Friday, December 23, 2005

It's their news

published in the Portland Phoenix

WGME Channel 13 may be running ads lamenting how expensive it is to do business in Maine, but the company is actually getting a pretty good deal.

"Our contract ran out December 1, 2004, and we have not had a pay increase for two years," says Matt Beck, shop steward for WGME's back-of-the-house union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1837, which represents about 50 photographers, technicians, editors, producers, directors, and engineers — just about anybody who doesn't appear on screen — at the station.

They and the folks who do appear on screen say they have been trying to get back to the bargaining table since the summertime, without success.

IBEW members demonstrated Thursday morning, and again in the afternoon of that high-teens-temperature day, on a sidewalk in front of a vacant store at the intersection of Washington and Allen Avenues, near the WGME office in Portland. The station is owned by the Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group, known for its tendency to inject partisan politics into its news coverage, such as 2004's decision to force its seven ABC affiliates not to air a dramatic Nightline segment featuring the names and photographs of Americans killed in Iraq.

Sinclair bought the station from the Guy Gannett Company in 1998, an event that Beck refers to as "when the Dark Ages began." Beck and his union members fear they will be handed a contract they will be "forced" to sign, rather than one developed through negotiation.

Negotiations between the IBEW and the station have been stalled since the summer, which was the last time the union met with Sinclair. Beck says the company has refused to respond to the union's demand to prove its claim that WGME's workers are paid more than their counterparts at any of Sinclair's 59 other stations, which are spread across 22 states. Only two or three other stations have unionized labor. There is no scheduled date for negotiations to resume, he says.

The attorney representing Sinclair during the negotiations, Michael Lowenbaum of St. Louis, says the delay is actually the union's fault, for not asking for a meeting. "We'll meet anytime," he says, adding that he would like an agreement "yesterday."

Company officials, from Sinclair CEO David D. Smith to WGME General Manager Alan Cartwright, did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

Beck says the union wants a "reasonable" wage increase — but would not be specific about how much — as well as guarantees that the company will continue to contribute to workers' 401(k) retirement plans, will offer health insurance to part-time workers, and agree to retain a contract provision requiring all employees to become members of the union under penalty of dismissal.

"We just felt it was time to let the public know" about what was going on, Beck says. The union has launched a Web site,, members are wearing protest buttons to work, and they are planning another action in January, perhaps more specifically targeting advertisers.

"Corporate America's gotten a lot stronger" in recent years, says Paul Desjardins, a maintenance technician who has worked at the station for 30 years, saying that is why he wants to remain part of a union that can represent workers' interests.

Cynthia Phinney, the union's business manager, not a WGME employee, says the negotiations have been "pretty frustrating," because "Sinclair's from away. They don't care about Maine."

The reporters and anchors at WGME — members of another union, who began their own negotiating earlier this year — "share in their [co-workers'] fight," said reporter Doug Ray, that union's shop steward. They cannot demonstrate because of a contract restriction, and Ray says it's not at that stage for his group yet, though "their concerns are our concerns."

And though his union has received no company response to the actions last week, other local unions have offered support to the WGME workers, Beck says.

"We want a contract," he says. "This has really just begun."

Friday, December 16, 2005

No deal? No problem

published in the Portland Phoenix

Brian Hanson, who owns the Industry, an 18-plus Wharf Street nightclub that allowed people to dance and party after the 1 am bar-closing time on Fridays and Saturdays, has shuttered his operation and is spending at least $20,000 to convert the facility to a restaurant. Before he opens the doors of his eatery, which he’s naming Right Proper Charlie's, he expects to need a city permit — an "overlay license," required to run any business in the Old Port that makes more than half its money from alcohol sales.

The Old Port's councilor, Will Gorham, wants to ban all after-hours entertainment in the district. (He had originally wanted to do so city-wide but now has decided to leave alone Platinum Plus, which stays open until 3 am Monday through Thursday, to 4 am on Friday, and to 6 am on Saturday and Sunday.) Gorham is also backing a proposal from the city's attorney, Gary Wood, to reduce the quota of bars allowed overlay licenses from 27 to the 22 that are currently in use, thus blocking the opening of any new bar in the Old Port without another one first closing.

At a recent Public Safety Committee meeting, Hanson's attorney, Richard Berne, told Gorham and the committee that in exchange for cooperating with the city — that is, closing the nightclub, which police say keeps drunk and disorderly people on Wharf Street in the wee hours of weekend mornings — the city should keep open a 23rd overlay license for him.

But Berne also said that if the council doesn't cooperate, Hanson, who holds a liquor license, may open the restaurant anyway, and simply assert that it won't make more than half its money on alcohol. He defended that position by comparing the new operation to Fore Street, which has no overlay license and, Berne publicly speculated, probably makes more than half its money from alcohol sales.

According to Berne, Right Proper Charlie's will be similar to Brian Boru or Gritty McDuff's, which have active bar scenes as well as restaurant menus. Both have overlay licenses.

"You will be eliminating a nightclub and you will have then a restaurant," he said to the committee, which would appear to be good from city officials' point of view. Lieutenant Janine Roberts, head of the Tactical Enforcement Unit, which focuses on the Old Port after dark, talked at length about the dangers underage people were being exposed to because they are drawn to the Industry, which is near several bars.

Gorham, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, expressed his concern about "minors" — many between the ages of 18 and 20 — being "exposed" to people who have been drinking.

Erica Schmitz, coordinator of Portland Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol, and Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District, both said they wanted fewer bars in the Old Port and supported a city-wide ban on after-hours entertainment.

Nearby bar owners objected to Hanson's proposed deal. Doug Foos, owner of Bull Feeney's and chairman of the city's Night Life Oversight Committee, said he and his group want to keep the number of overlay licenses at 27, but are "vehemently against" giving an overlay license to another bar on Wharf Street.

Tom Manning, owner of Digger's and Liquid Blue, said he was "not opposed" to fewer overlay licenses.

Councilor Donna Carr, a committee member, didn't attend the PSC meeting, and did not return multiple phone calls seeking her comments.

Before she left for another meeting, Councilor Cheryl Leeman, the third committee member, said she supported outlawing after-hours entertainment citywide, grandfathering Platinum Plus, and giving Hanson an overlay license to run his restaurant, saying "for all practical purposes, you have one now."

N.O. peace for Perry's mourners

published in the Portland Phoenix

New Orleans police broke up a memorial service for Portland activist Meg Perry Sunday, by handcuffing and searching Katrina-relief volunteers who were singing songs and reminiscing about the life of the 26-year-old social-justice advocate. Perry, an organizer from Portland’s People's Free Space, was killed, on Saturday, when that group’s familiar green, bio-diesel Frida Bus crashed on a Louisiana highway,

A local memorial service will be held December 17 at 2 pm at the Brunswick United Methodist Church, 320 Church Road. Perry's parents, Robin and Rosalie Perry, then plan "to return to New Orleans and pick up where Megan left off," doing work to "help the displaced, the indigent, to do whatever we can to help people in need," her father said Tuesday.

Perry was in New Orleans with 12 volunteers she had recruited to go to the Gulf Coast, in November, to help with hurricane-relief efforts (see "Frida Deals with Katrina," by Sara Donnelly, November 4) She was thrown from the bus when it rolled on its side on I-10 near the Superdome in an accident whose cause remains under investigation. Eight other people on the bus were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, according to Officer Jonette Williams of the New Orleans Police Department.

After a memorial service attended by hundreds Sunday in a community garden that Perry had helped clear, till, and plant in New Orleans's Eighth Ward, a few close friends stayed behind to sing songs and tell stories about Perry. "They weren't bothering anyone," said Sakura Koné, an organizer of the New Orleans–based relief group Common Ground Collective, for which Perry was volunteering.

A passing police officer noticed the group, Koné said, and called for backup. Some were handcuffed, "others were forced to spread-eagle on the various police vehicles," and the group was being treated "as if they were a threat to the community," Koné said.

Captain Juan Quentin, the commander of the New Orleans police public information office, said he had heard nothing of the memorial service or anything afterward, and suggested that if it had happened, someone should have called the police to complain.

Officer Williams said she did not know of any such event, and Robin Perry, who said he stayed through the memorial service and "later on," also said he had not heard of the incident.

Several People's Free Space activists confirmed that there was an encounter with the police after the memorial service, but declined to give specifics, saying they were conferring with their lawyers.

Nate Brimmer, one of the Maine volunteers in New Orleans, said the group would likely be taking the train back from New Orleans, and declined to comment on whether the volunteers had gotten their bags from the bus, which is in police custody.

The Common Ground Collective planted a fig tree in Perry's memory during the ceremony and has renamed its community-garden creation effort the Meg Perry Community Garden Project. Volunteers also planted nasturtiums, an edible flower, and artichokes, Perry's favorite vegetable, Brimmer said.

The Maine volunteers will return in time for Perry's memorial service Saturday, and most expect to return to the Gulf Coast to continue volunteering.

