Saturday, November 21, 2009

Portland Daily Sun

A correction about that Marshall-Skolnik mayoral column
Sometimes, you just apologize and quote your victims

By Curtis Robinson
Editor
curtis@portlanddailysun.me

Well, there are mistakes and there are mistakes.
I made a dandy one yesterday by inverting two of the city councilors in my continuing rant about the secrecy around the Portland mayor's selection.
Explaining why would involve a mystery involving first drafts and how Google Docs works with various content management systems — it was an early draft, but that's really no excuse.
Since David Marshall was one of my victims, let's quote from his blog on the issue:
"Portland Daily Sun Editor Curtis Robinson issued an opinion piece in the Portland Daily Sun and made a huge mistake. Mr. Robinson confused Councilor Dan Skolnik and I when he wrote:
"'We sure did hear some vague reference to 'temperament' and concerns about the council becoming divisive. Let's get out our Captain Obvious decoder rings and see what that really means. Hmmmmm. Wasn't it that rascal David Marshall (the only real declared candidate for mayor this time around, and a Green) who dared air negative comments about key city staffers? Right ... they had those private City Hall meetings to address the concerns. And didn't he make certain Powers That Be cringe by trying to alter a key police-action citizen review committee? Could that be the code?'"
"It was Councilor Dan Skolnik, a Democrat on the City Council and a key supporter in the selection of Nick Mavodones as next year's mayor, who was publicly critical about the City Manager's job performance. It was Councilor Skolnik who had private meetings with Mayor Duson and City staffers. It was Councilor Skolnik who is trying to alter the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee."
Marshall also notes that "the worst part of this egregious mistake is that Mr. Robinson's own paper has been reporting on the events."
He's, of course, right on all counts, and the several fine links he provides to our coverage illustrates that we are indeed reporting on the events. I'll note that our news reporter, Casey Conley, did not review my column and doubtless would have saved me some humility inducing word-eating.
(Actually, it dawns on me that Councilor Marshall might get some debate on the "worst of all" designation, but let's leave that to others.)
So my apologies to him and, of course, also to Dan Skolnik, who also BTW took issue with my reference to him, albeit by another name, as "rocking the boat" on the Police Subcommittee — he feels that marginalizes his opinions.
Frankly, I thought it was a compliment. Such is the danger of opinion. And my apologies also to our many readers, especially those who found the mistake a bit more amusing than those involved.
This is the part where we news types typically try to squirm off the hook by saying it was an unintentional mistake, that we're running corrections on page one and in the column and that sort of thing.
But it might be more interesting to review some of the other, much more nuanced, "suggestions" I've received of late.
About that Peaks Island vote to leave Portland: At least, that's what we might call it. But some islanders have suggested that some people who voted "yes" on that issue were really just wanting to (a) advance the process or (b) create possible leverage with the city. The point is that they might have advanced the issue without actually wanting to leave Portland. It's also been noted that when reporters use words like "some," we could mean anywhere from two people (it is plural) to 100 million.
Okay.
It's also been pointed out that the Daily Kos blogger of note is "Bill In Portland, Maine," and not "Bill FROM Portland, Maine."
The difference of course is monumental in a place where being from Away is ... well, what it is. Bill clarifies that he does live here but does not claim to be "from" here, since he grew up in Ohio and such. He also notes that he has not been critical in print of the Obama administration's support of the recent Maine Gay Marriage vote -- we left that impression in noting the Daily Kos coverage earlier.
There's more, and it's risky to include what are matters of detail with a more serious screw-up.
But my intent is this — we have published more than 200 editions of this paper so far, and we've made mistakes of various sizes.
We do care about the details of our stories — even if we won't always agree with your specific phrasing. So please don't hesitate to email us your suggestions or call me directly at 207-699-5802.
And, yeah, it does still sucks that the mayor is chosen in secret.



