separate yourself from family when your family needs you. It was a witch hunt,” he says. Olmsteadf believes the incident came about because of politics. “If someone said it was a conflict, I may have considered abstaining. Nobody did, and if he was in the wrong, I would have been the first one to tell him to take out a permit.”

A letter from Zoning Enforcement Officer David Kalinowski stated that work on the property was satisfactorily done after he was advised to take erosion control measures.

The campaign by Steve Olmstead is the hardest fought yet since Tom Dunn took the reigns at Town Hall eight years ago. Olmstead’s folksy demeanor puts residents at ease and he’s a very likeable man. He is optimistic about whatever occurs on Election Day.

“He’s an humble, honest man and a man of his word,” says Lorraine McQueen of his personality. Indeed, that is what has made Olmstead successful in his professional and spiritual life.

“We’ll never know how well I can prepare Wolcott for the future unless you vote for me. We do need a change, and I am ready for the position along with my entire Row “A” team,” he says in his latest ad.

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