"We need literally thousands of volunteers," Brimmer said. In some homes that were flooded, there are "three inches of fuzzy mold from the ceiling to the floor" in homes that did not have flood insurance.

The ruin of the Gulf Coast has provided an opportunity to rebuild society in a more just structure, Brimmer said. Perry saw all of society's problems as linked, and at their root "too much competition, not enough co-operation, not enough love, not enough community," he said.

In Portland, a group of about two-dozen People's Free Space members gathered Sunday night for a hastily-called press conference, before which most of the group — many clad in ripped jeans and knit caps or dreadlocks — checked their appearances in a mirror as TV crews got cameras set up.

"They’ll know she’s a badass," said Alexander Aman as he looked at a photo of Perry taken November 13, the day she and 12 others left Maine for the Gulf Coast region.

A statement read by Kate Boverman mourned Perry’s death, saying "she filled her days working for justice" and was "always ready with a warm smile or to lend a hand."

People who want to volunteer with the Common Ground Collective can call 504.218.6613.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Sewing business in Oak Hill

Published in the Current

A Scarborough resident has moved her home-based business to the Oak Hill shopping center, and will open Dec. 5.

Bette Brunswick has run the Dancing Damsel, a custom sewing and alteration business, out of her home for about three years, and has been sewing personally and professional for 30 years.

Last week, she started moving her sewing machines into a space that has been home to several businesses in recent years, most recently the Golden Giraffe, which opened and closed almost simultaneously earlier this year.

Brunswick said she had anticipated making the move in the spring, but “spring came early this year,” and the heavy October rains caused water damage in a part of her home workspace, pushing her to make the move now.

With a degree in mechanical design, she creates her own patterns and designs for customers, as well as taking in alterations. Her location is near three drycleaners, which she expects to help business.

Much of her work is in bridal and home décor, a strong market recently, she said. Brunswick said she had also kept her eye out for space near Bosal Foam and Fabric, a fabric store in Dunstan.

S.P. man files million-dollar claim against city

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Dec 1, 2005): A South Portland man has filed a notice that he may sue the city of South Portland for $1 million in compensation for what he says was excessive force used by three police officers during an arrest July 20.

Stephen E. Parker has claimed that as a result of the incident his left shoulder, arm and hand were injured, “including permanent nerve damage,” that he suffered “emotional distress” and that his constitutional rights were violated.

The officers allegedly involved were Officer Kevin Gerrish, who Parker claims initially stopped Parker’s vehicle, and two officers Parker’s claim said responded as “backup,” Officer Jeffrey Caldwell and Lt. Todd Bernard, who was a sergeant at the time. Parker’s claim also names Police Chief Edward Googins and claims wrongdoing also on the part of the South Portland Police Department and the city of South Portland.

Parker’s claim alleges he was shot by a taser gun, sometimes also called a “stun gun,” which fires small electrodes at a person and then discharges an electric shock, temporarily disabling the person.

Parker’s filing claims he “was not dangerous or physically threatening to anyone,” and goes on to say that after Parker was shot with the taser, “officers brought him to the ground and continued their assault on him.”

The claim is not a lawsuit, but notifies the city that he may file suit in the future. City attorney Mary Kahl said many people who file notices of claim do not end up filing lawsuits. The notice of claim gives the city time to investigate and determine what really happened, she said. If there is no out-of-court settlement and no lawsuit, the allegations contained in the notice of claim simply expire, she said.

Parker, 39, of 4 Spurwink Ave. was arrested on charges of operating under the influence and refusing to submit to arrest or detention on Sawyer Street at 8:10 p.m. July 20, according to police records.

Parker was out of state and could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Benjamin Gideon of Lewiston, did not return multiple messages seeking comment. Gerrish did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Googins said the department has launched an internal investigation into the incident, as it does in response to all notices of claim or other complaints. The investigation began earlier this month, when the notice arrived, because Parker had made no previous complaint about the incident, Googins said.

“I can’t respond to his allegation” because of the ongoing internal investigation, Googins said.

Kahl said the claim has been handed off to the city’s insurer, the Maine Municipal Association, where a spokeswoman declined to discuss the claim, or even confirm that it existed.

Kahl said the city investigation is “unlikely” to find fault with any of the officers. If the city did, it could choose to negotiate a settlement with Parker, which would forestall an actual lawsuit. Kahl said in the 15 years she has been the city’s attorney, the city only chose to settle in advance one claim, in which a person slipped and fell on ice.

“Because of the nature of what (police) do,” she said, “it’s not unusual for any municipal police department to periodically have a claim filed.”

“There have been few complaints” of excessive force against the city’s police, and those that have been filed are usually resolved in favor of the police, Kahl said.

In 2003, a federal jury rejected a claim by a North Waterboro woman that South Portland Police Officer James Fahey had used unnecessary force against her during an arrest in May 2002.

The woman, Robyn Toler, claimed that without provocation Fahey threw her to the ground and pushed her head against a police car while she was handcuffed. Fahey said he threw her to the ground to prevent her from spitting in his face. He denied pushing her head against a car.

And in 1992, a federal judge found that South Portland Police Officer Andrew Kennedy had not used excessive force during an arrest on Broadway in February 1991.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

History, tradition disagree on Thanksgiving

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Nov 24, 2005): The first Thanksgiving, in 1621, had an undercurrent of unease during the feast of gratitude the Pilgrims held after their first successful harvest in the New World.

What little we know of that three-day celebration is contained in two short passages from colonists, one written by Edward Winslow Dec. 12, 1621, and published in 1622; and the other written at least 10 years after the event by William Bradford, the colony’s governor, in “History of Plymouth Plantation,” according to Lisa Wolfinger of Cape Elizabeth, who with her husband Kirk Wolfinger owns Lone Wolf Documentary Group in South Portland.

Lisa Wolfinger, who spoke Sunday at a special service at Blue Point Congregational Church, UCC, in Scarborough, is working on a three-hour documentary about the Pilgrims, to air as “The Mayflower” on the History Channel around next Thanksgiving.

There is no Native American record of the feast, in the oral or written traditions of the tribes in the area, Wolfinger told the congregation, who wore name tags bearing Pilgrims’ names. Some children wore construction-paper Pilgrim hats, and the service was conducted “in the manner of the Pilgrims, as best we can,” said Rev. Carol Kerr, who may appear in the film as an extra, and whose son Gavin plays a young gentleman named Jonathan Brewster.

“The story of the Pilgrims is a great adventure,” said Rev. Kerr, “a story of great adventure and powerful heroes with God on their side.”

Creators of tradition

The group wanted to worship in their own way, reading the Bible and interpreting it for themselves without a priest explaining or giving an “official” version of the scripture. They objected to the Church of England’s traditions, many of which descended from the Roman Catholic Church, as separating people from God.

The Pilgrims were a sect called Separatists, which split from the Church of England to form a new church, as opposed to the Puritans, a group who wanted to “purify” the Anglican Church from within, Wolfinger said.

“Congregationalism, our church, descended directly from their faith,” Kerr said. Even the fact that she wears academic robes during services – rather than a priest’s ornate garb – descends from the Pilgrims, whose ministers wore academic robes to signify the belief people should “use reason and your mind” to understand God, she said.

The Blue Point Church building is “much more Anglican” than the Pilgrims would have liked, she said, with stained glass and an organ – what the Pilgrims called “the devil’s bagpipes” – featured prominently.

Other traditions created by the Separatists survive, including the Congregational practice of a church choosing its own minister, rather than having a bishop or pope to make that decision, said Kerr, who was picked by a committee of church members.

Saved by English-speakers

Despite the lasting traditions they created, “the Pilgrims were a little crazy, if you ask me,” Kerr said. In a fervent desire to worship their own way, they left their homes in England for Holland, and then packed 102 of themselves onto a small wooden ship built to carry 75 people – the Mayflower – and set sail for America.

They slept on bare wood decks, had little or no sanitation and ate uncooked food during the 66-day voyage, which ended when the Pilgrims, with almost no provisions and nothing for shelter, arrived off Cape Cod in November 1620, just as winter was setting in, Kerr said.

About all they did have was faith. In one of his last speeches before the group left Holland, Rev. John Robinson, the sect’s leader, who stayed behind, told the Pilgrims to keep their eyes, minds and hearts open to new ideas and understandings of God and the Bible, “for I am verily persuaded that the Lord hath more truth and light to break forth from His holy word.”

And the Pilgrims had a little luck. When they landed, there were no natives in the area. Nearly all of them had been killed off by a plague, possibly smallpox brought by European explorers, Wolfinger said.

There were villages nearby, all vacant, and some with bones on the ground because so many had died “there was nobody left to bury them,” she said.

The Pilgrims moved into an area that had been cultivated, but only barely survived by hunting and gathering through the winter. By the spring, half of them had died of scurvy and pneumonia.

In March, an English-speaking Native American showed up, Samoset. He had learned the Pilgrims’ language from explorers and traders who had preceded them. He arranged a peace between the Pilgrims and Massasoit, the local chief.