(Curtis Robinson is editor of The Portland Daily Sun. Contact him at curtis@portlanddailysun.me.)

http://www.theportlanddailysun.com/cgi/story.pl?storyid=200911180710341000190

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Curtis Robinson Needs to Follow Current Events in His Own Paper
and Edit the Mistakes He Makes


Today, Portland Daily Sun Editor Curtis Robinson issued an opinion piece in the Portland Daily Sun and made a huge mistake. Mr. Robinson confused Councilor Dan Skolnik and I when he wrote:

We sure did hear some vague reference to "temperament" and concerns about the council becoming divisive. Let's get out our Captain Obvious decoder rings and see what that really means. Hmmmmm. Wasn't it that rascal David Marshall (the only real declared candidate for mayor this time around, and a Green) who dared air negative comments about key city staffers? Right ... they had those private City Hall meetings to address the concerns. And didn't he make certain Powers That Be cringe by trying to alter a key police-action citizen review committee? Could that be the code?

It was Councilor Dan Skolnik, a Democrat on the City Council and a key supporter in the selection of Nick Mavodones as next year's mayor, who was publicly critical about the City Manager's job performance. It was Councilor Skolnik who had private meetings with Mayor Duson and City staffers. It was Councilor Skolnik who is trying to alter the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee.

The worst part of this egregious mistake is that Mr. Robinson's own paper has been reporting on the events.

Councilor calls out no-show city manager at meeting - "In a rare public rebuke of a municipal employee, Councilor Dan Skolnik on Tuesday criticized city manager Joe Gray in front of a packed audience at City Hall, accusing Gray of not attending the meeting despite assurance that he would be there."
http://www.theportlanddailysun.com/cgi/story.pl?storyid=20090909038181000619

Private meetings address growing tensions at City Hall - "City leaders held two private meetings in the past five days to address disputes between Councilor Dan Skolnik and a number of city employees."
http://www.theportlanddailysun.com/cgi/story.pl?storyid=20090916048471000726

Police union opposes changes to citizen review committee - "Councilor Dan Skolnik has proposed broadening eligibility rules for the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee [PCRS] to include groups now banned from the committee."
http://www.theportlanddailysun.com/cgi/story.pl?storyid=20091026059231000143

It is time for Mr. Robinson to put way the "Captain Obvious decoder rings" and use the search button on theportlanddailysun.com to avoid making huge mistakes, which is his job as the Editor.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Maine Biz
http://www.mainebiz.biz/news44852.html

Portlandbiz
A new nonprofit offers pro bono legal services to creative types

By Whit Richardson

Mainebiz New Media Editor

07/07/09

Ezekiel Callanan, executive director of Maine Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, stands in David Marshall's Constellation Gallery, where the nonprofit's office is locatedWhen Eric Bettencourt incorporated his recording business Shadow Shine Records in Portland earlier this year, he spent six hours in meetings with a lawyer and ended up paying $1,400 in legal fees.

Given his modest budget, when Bettencourt's legal questions started piling up -- mostly trademark and copyright questions referring to his work with other artists -- he knew he needed to look for alternatives. So when the Portland Music Foundation referred him to a new organization called Maine Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, Bettencourt gave it a shot. The organization, founded last June by two recent graduates of the University of Maine School of Law, put Bettencourt in touch with a local attorney who offered his services pro bono. "I don't know what I'd do without [the organization]," Bettencourt says. "I don't have the budget to go back to another six-hour meeting to figure it all out."

Bettencourt is exactly the type of artist the Maine VLA was designed to help, says Ezekiel Callanan, co-founder and executive director of the organization. Its mission is to provide legal and educational resources to Maine artists with limited financial resources. Callanan says every artist who makes a living through their craft is their own small business. "Maine is very rich and vibrant," he says. "[The creative economy] is something I see as the future of Maine's economy."