Massasoit even arranged for Squanto – a Native American who had been kidnapped and taken to England and Spain and spoke English too – to live among the Pilgrims to help them. In 1621 he had just returned from Europe to find that almost all of his tribe, the Pawtuxet, had been killed by the plague, Wolfinger said.

Without the natives’ help, “the Pilgrims would not have survived,” she said.

Indians not invited?

But survive they did, and after their harvest they held a celebratory feast. The few records we have of the event show “how far we’ve distorted what actually happened,” into a holiday where families get together to eat and watch football, Wolfinger said.

One of the key debates among historians is whether the Native Americans were invited to the feast, as many American schoolchildren learn. Neither of the written accounts says they were, though Winslow’s letter says the Pilgrims “exercised their arms,” or performed military-like drills, including possibly firing weapons, which Wolfinger said might have concerned the Native Americans, whose chief then showed up with 90 warriors.

“There’s a baseline level of unease in this celebration,” she said, and the “raw footage” clips she showed of the film-in-progress reflect that, with no joyous conversation between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, even as they sit together to share a meal.

“You’ve got all these people showing up for a party, there’s not that much food, and they won’t leave – and they’re fully armed,” she said.

Sidebar: First-hand accounts of the first Thanksgiving

Edward Winslow, printer, in a letter dated Dec. 12, 1621,and published in 1622 as chapter six of “Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth:”

“Our corn (i.e. wheat) did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

William Bradford, the colony’s governor from April 1621 on, in “History of Plymouth Plantation,” written between 1630 and 1650:

“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercising in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.”

Sidebar: Elements of Pilgrim worship

The service began with a drummer calling people to worship, and with a member of the congregation thumping a “tithing rod” three times. (The wooden rod was used to prod men – and a similar one with a feather on it was for the women – who fell asleep during the four-hour services in unheated sanctuaries.)

Men and boys sat on the right-hand side of the sanctuary and women and girls sat on the left.

The beadle, a church official who kept religious order in the community, carried the Bible to a bench at the front of the church, and the minister walked up the aisle last.

The service started with “free prayers” – written by the minister or made up on the spot, not written down in anything like the Anglicans’ “Book of Common Prayer” – conducted while minister and congregation members alike held their hands upraised. This was also called the short prayer: “The short prayer was the 15-minute prayer at the beginning of the service,” according to Rev. Carol Kerr.

If the minister said something people liked, they would call out “Amen.”

Then there would be a hymn in a call-and-response format, with some members of the congregation leading and everyone else following along, line by line.

When the scripture readings were complete, people could comment about what they heard, and ask questions.

After the sermon, there would also be a time for questions and comments.

Then, before the offering and benediction ending the service, there would be a time called “censures,” when congregation members would stand up and report on the misdeeds they had seen others doing. “This is probably a part of Pilgrims and Puritanism that you’re glad we don’t do anymore,” Kerr said.

Source: Rev. Carol Kerr

Editorial: Giving thanks

Published in the Current

(Nov 24, 2005): This week, as Thanksgiving gives us a chance to stop and take stock of all of our blessings, please remember to think of others who are less fortunate. They are all around us – here in Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and South Portland, and they live here year-round.

Some are children, like Barry Cash, whose difficult road is one few of us can fathom. Even so, Cash, now 18, has happy memories of his childhood with his family, before his mother put him on a Lewiston school bus and told the driver not to bring him home, as we read on Page 1. He has also found a family that cares for him deeply, and we are grateful to the LaVoies for opening their hearts and their home to him.

Others are like the 47-year-old Scarborough mother we talked to, who needs help from the Scarborough Food Pantry, or others who get help from the other local pantries.

People have been telling us that this winter the need will be greater, with fuel prices high and sure to stay there. Even as gas and oil prices fall to near or even below $2 a gallon, that is more than some can pay.

Holidays are a time of plenty in many homes, but in homes where there is not plenty, the absence is felt more deeply. But there is a sadder story here: As the holidays pass, people tend to neglect the needy again, until the holidays come around again.

By March, Norma Coughlin, director of the Scarborough Food Pantry, turns to people who go to church at the pantry’s home, the First Congregational Church on Black Point Road, to fill the larder for those still hungry as winter ends.

Coughlin and the volunteers there, as well as others at other food pantries and organizations in our three communities, keep their minds and hearts on helping the less fortunate throughout the year, not just when the “giving season” is upon us and winter rolls in.

We urge everyone to try harder to keep others in mind, even during our busy lives. That is a large part of what makes a community and keeps ours together.

To the LaVoies, Coughlin and her crew, South Portland Food Cupboard Director Sybil Riemensnider and her volunteers: We are thankful to you, and for you, and for all who help others, now and throughout the year.

A personal note

I will be leaving the Current Nov. 30 to become the managing editor of the Portland Phoenix.

I want to take a moment to express my personal gratitude to all of you, our readers, advertisers, friends and community members, for your support – both professional and personal – in my four years here at the Current.

I leave with both a heavy heart and great excitement. I will miss covering these communities so closely, though I will still live in South Portland, visit my sister’s family in Scarborough and spend time with friends in Cape Elizabeth.

Many of you will remember my friend and colleague Brendan Moran, who worked with us at the Current from very early on. He is now Current Publishing’s executive editor, and will begin oversight of the Current, with an assistant editor to be named shortly. Together they will ensure the continuation and improvement of the strong news coverage and writing you have come to expect from the Current.

After next week, I will join you as an interested reader and paid subscriber, and I look forward to the next chapter in the story of this, my hometown newspaper.

Thanks again to all of you, for so much.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Thursday, November 17, 2005

S.P. parades for veterans

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Nov 17, 2005): After South Portland's Veterans Day parade, Lloyd Woods, commander of the Maine Department of the American Legion, thanked veterans for their sacrifices in the name of freedom.

"We can never forget out defenders. They are the backbone of America," he said.

South Portland City Clerk Susan Mooney said veterans "are responsible for the liberty and freedom we enjoy today." She said veterans who never served in direct combat should not discount their contributions to freedom.

Lt. Roger Sabourin, a retired Navy officer and Army senior enlisted man who organized the parade, said "it is not the media that got you your freedom today," and not ministers either. "It is the veterans who have paid the price," he said.

Helping with an extreme makeover

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Nov 17, 2005): When Weird Al Yankovic showed up in Wells on a television production site, Rhonda Finley of Scarborough was home, asleep.

“I always was at home on a power nap when good stuff happened,” Finley said upon seeing Yankovic’s accordion performance on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” Sunday evening on ABC.

Finley and her friends Mary Nablo and Laura Roche were volunteer coordinators during the filming of the program, which gave a Wells lobsterman a new home in a week, as part of a national hit television program that visits deserving families to tear down their old houses and build new, state-of-the-art homes.

The trio, and many other contractors, workers and volunteers, watched the program’s Sunday broadcast at the Thomas Room in South Portland at a party thrown by the lead company, Katahdin Homes.

Nablo, Roche and Finley worked at a volunteer check-in desk at a parking lot near the construction site at the home of the family of Doug Goodale, a lobsterman who lost his arm in a freak accident in 1997 aboard his lobster boat. Goodale was treated at Maine Medical Center by Dr. Donald Endrizzi, a Scarborough resident.

The three had been recruited by their friend Karen Gaydos, formerly of Scarborough and now of Saco. Gaydos’s father is a friend of Katahdin Homes president David Gordon, and was helping with logistics, Finley said.

As contractors and other volunteers arrived at the site, Nablo, Roche and Finley worked in shifts to sign them in, get them hard hats and send them up to the home site, where Hollis resident Susan Dow met them and put them to work.

“We had a schedule that was modified pretty much hour to hour” of the number of people needed, Nablo said.

The trio – and Dow, who joined them at Sunday’s party – recognized lots of people on the TV program, as well as in a “behind-the-scenes” show broadcast on the Portland ABC channel an hour before the national broadcast of the “Extreme Makeover” show.

“There’s Angie,” one said. “There’s Emily,” said another. “I remember him,” they said as a paint-stained man spoke briefly to a camera.

In one shot of the work area, they recognized a place they drove through often. “Our cars are going to come right up there,” Finley said.

Finley was featured prominently, if you knew where to look. She was in most of the shots of the family reacting to the “reveal,” their first glimpse of their new house, standing near the major contractors on the project and the show’s stars. Nablo was on the show briefly, in a passing shot. Roche knew she would not be on TV, as she rarely saw cameras.

Their work was exhausting. Roche said she tried to help out and be a full-time mom to her four children. As a result, she volunteered at the work site all night and was up during the day with her family, getting no sleep “for about five days.”

Finley said some volunteers were surprised they were not going to be helping with the actual construction, expecting the work to be more like a Habitat for Humanity project, in which everyone pitches in on nearly every task.

On the show, however, because the new house has to be built well in five days, there is no time to teach people construction skills along the way, Finley said.

So people sewed, carried items, and did other odd jobs that needed doing, and were spotted from various angles in the television broadcast.

“We sat on that bus,” Finley said during the opening sequence of the show, in which the show’s stars drive to the work site in a custom charter bus.

When landscape designer Eduardo Xol was interviewed on-camera near a stack of lobster traps, the three recognized the spot where they parked their cars for a couple days early in the project.

There were other, emotional ties. “I’ve never not cried watching this show,” Finley said.

And there was laughter, as they recalled a trip away from the work site to pick up some supplies.

“We had 12 minutes to get to Home Depot, to Biddeford, from Wells,” Nablo said. They were going about 80 mph through heavy fog on the highway, carrying the walkie-talkies they had been issued, when they got a phone call from Gaydos, wondering where they were and why no one was answering the calls on the walkie-talkies.

The crazy situation and the ridiculous pressure came out in peals of laughter as the women told the story, taking turns as each needed to laugh or breathe.

They arrived at Home Depot, having called ahead. “We walk in the door and they act like we’re like gods,” Finley said.

They could not do everything, though. The night before the final day, Nablo was told the production crew wanted 300 people at Wells Harbor in the morning, to watch Goodale receive a new lobster boat as part of the show.

Nablo decided that she would not be able to help: “I don’t know 300 people in Wells,” she said.

The show has had lasting effects, beyond the trio’s willingness to help again – “maybe in a year,” Roche said. Someone was recently fiddling with Finley’s cell phone, looking at the names in the address book, and asked, “Who is Greg the welder?”

It took her half an hour to remember that she had once needed to get in touch with a man to weld a barre for a dance studio in the basement of the new home. She had entered his number into her phone in a rushed moment amid the frenzy, and forgotten about it.

“It seems like a lifetime ago,” Finley said.

Westbrook crash cuts power, closes Saco Street

Published online at

WESTBROOK (Nov 17, 2005): A car accident on Saco Street in Westbrook has cut power and telephone service to sections of the city and closed Saco Street traffic near the public works building, at 371 Saco Street.

The number of cars involved and any injuries are unclear at the moment. and American Journal staff are on the scene. More details will be posted as they become available.

Editorial: Rebuilding trust

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Nov 17, 2005): Like it or not, the Scarborough schools have a credibility problem when it comes to construction. While early claims that large portions of the high school renovation project were substandard have been dismissed, some problems linger, most notably a section of foundation that is cracked to an unknown degree.

Two other problems also remain in the latest version of an outside engineer’s review of the project, both of which relate to securing vertical support columns to the ground. As a result, the engineer, as we read on Page 1, has reiterated the suggestion that the schools and the construction companies arrange to purchase some type of long-term insurance policy to cover possible failure of the building’s performance down the road.

They should do just that – but the schools should not have to pay anything. If there is any fault, it is the responsibility of the workers who did the job, and their employers. If the schools failed to properly supervise the work – itself a questionable assertion – that still does not excuse shoddy workmanship.

The companies should warrant their work is good, and stand behind it, in a formal and legally binding statement to the building’s owners, the people of Scarborough. That is the long-term insurance policy taxpayers need and deserve.

But as a larger result of this situation, the Scarborough Town Council is moving to take over supervision of school building projects, with several councilors – not just Jeff Messer and Robert Patch, who raised concerns about the high school – saying there needs to be better supervision in the future, and earlier public airing of any possible problems.

The high school project turned into a political dispute, between councilors’ assertions of widespread wrongdoing and school officials’ denial that anything wrong ever happened. Neither was true, and the wrangling was bad for the community, the taxpayers and the schools.

If there are problems with a project, they should be brought to light professionally – without personal attacks. They should be investigated seriously and comprehensively, with the focus on getting value for the taxpayers’ millions, rather than advancing or protecting anyone’s personal or political agendas.

The Scarborough High School project is a $27 million endeavor paid for entirely by the residents of Scarborough, who are about to get asked for as much as $54 million more for an expanded middle school and a new intermediate school.

Several councilors appear to believe that the oversight of the next project needs to be better, and they are right. Involving more people earlier will prevent the political wrangling, and will also remove the opportunity for the councilors to be accused of “meddling” with school business. The quality of a public building used to educate students is everyone’s business.

It is not an unusual move for councils to appoint school building committees – it has happened in Cape Elizabeth and South Portland in very recent years, for Cape’s work on the high school and Pond Cove Elementary School, and for South Portland’s city-wide elementary school renovation and expansion work. A new city-wide committee in South Portland is investigating options for the middle and high schools there.

In neither of those communities was the council-appointed committee a cause for acrimony or political gamesmanship, and Scarborough should follow their leads.

Making a political football out of every step of this process will bring taxpayer exhaustion, possible voter rejection and neglect of the proper focus for all involved: How to balance the needs of the students with the needs of the town as a whole.

Not neighborly

Last week, a group of people gathered outside the cottage where convicted kidnapper Norman Dickinson is living, and yelled at him so that he was afraid and called police for help.

The perpetrators’ actions are indefensibly offensive, and they are no better than criminals for violating his right to live without fear.

Dickinson is a convicted felon, and was imprisoned for his crimes, which happened in 1989. About eight years ago he wrote to a judge, saying he would commit more crimes if he were released, and called himself a “time bomb.” But a lot of time has passed.

As we learn on Page 1, state corrections officials and local police believe Dickinson is not a serious threat – and are keeping a close eye on him nonetheless.

Neighbors are within their rights to remain vigilant, and to keep their eyes open for signs of danger. The question of where released prisoners should live is an important one that demands we provide real rehabilitation in our prisons and social support in our communities – not a group of yelling people in the street.

The people who participated in this activity should be ashamed of themselves, and those who watched from behind their curtains and did nothing should be too.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Brady wins Water District seat

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Nov 10, 2005): John Brady of South Portland ran unopposed for a seat on the Portland Water District board of trustees representing South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. He got 6,154 votes in South Portland and 3,251 votes in Cape Elizabeth.

Editorial: Blank ballots

Published in the Current

(Nov 10, 2005): Hundreds of voters in South Portland entered the ballot booth and did not make a choice. Hundreds of absentee voters did the same thing, leading us to wonder why.

Some people did not cast a vote for at least one council race, turning in partially blank ballots rather than picking a name.

Did they not know enough about the candidates to make a choice? Did they not know they were allowed to vote in all council races, no matter what district they themselves live in?

It is not that they didn’t take the time to vote. We’re talking here about the people who actually held ballots in their hands, whether at home or City Hall in advance of Tuesday’s vote, or in a polling place on Election Day itself.

Others, who did not vote at all, also disappointed us. No more than half of the registered voters in any of our communities took the time to vote. When a statewide showing of 40 percent is considered “good” – and our communities did a few percentage points better – we are being ruled by the minority any way we cut it.

Either the majority, who don’t vote, don’t care about what happens or thinks those who do vote are doing a fine job making the choices. We hope it’s the latter, but we fear it is the former instead.

We also note that a number of important races went uncontested this year. While there were hotly contested races in all three communities, there were also races completely uncontested in all three. And those races were not just for the Portland Water District or the Scarborough Sanitary District, where some degree of technical knowledge and an equal measure of tolerance for bureaucratic drudgery are needed.

In Scarborough, nobody but the three incumbents put their names in for the Town Council races. In Cape and South Portland, only two people ran for two seats on the respective school boards.

That speaks to a lack of willingness to get involved. That may spill over into not voting, as well – though the ballot booth is a perfect place to put your priorities into action. It’s anonymous, specific and legally binding – what better way to have your say on the future of your community?

But why go to the trouble of voting and then leave sections blank? We’re not sure here, and would like to know why.

Is the problem, for example, South Portland’s unusual voting structure, which mandates that members of the City Council and School Board live in different areas of the city but answer to all voters in the city? It does result in the possibility that – as happened Tuesday in two council races – a person can lose his or her home district but still be seated to represent them.

Is the problem lack of information prior to voting? Is it uncertainty about what questions a voter is supposed to actually decide on? Is it confusion about what the questions were in fact asking? Is it something else entirely?

If you were one of those who left a ballot question blank, please tell us. Call us at 883-3533 or e-mail Jeff Inglis, editor, at

Sending mixed messages

Mainers have overwhelmingly agreed to borrow $74 million for state projects, increasing their own taxes, and to remove some of the tax burden from owners of working-waterfront property. And a rejection of $9 million – the second-smallest bond on the ballot – for the University of Maine System appears at Wednesday’s deadline time to be just barely failing, hardly able to be held up as a sign of residents rejecting excessive state spending.

So lawmakers at the state and local levels can be excused for doubting whether the people of Maine really want lower taxes. Even in Scarborough, where residents rejected a $1.2 million local bond and a charter change that would have loosened control of council spending, voters supported the statewide bonds.

In South Portland, voters supported fiscally conservative candidates and a $500,000 local road-paving bond, as well as the five statewide bonds. In Cape, incumbent Councilor Anne Swift-Kayatta, one of the lead proponents of a town government spending cap linked to the consumer price index, was the top vote-getter while $83 million in state spending also passed with flying colors.