The organization is gaining steam this summer. It has set up some office space and has already helped 16 artists and organizations in Maine. The organization doesn't have a budget yet, but it is planning its first educational event in October that will focus on artists' finances and taxes. Right now the Maine VLA is a referral service, which means it puts the artist in touch with a lawyer willing to offer his or her services pro bono or for a fixed fee. In the future, Callanan says, Maine VLA would like to service clients in-house. Services are pro bono or fixed fee, with artists paying a $50 membership fee, as well as a $35 application fee for individual artists, and an $85 application fee for established organizations.

Artists of all stripes are welcome: graphic artists, culinary artists, martial artists, healing artists. "If you think you're an artist, you probably are," he says when asked how the organization defines "artist." The organization will help the artist navigate legal issues that are often lost on artists-cum-business owners. "Artists may have the skills to be successful artists," Callanan says. "But many don't have the skills to run a successful business."

David Marshall, a painter, Portland city councilor and owner of Constellation Gallery, agrees that artists aren't always the best business people. He says successful artists these days are expected to have more than just artistic talent. "To be an artist today, you're faced with many unprecedented challenges, not only from dealing with contractual relationships and intellectual property law, but you're also expected to maintain your own website in order to have an Internet presence, and so you have to become a jack of all trades to be an artist," says Marshall, who's also donated space for Maine VLA's office. "Any assistance that can be provided in the legal realm as far as how to set up a business model is really critical to moving artists forward. Maine VLA certainly provides that vital link."

Callanan founded the organization with Nick Holton in June 2008, then the pair spent the rest of the summer studying for the bar exam. The organization gained traction in December 2008, when it held its first board meeting. Holton had left the state for a job in October 2008, leaving Callanan, who's still searching for a paying job, to do most of the work himself.

The organization is modeled after a national Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts program. New York established the first one in 1973, and today there are currently about 35 independent VLAs in the United States, according to Callanan. When Callanan decided to start a Maine chapter, he discovered there had actually been a Maine Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts that operated in the state from 1993 to 2001, but was administratively dissolved when its founder, Elizabeth Adams, left the state.

Callanan says the organization already had grant applications turned down by the Libra Foundation, the Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission, but he is confident the organization will receive the grants next year after it's proven how much it can do on a shoestring budget, and how much more it could do with money.

Besides the goal of providing artists with legal counsel, the organization also offers lawyers an opportunity to fill their pro bono obligation with interesting cases. Lawyers are expected to provide around 50 hours of pro bono work a year, but most of the conventional referrals are for family law cases, foreclosure cases, criminal cases -- all "pretty depressing" cases, Callanan says. Helping artists establish businesses, protect copyrights, negotiate contracts, on the other hand, are often more fulfilling cases for lawyers to work on.

Chelsea Fournier, a first-year associate attorney at Preti Flaherty, as well as Callanan's girlfriend, agrees. "Some of the clients we get in, even if you're doing it for free, sometimes it's the most exciting thing in your caseload," she says. "Artists have interesting things going on. They're in the trenches."

Fournier, who normally charges $165 an hour for her services, is currently working with a woman who has a business decorating plastic flamingoes and is trying to protect her trademark rights from a former employer. Fournier has spent 12 hours working on the case and has watched her client become empowered once she knew her legal rights. "It's rewarding as an attorney to see some growth, and that you may be having an impact on someone," she says. "There are a lot of artists who have problems, but don't know how to access the legal system, so it's an exciting opportunity for Maine's creative economy -- to make Maine a destination for artists."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Social media help city reach residents

Using Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, Portland officials hope to connect with younger adults.

By TOM BELL, Staff Writer June 29, 2009

PLUG IN TO CITY NEWS

TO SIGN UP for the newsletter, visit the city's Web site, www.ci.portland.me.us.

THE CITY'S Facebook page can be viewed by searching for Portland Cityline at facebook.com.

FOLLOW CITY NEWS via Twitter; search for PortlandCitylin.

NICOLE CLEGG, the city's communication director, said she's looking for ideas from people about what to put on the sites and how often to update them. She can be reached at nicoleclegg@portlandmaine.gov.