Lawmakers have expressed to us in the past a sense of confusion about what taxpayers really want: People often say they want lower taxes, but object if their particular favorite program is on the chopping block.

Now that is even muddier: Local spending is worth controlling, but state spending – widely blasted by residents and politicians alike as “out of control” – gets a big green light.

We should not be surprised to see more local and state spending as a result of this confusion, nor should it shock us if more people cry out in financial pain even as they vote for higher taxes.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Remember to vote

Published online at

(Nov 8, 2005): Polls throughout Southern Maine are open until 8 p.m. this evening.

On the ballot, in addition to numerous local races and referenda, are a people's veto of a new gay rights law, several statewide bond questions totaling $83 million, and an amendment to the Maine Constitution.

Call your municipal clerk for polling locations.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

S.P. marching band gets silver medal

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Nov 3, 2005): The South Portland High School marching band earned a silver medal Saturday in the Maine Band Directors Association statewide competition. The band performed "The Big Apple Symphony" composed by Johan De Meij.

The band earned four stars for Drum Major Briggon Snow, three stars for the color guard, three stars for visual effect, four stars for percussion, four stars for music, three stars for general effect and an overall score of three stars, or a silver medal.

Band members are: flutes Henry Keiter, Amanda Pratt, Danielle Riesold, Linda Morton, Chelsea Towson, Holly Everest, Megan Lundgren and Sarah Hollman; clarinets Jamie Reinhold, Johanna Lester, Ying Ying Rhung, Holli Ciresoli, Sophia Boyce, Ben Fox and Laura Patriquin; alto saxophones Emily Libby, Kelly Galbraith, Hannah Rosengren and Patricia Lusty; trumpets Matt Farr, Francis Huynh, Eric Beaver, Kegan Zema, Dylan Martin and Jacob Bruneau; low brass Annie Cavallaro, Kat Libby, Alex Blaisdell, Neil Pearlman, Jen Davis, Nicholas Robertson and Albie Gingrich; percussion Evan Rench, Ross Gauvin, Corey Schwartz, Isaac Misuik, Kyle Wursthome, Josh Farr, Jamie Arn, Alessa Patterson, Lyle Haley, Jon Swiger, Alexis Mantis, Cameron Snow and Amanda Teixeira.

Color guard members are Samantha Nicholson, Abbi Shirk, Mark Vo, Jenny Crozier, Molly Bogart, Mary Maxwell, Larissa Bakker and Kathi Haykus.

The band director and music arranger is Craig Skeffington. Assistant director and drill designer is Craig Scott. Visual staff are Lisa Dorr, Matt Lagarde and Jillian Cote. Percussion arrangers are Anthony Marro, Tom Bureau and Andy Carpenter. Color guard staff are Tara Carpenter and Kathy Foss. Percussion staff are Tom Bureau, Shawn Boissoneault, Andrew Carpenter and Anthony Marry.

S.P. kids find pumpkins galore

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Nov 3, 2005): In honor of the upcoming retirement of Skillin School Principal Joyce Freeman at the end of the year, after 17 years at the school and 35 years as an educator in the city, students at the school went on a pumpkin hunt on the playground and playing fields Friday.

Nearly 500 pumpkins from Highland Avenue Greenhouses were scattered around the area – one for every student and a few extra. Kids ran hither and yon, each choosing carefully the perfect pumpkin to take home a couple nights before Halloween.

Editorial: Bonds have local payoff

Published in the Current

(Nov 3, 2005): In a time of high fuel prices, rising property taxes and state revenue problems, many people are saying that borrowing more money is not what Maine should be doing. We are being asked to do so on the Nov. 8 ballot, in five separate questions.

Some of the bonds include money for local projects, while others support programs that have helped local efforts in the past. Those benefits direct to you and other local residents, while not the only reason to consider supporting some or all of the bonds, are worth remembering when deciding what borrowing is acceptable to you when you vote.

Question 2, a $33.1 million bond for improvements to the state’s transportation network, includes $3.5 million for ferry vessels and port facilities, in particular rebuilding the pier at Fort Preble in South Portland, which would benefit the public as well as the marine science program at Southern Maine Community College, which has also raised $350,000 in private donations for the project.

The bond also includes money for projects in Cape Elizabeth: to repave Shore Road from Fort Williams Park to Route 77, and Spurwink Road from the Spurwink Church north for two miles; in Scarborough: to repave Pleasant Hill Road from Hackmatack Drive half a mile toward Route 77; in South Portland: to repave Foden Road from Western Avenue to Gorham Road, to help build a new bus garage for the city’s bus service and additional money for widening Western Avenue, according to John Duncan of the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee.

There are several other local projects in the state’s plans that would either be constructed or move up in the to-do list, including repaving projects in all three communities, according to Herb Thomson of the Maine Department of Transportation.

Question 3, an $8.9 million bond for agriculture and water treatment, does not include any money intended directly for our three communities, but similar bonds in the past have supported the Portland Water District’s efforts to maintain a secure and clean water supply for its customers.

Question 4, for $20 million in medical research and small business investments, includes $8 million in biomedical research funds, from which the Maine Medical Center Research Institute and the Foundation for Blood Research, both in Scarborough, are two of only six agencies eligible for grants. It also supports the Maine Technology Institute’s grant programs, which have benefited countless small businesses in Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth and South Portland, supporting both startups and existing firms with growth and new product development.

Question 5 asks for $12 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program. This program has contributed significantly to protection of open space in Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, including the William H. Jordan Farm and the Meserve Farm properties, landmark farms now preserved with the help of state, federal, local and private dollars.

Question 6, for $9 million for higher education, would allocate $2 million to match $4 million in private donations to improve the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine and $5 million for renovations to community colleges, including Southern Maine Community College, which would get $1.3 million to renovate the health science building, which houses the nursing program and other medical-related classes serving more than 1,000 students every year, according to a college spokeswoman.

Not all of the money in the bonds will come to local projects, firms or residents. But enough of them will to merit your thoughtful consideration when balancing the costs of more state borrowing with the benefits of these particular bonds.

Go to the polls

Remember to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8. See Page 3 for poll locations and hours, and remember that if you can’t make it that day, you can contact your municipal clerk to vote in advance by absentee ballot.

Casting a ballot is your right as a citizen of a democracy. And without participation, government cannot represent everyone. Please be sure to have your say.

Jeff Inglis, editor

S.P. floats $70-plus-million school building plans

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Nov 3, 2005): The South Portland school department has begun seeking public comment on plans that could cost taxpayers between $70 million and $85.2 million to renovate and rebuild the city’s middle and high schools.

“The systems in our facilities are either at the end of their life cycle or past it in a couple of cases,” said Superintendent Wendy Houlihan.

There are two options, both of which would include a $38 million to $39.7 million renovation at South Portland High School, part of which is 50 years old and part of which is somewhat newer, Houlihan said. Though its enrollment is 1,100 – below its peak around 1,300 some years ago – changing needs for English as a second language and special education classes have upped demands so that “we’re just out of room, even though the population isn’t as big,” Houlihan said.

Both options would also include tearing down the existing Memorial Middle School, which is 40 years old.

One option would have the district paying $32 million to $35 million to rebuild a single middle school for 800 students on the Memorial site. In that case, the 80-year-old Mahoney Middle School would be closed.

The other option would involve building a $21 million to $22.5 million middle school for 400 students on the Memorial site and renovating Mahoney to hold 400 students, at a projected cost of $21.5 million to $23 million.

District officials are trying to determine whether the city would be eligible for state aid for the project, though that could delay work for several years. If the city were not eligible or decided not to seek state funding, the question would go to voters in 2006, construction could begin in 2007 and the work could be done by 2011.

The city just finished an $18 million project renovating and rebuilding four elementary schools, for which state aid was not available, though the city did get an interest-free loan of $442,000 from the state.

The elementary project was originally slated to cost $28 million – a number approved by voters – for five schools. Houlihan said the city saved only $4 million or $5 million by closing the Marsh School rather than renovating it, meaning that the entire project finished well below the projected cost.

“We have new schools, lovely schools, for our elementary schools,” Houlihan said, but said they are good value for the taxpayers. “They are not Taj Mahals; there is nothing exotic” about them.

She did not know whether the cost estimates for the middle and high schools – based on work by Harriman Associates – would be higher than the real costs. “It’s so hard to predict,” she said, especially if the project is delayed a couple years in the wait for state funding.

The district is working with Harriman Associates, an architecture firm that designed Scarborough High School’s $27 million renovation, and is working with Scarborough on a $54 million proposal for middle and intermediate schools.

Upcoming meetings on the subject will be held on Thursday, Nov. 3, at 6:30 p.m. at the Frank I. Brown School at 37 Highland Ave.; and on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m. at the Helena H. Dyer School at 52 Alfred St.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Editorial: Our votes

Published in the Current

(Oct 27, 2005): Election season is when local residents step forward and courageously volunteer to be in the public eye. We applaud all the candidates for their willingness, though we note two major races – Scarborough Town Council and Cape Elizabeth School Board – where there is no race. That’s too bad, and we encourage anyone considering a run to do so.

In this issue we have our election coverage, with candidate profiles and letters and columns taking stands on various election questions. Please write in with your opinions on the candidates and the issues. Also, in this space, we make our endorsements. The biggest endorsement we make is to vote. Your ballot counts, and you can vote in advance at town hall or on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Cape Elizabeth Town Council: We endorse incumbent Anne Swift-Kayatta and newcomer Mary Page. Swift-Kayatta has more than earned reelection, showing her dedication to doing her homework in every meeting, wrestling with data, asking people’s opinions and responding to residents’ concerns. Her regional connections could pay off as well, finding ways to share with other communities to save money.

Page, with less on-paper experience, is nonetheless dialed in to a broad segment of town not now represented on the council: the working folks, who built the town, keep it running and still form its connection to the past. They need a voice, which Page promises to give them, and her outspoken nature on issues like wetlands restrictions shows she will deliver.

Scarborough Board of Education: For the two three-year seats, we endorse Christopher Brownsey and Colleen Staszko. Brownsey’s experience with several ongoing efforts, including the major construction being considered for the intermediate and middle schools, will serve residents well. Staszko, who works as a teacher in North Yarmouth, will bring that experience to the board, helping ensure teaching and learning remain at the forefront of every discussion.

For the one-year seat, Jacquelyn Perry is the best candidate. A longtime member of the board who continues to attend and participate in its meetings as a private citizen, she has the institutional knowledge and up-to-date information to be effective right away.

Scarborough senior center: We urge Scarborough voters to approve the senior center’s $1.2 million bond. The seniors need a place to call their own, and the relatively low costs of debt service and operation of the building pale in comparison to the value a community building could bring not just to seniors, but to all residents.

Scarborough charter change: We oppose the expansion of borrowing power the council is asking for. A “yes” vote would allow the council to borrow up to $700,000 per project or item without asking voters. Now the limit is at $400,000, and a “no” vote would leave it that way. The council wants the change, to make their lives easier. But voters who want to keep town spending in check should not loosen the reins on borrowing, which affects budgets decades into the future.

South Portland District 1: We support Claude Morgan. He has good ideas, and an eye for the future as well as for the bottom line. His support for the schools – including finding a way to provide the school configuration residents want – puts him ahead of the competition.

South Portland District 2: Voters have a true choice here, between fiscal conservative developer Kay Loring and Anton Hoecker, a progressive who opposes spending cuts because, he says, lower taxes reduce people’s participation in the community. While Loring's fiscal conservatism is important, she did not have specific ideas to put into practice. Hoecker needs to be careful how much he fights spending cuts in a city facing a revaluation and potentially massive school construction bonds, but his fresh ideas – such as investing in libraries and child care to attract business – garner our support for him.

South Portland District 5: We support the reelection of James Hughes. Hughes has done very well keeping city spending in check and representing his neighborhood while still thinking of all city residents. His efforts to reduce tension between the council and the School Board are admirable, and his moderate approach to controversial issues have kept focus where it should be: on residents’ needs.

South Portland paving bond: We urge South Portland voters to support the $500,000 bond for road paving and sidewalk improvements. In neighborhoods throughout the city, cars bump along the streets and walkers and bicyclists dodge holes in footpaths. While this bond is not the final step, it is a beginning.

Whether you agree with these ideas or not, the most important message we can give is this: Vote. Whether you do it in advance, by contacting the municipal clerk’s office, or on Tuesday, Nov. 8, your voice matters and your vote counts.

Jeff Inglis, editor

Referendum asks $500,000 for roads

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Oct 27, 2005): South Portland voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to approve borrowing $500,000 for road paving and sidewalk reconstruction around the city.

The question stems from a decision by the City Council earlier this year to focus on roads and sidewalks as one of a few priorities, according to City Manager Jeff Jordan.

Councilors and other city officials – as well as residents – have noticed potholes in roads and deteriorating sidewalks, and the city needs to “play catch-up,” Jordan said.

The council has already agreed to spend $500,000 from existing surplus funds, of which $400,000 would be used for road repaving and $100,000 for sidewalks. The council also is asking voters for another $500,000, to be split the same way, to do more work in the spring, Jordan said. The interest on the bond is estimated at $123,750 over the life of the borrowing package.

Public Works Director Dana Anderson said the city has a list of road and sidewalk projects that would cost $20 million to complete.

He would not talk about specific locations that would be improved with the money, saying he was worried the details might make road improvements a political issue rather than a transportation problem.

The city used to spend about $400,000 a year on road maintenance but has put off the work the last couple of years because of budget constraints, he said.

“We’re really losing the edge,” and need to catch up, Anderson said. “Every other year we’re going to have to do some bonding” to keep on top of the work that needs doing, he said.

Harris and Reuscher unopposed for S.P. School Board

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Oct 27, 2005): William Harris and Mark Reuscher are running unopposed for two seats on the South Portland School Board.

Reuscher, the board’s chairman, is seeking his second term because he thinks they "still have a lot of unfinished work.”

The 47-year-old, unmarried father of two, a son in eighth grade and a daughter in fifth, is a full-time business instructor at Southern Maine Community College, prior to which he owned Ocean Fitness for 14 years.

He said the city’s high school has a good graduation rate, and is concerned about “making sure the kids are actually learning.”

“We’re going in the right direction,” he said. “Last year the budget went really smoothly” because of a new collaborative approach between the City Council and the School Board.

He is undecided on the subject of renovations to the city’s middle schools, on which there are two options: either renovate Mahoney Middle School and build new where Memorial Middle School is, or close Mahoney and build a single middle school where Memorial is now.

“I’ve tried to be honest and make fair decisions for all the children in the city no matter where they lived,” Reuscher said.

Harris, a married 69-year-old making his first run for elective office. retired four and a half years ago from the city’s finance department.

“My father, my brother and I, my two sons, my three step-sons all graduated from South Portland High School,” Harris said. “I wanted to give something back to the city that’s given me a lot.”

Harris has also been honored for his volunteerism: In 2004 he was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in honor of his 35 years as a Little League coach and umpire.

He wants to keep the city’s neighborhoods “vibrant and alive,” perhaps by involving neighborhood associations in classroom projects with teachers and students.

He wants to participate in the construction-renovation decision for the high school and middle schools and work to “figure out a way to keep high school and college graduates from moving out of the area.”

City Council District 2: Anton Hoecker

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Oct 27, 2005): Anton Hoecker is running for the District 2 seat “to bring a progressive voice to the City Council.”

He wants to get “people more involved” and address issues of growth, education, transparency in government, taxation and spending.

He is concerned that a strong focus on cutting taxes is hurting people’s sense of involvement in the community. “The more we cut our financial responsibility for maintaining the community, the more we divest ourselves” from the community, he said.

If the city cuts education funding, “we disconnect ourselves from providing high-quality education for our students,” he said.

“I’m not about wanting to raise taxes. I’m about spending money wisely,” he said. “We’ve become so focused on cutting spending, we’ve stopped thinking about good investments.”

While rising home values are good for individuals’ and families’ financial situations, it is not good for the community if rising values result in pressure for lower taxes, he said. “Cutting spending doesn’t improve the overall quality” of life in the city.

He would like to see Maine’s tax structure reformed, and wants to ask the Legislature to give the city more money because of South Portland’s role as a service center.

He wants new development and any redevelopment to be “environmentally friendly,” including walking trails and addressing static traffic patterns and congestion.

The 50-year-old carpenter is married and the father of two, a daughter, 11, at Mahoney Middle School, and a son, 6, at Small Elementary School.

He supports continuing to have two middle schools in the city, as the school department considers closing Mahoney and building a single new middle school on the site of Memorial.

“In the long run, a single school is more expensive,” Hoecker said. He said research shows students in smaller schools do better, and noted that some larger cities are now breaking up very large schools into smaller elements.

“We need to be investing in our schools, our libraries, because it’ll attract better businesses,” he said. One idea he had that could bring more businesses to the city would be an after-school child care program run by the recreation department, which employ retired people and help free up working parents.

He also supports an ordinance defining what constitutes conflict of interest in city government, saying trust in government is enhanced by “openness and light of day.”

City Council District 2: Kay Loring

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Oct 27, 2005): Katherine “Kay” Loring is running for the District 2 seat on the City Council to “reduce taxes and reduce spending.”

Loring, a real estate developer, is the chairman of the city’s Planning Board, a post she would have to leave if she were elected.

“I’d be willing to, even though I really enjoy it,” she said. “I really want to make a change in South Portland and the only way to do that is to be on the council.”

She wants to reduce taxes by not spending new tax revenue from developments. She also wants to use proceeds from sale of city property – such as the upcoming sale of the Sawyer School – to reduce taxes.