PORTLAND — In the annals of communication breakthroughs, it was not quite up there with, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you," the words uttered by Alexander Graham Bell during the first telephone call 133 years ago.

But let it be recorded that on June 3 at 4:02 p.m., the city of Portland issued its first ever official tweet: "Bayside Trail Groundbreaking Ceremony and Festival this Saturday from 10-2 at Marginal Way and Franklin Arterial. www.tpl.org/bayside."

The city's new Twitter account is part of a larger city effort to use social networking Web sites to communicate with residents.

City residents can now check Facebook or Twitter for news from City Hall, such as traffic alerts and notices of important meetings. Residents can also sign up for an e-mail newsletter.

City officials want to reach out to younger adults who may not read newspapers or watch local television news programs, said Nicole Clegg, the city's communications director.

"The idea is to connect more people to the process and what the city is doing," she said.

As of Friday, the city had 411 Facebook fans, more than 100 Twitter followers and nearly 300 people signed up for the city's e-mail newsletter.

Clegg said she shapes the message based on the format.

On Twitter, she is limited to 140 characters, such as her tweet: "Kiwanis Pool opens in a week. Take a class, swim laps or bring the kids to the splashpark." Twitter can also be used to warn of street closures, parking bans or emergencies.

Followers can also respond. Bob O'Brien of Portland last week tweeted back to the city: "Kudos to Portland Public Works for filling that nasty pothole at Vaughn and Danforth. That was a wheel-eater!"

In an interview, O'Brien said he would never have picked up the telephone to call City Hall, but the Twitter account made it easy to give the city feedback.

"It improves access," he said.

Facebook allows for posting photos as well as plenty of text, such as Police Chief James Craig's 650-word "Letter to the Community."

Portland isn't the first southern Maine city to venture into social media. The Auburn and Westbrook police departments also have Facebook pages, for instance, as does the Gorham Recreation Department.

Clegg said the newsletter, called Cityline, will be e-mailed biweekly to avoid overwhelming people. It contains basic information, such as trash pickup changes and notices of upcoming events.

She explained that she's a novice in the use of the Internet for social networking.

She said she got the idea from Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who had asked her to include a sharing tool on the city's online press releases so he could post them on his Facebook page. (Donoghue has 1,185 friends.) She's also receiving advice from Councilor David Marshall (694 Facebook friends).

Both Donoghue and Marshall use their Facebook pages to inform their constituents about city politics and upcoming meetings and to get feedback on policy proposals.

Donoghue, for example, received 17 responses to his query this week on what people think about Tasers.

"Facebook provides a high-exposure, low-friction platform to share information," Donoghue said. "Anything we can do to open up City Hall is a good thing for the residents of Portland."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Before reading this article by Tom Bell of the Portland Press Herald please be aware of a couple of facts. First of all, the City of Portland did enter into negotiations for the lease and redevelopment of the Maine State Pier with Ocean Properties.

During the meeting in which the Council voted on the issue, I read quotes from city managers and city councilors from up and down the east coast about Ocean Properties history of suing cities and doing work without permits. All of the quotes I read in the meeting can be seen in The Bollard http://www.thebollard.com/bollard/?p=2615 in the article Ocean Properties’ less flattering side.

Ocean Properties negotiated with the City of Portland for eleven days before giving up on January 16, 2009. You probably remember last winter we witnessed the deepening of the global financial crisis with giant financial institutions vanishing from the globe. Yet, Ocean Properties supporters point to a Street Artist from the West End (me)as the reason for their withdrawal. Whatever the case, if Ocean Properties was scared away because of one City Councilor telling the truth about their past business practices, then it clear the deal was not meant to be.

The Olympia Company, on the other hand, negotiated with the City for eleven months before the State of Maine threatened legal action against the City if a long-term lease deal were to be signed with Olympia. The original order to negotiate with Olympia was one that I sponsored two years ago as a super-majority of my constituents believed Olympia's plan for the Maine State Pier to be superior. The City Council decided in November of 2008 to end negotiations with Olympia as the deal would have required litigating over who owns the submerged lands under the Maine State Pier: either the State or the City.