She did not specify where she would look to reduce spending, saying she would have to “look at the budget.”

She wants to delay the proposed middle school construction project – either renovating or closing Mahoney and building a new school on the site of Memorial. “This is not the time,” she said. “I would like to see a couple of years go by.”

“We have all new elementary schools in South Portland and the education is fantastic,” said Loring, who is widowed with four children.

She also wants to help control traffic, perhaps with narrower roads and cul-de-sacs, as well as continuing improvements on Western Avenue, Westbrook Street and the Jetport Plaza Road.

“We’re trying to get some more green space” in developments as well, she said.

Loring thought the city should “look at” affordable housing, but said it’s up to developers to express interest. “I don’t know what the city could do” to encourage affordable housing.

She supports the dog owners who have been working to address problems with dogs in the city’s public spaces. “The dog community has done a fantastic job,” she said, noting that the people who are involved in solving the problems are not those who are the source of the complaints.

“I think a dog park would be great,” she said, adding that “I think (dogs) absolutely should be allowed” in public parks, though perhaps on a rotating schedule such as is being discussed by the dog committee.

This is her first run for elective office. “I never thought I’d run for the council,” she said. “I’m just really upset about the taxes (that) keep going up year after year.”

City Council District 5: Brian Dearborn

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Oct 27, 2005): Brian Dearborn, a former mayor of South Portland, is running for the District 5 seat on the City Council, to bring “common sense” to the council.

A lifelong resident of South Portland, he ran Bri’s Variety in Cash Corner for 28 years, and has served one term on the School Board and two on the City Council, including one year as mayor in the mid-1990s.

He is now an assistant manager at the Falmouth Wal-Mart getting back into local politics because of “the biggest issue in South Portland with everybody I’ve talked to: spending.”

He wants the city to be affordable for senior citizens and young families. “Spending is out of control,” he said.

Though he wouldn’t be specific about how he would reduce spending, he suggested city and school departments combine purchasing power to save money, and consolidate services such as transportation, maintenance and finance. He supports regionalizing services, but only after the city has streamlined its own operations.

He wants to update zoning to reduce the burden on owners of older homes on smaller lots, who must now seek extra approvals when making changes to their homes, because they no longer conform with the city’s zoning laws.

Dearborn also wants the councilors to be “more receptive to people,” and adhere more closely to the council’s standing rules of order. “They have to disagree respectfully,” he said.

He also supports education, particularly the students in “the middle” – not the top 10 percent of the class or the bottom 10 percent.

And Dearborn wants the city to consider traffic more carefully when considering development proposals, citing expected increased traffic on Broadway from the U.S. Postal Service distribution center and the Wal-Mart Supercenter project. From where he lives, in Country Gardens, “we’ve got to cross five lanes of traffic – if we can get across.”

Dearborn, a dog owner, thinks the ad-hoc dog control committee “has done a good job,” though he has what he termed a “personal” problem with allowing dogs to be off-leash: Once his own dog needed 21 stitches after being attacked by an off-leash dog that was not under full voice control.

“If the city’s going to put constraints on dogs, they should have a dog park,” he said. “There’s got to be a compromise there somewhere.”

City Council District 5: James Hughes

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Oct 27, 2005): James Hughes, presently serving as mayor of South Portland, is running for re-election to his District 5 seat because “we’ve got some stuff that I don’t think I finished.” '

He lives on Broadway near Westbrook Street and originally ran because of the traffic in his neighborhood, and his involvement in the Broadway Westbrook Neighborhood Association dealing with traffic.

A committee that surveyed the area recommended granite curbing, especially in the area where schoolchildren cross Broadway. The cost projected was $600,000, which came down at about the same time as the 1 percent tax cap referendum, and was put off for that reason.

Hughes wants to install granite curb in “at least that portion where the schoolkids are,” which would cost less.

Also in terms of traffic, he wants to continue to work on local, state and federal funding for a noise barrier along I-295, which residents want and which has taken some time to make progress on.

He also wants to keep an eye on the Maine Mall area traffic work now in progress and coming up in the next two or three years.

Hughes, a 61-year-old computer consultant, said the past year brought improvements in both the budget process and spending control. City spending increased less than 3 percent last year, in part because he helped build a good partnership with the School Board, Hughes said.

He said he has helped save taxpayer dollars by changing the city’s rules to require a bid process for every purchase over $10,000. “The taxes we pay are well spent,” he said.

He said the city faces a zoning challenge because “our ordinance hasn’t kept up with the changes in the city,” and also because the city doesn’t clearly explain to people how planning boards and zoning boards should work.

Hughes wants to see more affordable housing come to the city, citing Brickhill as a good example. “South Portland is the first city in Maine to use the new law” that allows cities to create tax-increment financing for housing developments, he said.

He supports the efforts of the dog committee so far, including a better definition of what “voice control” of a dog really means. He wants to see the group work more on the remaining issues, such as access to public parks.

“It makes sense to me that we have areas in our parks that are dog-friendly,” he said.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Kids, parents carve pumpkins

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (Oct 20, 2005): Sarah Merriam won the under 7 age group category in the Inn by the Sea's annual pumpkin carving contest Saturday. George McKenzie won the 7 and over age group in the contest, judged by Jeff Inglis, editor of the Current.

In the under 7 group, Nat Jordan took second place and Kyle Long took third. In the 7 and over, William Pinette won second place and Aphrodite Makrides took third.

From left, William, Michaela, Melanie, Sheila, Christiana and Tara Pinette carve pumpkins at the Inn by the Sea's annual pumpkin carving event Sunday. (Photo by Jeff Inglis)

Aaron Brogan of Cape Elizabeth carves a pumpkin at the Inn by the Sea Sunday. (Photo by Jeff Inglis)

From left, Nat Jordan, second-place winner in the under 7 age group, with contest judge Jeff Inglis, editor of the Current, and third-place winner Kyle Long. First-place winner Sarah Merriam is not pictured. (Image courtesy of Rauni Kew, Inn by the Sea)

From left, pumpkin carving contest judge Jeff Inglis, editor of the Current, with 7 and over age group winner George McKenzie, third-place winner Aphrodite Makrides and second-place winner William Pinette. Inglis is holding Makrides's pumpkin. (Image courtesy of Rauni Kew, Inn by the Sea)

Downs: Slots promoter bilked us out of millions

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Oct 20, 2005): Scarborough Downs has sued gambling promoter Shawn Scott, saying he manipulated voters, state laws and horsemen to create a monopoly on slot machines in the state, which he then sold for more than $50 million, depriving the Downs of a cut of the windfall.

The suit is an attempt to ensure that Shawn Scott “doesn’t walk away from this a rich man after doing what he did,” according to Downs owner Sharon Terry.

A lawsuit filed in Cumberland County Superior Court claims Scott, a resident of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands who owns gambling operations in several states, always intended to block Scarborough Downs from installing slot machines at its track, or to control any slots at the Downs, despite making statements and formal agreements to support the Downs’ plans for slots.

The suit alleges their efforts cost the Downs the opportunity to receive $50 million from Penn National Gaming, the Downs’s partner in developing a Southern Maine racino. Scarborough Downs attorney Ed MacColl said Scott “made certain agreements” and then took action that “undermined” them, forming the basis of the suit.

Scott’s attorney, Bruce Merrill, said the suit had no basis in fact, and that “when everything is brought to light,” it will become clear that “neither Shawn Scott nor Capital Seven (his company) has done anything wrong.” Merrill has not yet filed a response, and has until early December to do so. He declined to talk about specific allegations in the suit until filing that response.

Scott created the citizen’s initiative that was on the November 2003 statewide ballot, asking to legalize slot machine gambling at racetracks, which required local approval by the voters of the town in which the track would be located.

The Downs sought to leave Scarborough because it wanted to move to a community that would vote in favor of having slot machines at the horse racetrack. Scarborough’s Town Council had voted to ban slots in April 2002, and voters town-wide rejected a proposal to overturn that ban in November 2003. The Downs optioned land in Saco and Westbrook, in hopes of relocating to one of those cities.

‘Tussle between the big boys’

Scott’s original draft of the citizen’s initiative allowed the Downs a year, until December 2004, to seek local approval from Scarborough or a nearby town.

When the Downs asked Scott for an additional year, until December 2005, the lawsuit alleges, Scott then changed the wording to shorten the deadline to December 2003. That wording – and the 2003 deadline – was passed into law when the referendum was approved by Maine voters.

The suit then alleges a litany of wrongdoing by Scott, including that he backed two political action committees opposing the Downs’s efforts to get local approval in Scarborough, Saco and Westbrook, where the Downs sought to relocate; that he was behind a lawsuit trying to block the Westbrook referendum; and that he tried “to intimidate the Westbrook City Council into refusing even to hold a referendum.”

The Downs claims Westbrook residents were in favor of slots until Scott’s public-relations campaign changed their minds.

George Rodrigues, an organizer of “Our City, No Slots,” an independent Westbrook residents’ group that actively campaigned against the racino, described his group’s efforts as a low-budget door-to-door campaign that tried to stay out of the battle between the racetrack and the larger anti-racino groups.

His group was not one the Downs alleged was run by Scott. “We just did the best to run our campaign and stay out of the back and forth between those guys,” Rodrigues said. “We knew this was a tussle between the big boys.”

He said Scott’s advertisements did help sway the vote, though he did not attribute the proposal’s failure solely to Scott’s efforts. He thought his group’s door-to-door efforts had a bigger effect.

“In my opinion, it was the passion of that campaign that made the difference,” he said. “We knocked on a lot of doors.”

The Downs also claimed Scott instigated and paid the legal bills for a lawsuit filed by a Westbrook couple, John and Carol Peters – allegedly the parents of one of Scott’s attorneys – seeking to block the city’s referendum altogether. John Peters said Monday night that he had no knowledge of the new suit filed by Scarborough Downs and declined to comment on the lawsuit filed in 2003.

The Downs suit claims Scott gave misleading and false information to Westbrook city councilors, but Westbrook City Administrator Jerre Bryant said he did not specifically getting any information from Scott in the weeks leading up to the racino vote.

Jim Violette, the president of the City Council, was also president at the time of the racino vote. He said he does not remember Shawn Scott coming before the council with any information about the racetrack or Downs owner Sharon Terry. “Scott never approached the council or talked to the council,” he said.

Penn on both sides

The Downs also claims that Scott negotiated in competition with the Downs for an option on land in Saco and Westbrook where the track wanted to move, if allowed.

The Downs also claims that having used fraud and deceit to gain a monopoly, Scott then sold it for more than $50 million. The buyer, Penn National Gaming, expects to open a slot machine operation in Bangor in the next couple of months.

A judge refused Oct. 3 to freeze an upcoming payment to Shawn Scott from Penn National Gaming, which is purchasing Bangor Historic Track from Scott and other owners. The suit claims the payment is the final one in the deal and is for more than $30 million, and claims that if Scott is paid, he will “conceal” the money outside the U.S., where it will not be available to pay the Downs if it prevails in the suit.

The judge could revisit the request to freeze the payment, once Scott has had a chance to respond to the allegations in the suit, MacColl said.

Merrill said he would not discuss the total amount of the sale, or the amount of the final payment, but said the final payment was agreed to coincide with the opening of slot machines in Bangor, which he said should be within the next two months.

Penn National also has an exclusive agreement with the Downs to build a racino in Southern Maine, should one be approved. Under that agreement, Penn National would pay for the construction of the new track and buildings, and would collect rent from the Downs, as well as the proceeds from gambling, some of which might be shared back to the Downs.

MacColl said the agreement has never been terminated, but “I don’t know that there’s any active effort” between the two companies at the moment.

The Downs is also slated to benefit from slot machine revenues – even only at Bangor – because a portion of the proceeds is designated to go to the state’s harness racing commission to increase the size of purses for horse races at all tracks and agricultural fairs.

The suit seeks unspecified payment for damages, but indicates the Downs spent more than $1 million attempting to pass the referenda, and could have gained as much as $50 million from Penn National Gaming, if the Westbrook or Saco referenda had given approval to slots at a relocated Downs.

Tighter dog rules on the way

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Oct 20, 2005): Clearer rules governing dogs in public spaces in South Portland got unanimous council approval in a preliminary vote Monday.

The changes include specifying that dogs not on leashes will be under “voice command,” which is for the first time defined in a city ordinance, as meaning the owner can see the dog and the dog comes when called.

Other changes require that dogs be leashed on public roads, sidewalks, parking lots and on the city’s Greenbelt walkway, and that leashes be no longer than eight feet unless it is a retractable leash, in which case the maximum length is 16 feet.

The council will hold a public hearing on the changes on Monday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall, and is expected to take a final vote on the measures at that same meeting.

A committee created by City Manager Jeff Jordan will continue to meet to discuss revamping the city’s fines for violations of dog-control rules, as well as potential fees for dogs to use public spaces, and possibly restricting the hours dogs are allowed in parks and on Willard Beach. That committee will next meet on Friday, Oct. 28.

Claude Morgan, president of the South Portland Dog Owners Group and a candidate for the District 1 seat on the City Council, said he supported the measures given preliminary approval Monday. “This is born of compromise,” he said.

David Bourke, a leading proponent of dog control and also a District 1 candidate, said the proposals “will make it a lot easier for enforcement.” He also said it will “give non-dog-owners, people who want to be safe on the streets, peace of mind.”

Both Morgan and Bourke are members of the city manager’s task force on dog rules.

The proposals approved by the council gained endorsements from two other dog owners who have not been extensively involved in the discussions so far.

Marc Gup of Loveitt’s Field Road, who often takes his dog to Willard Beach, said “it sounds like a fair thing” to clarify the rules. He said Willard Beach is a safe place for his dog, but asked councilors to consider a speed bump on Preble Street to make the road safer for people who walk and bicycle there, including dog walkers.

“Those cars go 50 miles an hour down that road,” he said.

Rommy Brown of E Street said she had “no objection” to the proposals. She urged the committee studying dog issues to “expand enormously” to better reflect the interests of the wider community.

“There are people who do not own dogs or do not like dogs or who have physical challenges” who need representation going forward, she said.

Councilors disagreed on how to do that, with outgoing District 1 Councilor David Jacobs proposing a standing city committee based on “animal control committee” groups in other communities in other states.

In South Portland, “this has become an emotional issue,” he said. “Neither side is wrong.” He asked that the council hold off on additional changes to the dog-control rules to explore having a standing committee, appointed by the councilors, to address the recurring issues.

District 3 Councilor Rosemarie DeAngelis said she would explore such an idea, but did not want to delay the ongoing work of the committee, which she has recently joined.

At-large Councilor Linda Boudreau said she supported Jacobs’s idea, and also called for a council study of the proposal, saying dog-control problems have “come back every single year I’ve been on the council.”

She also asked the committee to discuss possible rules about people walking four or five dogs at a time, and said she was glad the council had moved forward to codify consequences “when you whistle or call your dog and he runs for the hills.”

Fire exhibit shows history

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Oct 20, 2005): As the city of South Portland prepares to close a decades-old neighborhood firehouse, the South Portland Historical Society has put on a special exhibit on the history of the city’s fire department.

“It’s hard to move out of a building you’ve been in for 40 years,” said Capt. Richard Cotton of the Pleasantdale Hose Company. The company was founded in 1893 in Palmer’s garage, and moved into its present digs on Robinson Street in 1921, after a community-wide effort built the firehouse.

At the end of this month, the firehouse will close and the call company will move to a new barn built behind the Cash Corner fire station. The exhibit at the Sawyer School Annex will be open to the public until the end of the month.

“It’s costing too much money to heat the building,” said Cotton, who joined the company in 1963 and took over as captain 15 years ago.

In the early days of the fire company, the fire truck was garaged in various buildings, and had no dedicated horse to pull it.

“Anybody’s horse that went by became the fire horse,” Cotton said.

The historical society’s exhibit was inspired by the discovery last year of a 1914 roster of the Knightville fire company, in an antique store in Freeport by society historian Kathy Onos DiPhilippo.

It may be the last exhibit in the society’s longtime home, the Sawyer School Annex on Braeburn Avenue. Congregation Bet Ha’am, which has been holding services in the school’s main building for some time, is buying the property, including the annex, which is slated to be demolished, according to society curator Mary Anne Wallace.

The society, which gets lots of support from the South Portland Lions Club, is looking for other places to call home and hold exhibits such as “Call Box 4215,” named for the alarm code that would sound in firehouses to tell firemen there was fire at the annex location.

The exhibit showcased historical firefighting equipment, including old water pipes made of wood that had to be replaced when modern pumper trucks were built. Those pumps pulled the water too hard, ripping the wooden pipes out of the ground.

Many items were loaned or donated by South Portland firefighters or their family members, such as a collection of badges and insignia used through the years.

“Firemen have a real sense of their own history,” Wallace said.

Other items included information about the department’s three Dalmatians, one of which, Tapper, lived at Engine 6 in Thornton Heights and was trained to stamp out cigarette butts.

Letters in a binder on display indicated that firemen had trouble getting around the city early in World War II because they lacked the proper permits to be out driving around during government-imposed blackouts, instituted to foil enemy attacks from the ocean.

In one test run described in an official letter from the period, some firemen were blocked by blackout wardens and others were only able to arrive at the intended destination by talking their way through roadblocks. The incident was just a test, but was used as an example of what could happen unless proper paperwork was issued.

One old photo on the wall sparked a more recent memory from Cotton. The photo showed the old Engine 10, a foam truck, whose door had the last hand-painted city seal on a fire truck’s door. Cotton found that door again in May, in the rafters of a chicken coop in Hope, now used to store old fire trucks and other fire memorabilia.