As a landlord and owner of Constellation Gallery, I know the importance of making wise investments. While on the City Council I have supported economic development and the growth of the City's tax base by working to update zoning, reducing parking requirements, supporting tax breaks that make sense, creating funding mechanisms to invest in the creative economy, and investing in City buildings to save energy and money.

As the Chair of the Housing Committee I sponsored an order to update the zoning to make housing development possible in the B2 business zones on the Peninsula. Also I supported reducing parking requirements for housing developments on the Peninsula after hearing from numerous architects and developers that the Cities parking requirements were the top barrier to development in Portland. Last month I supported a tax break to help Power Pay rehabilitate the former Public Market building since the deal made financial sense and created jobs.

As the Co-Chair of the Creative Economy Steering Committee, I envisioned and created a funding mechanism to reinvest in the local creative economy. As the Chair of the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee, I worked to pass green building codes and renovate City buildings to save energy and money while creating green jobs.


Greens sprout into effective bloc in city politics

Three city councilors focus their advocacy on key issues, but critics say economic development suffers.

By TOM BELL, Staff Writer June 28, 2009

Portland City Council members, from left, John Anton, Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall are members of the Green Independent Party, which promotes such values as social justice and community-based economics.

WEIGHING THE GREENS

"The dynamics have changed. This council as a group generally works pretty well together." – Councilor Nicholas Mavodones

"The question is, does their success on environmental issues outweigh the Maine State Pier debacle?" – Councilor Dan Skolnik

PORTLAND — Three years after first winning seats on the Portland City Council, the Green Independent Party can claim some success in pushing its agenda through City Hall.

Political observers say the three Greens on the council have proved to be effective consensus-builders on their core issues, such as reducing the city's energy usage and revamping land-use and transportation plans to encourage more housing downtown and less reliance on automobiles.

"These are the guys who are moving and shaking," said Christopher O'Neil, the Portland Community Chamber's liaison to City Hall. "There is some question among Portlanders as to whether Portland should be moving or shaking, but the fact of the matter is ... they are the ones driving the agenda."

Critics, though, say that the Greens have put ideology ahead of economic development and that some of their ideas benefit a minority of the city's population at the expense of the majority.

The Greens on the council include Kevin Donoghue, 30, who represents the East End, and David Marshall, 31, who represents the West End. Both were elected in 2006 and plan to run for re-election this November.

The third Green member is John Anton, 44, sometimes called the "grown-up Green" because he is older and more moderate on some issues. Anton was elected two years ago to an at-large seat.

The rest of the council is made up of five Democrats and one Republican.

The Greens do have a distinct political philosophy. Founded 25 years ago, the party now claims 32,000 members statewide. Members adhere to 10 key values: grass-roots democracy; social justice and equal opportunity; ecological wisdom; nonviolence; decentralization; community-based economics and economic justice; feminism and gender equity; respect for diversity; personal and global responsibility; and future focus and sustainability.

On the Portland City Council, the Greens frequently challenge the status quo and advocate for more transparency in government and more public involvement.

On the environment, they are "urban greens," embracing the philosophy that high-density neighborhoods use land more efficiently and allow people to get around without automobiles. They believe that many of the city's policies and ordinances reflect a suburban point of view rather than the city's historic development patterns.

Many people mistakenly believe that the Greens are left of the Democrat Party, said Steven Scharf, president of the Portland Taxpayers Association and an activist in the Republican Party. But Scharf said the Greens are fiscally conservative. He noted that on the Finance Committee, Anton was a strong advocate this year for a budget with no tax increase.

He said the Greens have accomplished more in a three-year period than most city politicians have in recent history, in part because they work hard, show a willingness to compromise and have realistic goals.

"Their ideas are not so far off the wall they can't be done," he said.

The Greens' platform highlights the role of party politics on a board that is supposed to be nonpartisan. Anton, though, said the council is not as polarized by party affiliation as many people believe.

"We have a lot more in common than we are different," he said. "Plunk the City Council down in the middle of Kansas, and we'd all be seen as a bunch of left-wing freaks."

PIER PROCESS DRAWS COMPLAINTS

Critics have big complaints about the Greens' decision to back Olympia Cos. to redevelop the Maine State Pier, rather than Ocean Properties. By selecting the smaller company whose plans were in conflict with state law, over a much larger and wealthier company, the Greens assured that nothing would be done, said Councilor Dan Skolnik.

When Olympia Cos. pulled out and the council then endorsed Ocean Properties, Marshall spoke so harshly against Ocean Properties' business practices that his comments might have caused the company to pull out of the deal, Skolnik said.

In the end, nothing was done, the city was ridiculed, and Portland lost revenue that could have kept workers employed, Skolnik said.

"What's the better benefit?" he asked. "The question is, does their success on environmental issues outweigh the Maine State Pier debacle?"

Markos Miller, former president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association, said Donoghue has worked hard to involve residents in the planning process.

He noted that the city's effort to redesign Franklin Arterial began as a neighborhood initiative.

"He made sure City Hall was aware of it and brought us into (City Manager) Joe Gray's office," Miller said.

Harold Pachios, a lawyer who sometimes represents clients who have issues with the city, said many of the Greens' ideas – such as reducing the number of parking spaces required for new development on the peninsula – will make it harder for many people who depend on vehicles to visit or commute to the city.

He said Marshall and Donoghue in particular don't seem interested in economic development and strengthening the city's tax base.

"All the good things that Donoghue and Marshall would like to do depend on money, depend on revenue," Pachios said. "Otherwise, the schools and other services are going to suffer."

The Greens say the city is better off that the Maine State Pier projects have collapsed because the council can now more thoughtfully plan the pier development. They also say that some of their accomplishments – such as an energy audit that will guide the city as it spends nearly $700,000 in federal stimulus money on energy-saving improvements – will allow Portland to spend more money on services without raising taxes.

Marshall, who owns a downtown art gallery, said the Greens support economic development. He pointed to an ordinance he crafted that directs new property revenue in the arts district toward investments that foster the creative economy.

With the Maine State Pier issue dormant, the council in recent months has been working much more as a collective group, some members say. Some proposals are now winning unanimous approval, and partisan lines are less apparent.

"The dynamics have changed," Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said. "This council as a group generally works pretty well together."

Mayor Jill Duson, who chairs the council meetings, said Anton's ability to articulate his positions has increased his influence. She said Donoghue and Marshall, like other new councilors before them, have learned how to work with the city staff and other councilors to achieve their goals.

"I think the Greens are doing well in managing to figure out how to be effective in our group of nine," she said. "Of course, I'd like to see those seats filled by Democrats, but they are doing fine."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Proposal's goal: Fewer cars in Portland

http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=264072&ac=PHnws

Officials' primary focus is to boost alternative transportation in the city.
By TOM BELL, Staff Writer June 24, 2009

PORTLAND — City officials want to raise money for transit projects, such as new bus shelters and bicycle racks, by charging developers a fee instead of requiring them to create parking space.

The proposal by the Portland Peninsula Transit Study Committee is intended to give developers more flexibility and at the same time aid alternative transportation in Portland.

It's all part of a broader city initiative to make it easier for residents – eventually – to get around the city without a car.

"The presumption is that most households will own a car," City Councilor Kevin Donoghue told planners at a workshop Tuesday. "But the hope is that fewer people will use them to commute and won't have to keep them at their job."

The Planning Board is examining some of the many recommendations made by the 13-member committee, which wants to reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles and promote alternative forms of transportation.

It issued a report in December, and the City Council is expected to take up its policy proposals this summer or in the early fall.

The panel's proposals include creating more bike lanes and paths; increasing the frequency of bus service and changing bus routes; encouraging car-sharing; expanding the parking lot at the Portland Transportation Center; and increasing the number of park-and-ride locations near the Maine Turnpike and in neighboring towns.

The Planning Board is looking at the proposals that address parking. Those include:

• Adopting a "park once" strategy for commercial development by requiring developers with new projects to share parking spaces with other users in the district. The increased efficiency of sharing spaces would mean fewer spaces would be required for each developer, transit committee members say.

• Separating the cost of housing from the cost of providing parking spaces. Currently, city rules on the peninsula require that developers provide one parking space for every housing unit. As a result, the cost of the housing unit is "bundled" with the cost of parking.

By separating the cost, committee members believe, the housing units and parking spaces could be marketed separately. This would lower the cost of housing for people who don't own cars, but it would give more spaces for people willing to pay for them.

• Allowing developers to pay the city a fee in lieu of providing parking spaces. The revenue would fund alternative transportation improvements or shared parking facilities in central locations.

Planning Board members on Tuesday appeared supportive of the proposals and set a public hearing for July 14.

Christopher O'Neil, the Portland Community Chamber's liaison to City Hall, said that for the most part, developers appear to be indifferent or on board with the proposals. They appreciate the additional flexibility, he said.

Planning Board member Joe Lewis, however, expressed concern that requiring people living in new developments without parking to lease parking elsewhere could make it so expensive that only affluent people will have a place to park their cars.

Senior planner William Needelman said the proposal will not affect the supply of parking spaces and is intended to make housing more affordable.

"This is a policy that puts housing in front of parking," he said.

Donoghue, who chairs the transit committee, said the new parking rules can lower the cost of development because builders won't have to provide as much parking.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: tbell@pressherald.com
Copyright 2009 by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Portland to spend stimulus for energy uses

The City Council votes to hire the city's first full-time 'sustainability coordinator.'

By TOM BELL, Staff Writer June 16, 2009

PORTLAND — The City Council voted Monday to spend nearly $700,000 in federal stimulus money to hire the city's first full-time "sustainability coordinator" and invest in energy-efficiency improvements.

Such coordinators are now common in large corporations, universities and a growing number of cities, and are typically energy conservation experts.

The council approved spending $168,000 for the position – salary and benefits for three years. It agreed to spend the rest of the money, $520,700, on energy improvements such as new lights, insulation, heating system improvements and weatherization.

The improvements will be based on recommendations of an energy audit that is due to be complete by the end of this month.

The city hired Framingham, Mass.-based Ameresco Inc. earlier this year to do a $150,000 energy audit and develop options for how the city can lower its energy bill.

The city could then decide to enter into a performance contract with Ameresco, which would act as a general contractor for the project.

If that happens, the $150,000 audit cost will be rolled into the contract. If the city does not move forward on the project, it will pay Ameresco for the audit.

The concept behind performance contracts is simple: They leverage money saved on energy and operating costs to pay for building improvements.

By using the federal stimulus dollars on the energy upgrades, the city will benefit sooner from the savings generated by the investment, said Councilor David Marshall, chairman of the council's Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee.

"What we want is the biggest reduction in our carbon footprint for our dollar," he said.

Because of the energy audit, the savings will be easy to calculate, putting Portland in a strong position to seek more money for similar programs from the federal government, he said.

The project is on the fast track. The city will receive $250,000 from the federal government by the end of this month, and the rest of the money later this year.

Councilor Cheryl Leeman expressed concern about creating a new position when the federal funding is available for only three years.

"This is a one-time infusion of money," she said. "I don't want to hire someone and have to lay them off."

The city owns 55 buildings, not including the Portland International Jetport, which is not part of the audit, and spends roughly $8 million a year on energy.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: tbell@pressherald.com
Copyright 2009 by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. All rights reserved.

http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=262437&ac=PHnws
Portland may seek leader for all things 'green'

A plan calls for hiring a full-time coordinator of sustainability efforts
By JOHN RICHARDSON, Staff Writer June 3, 2009

Portland's parks and trails have helped the city earn a reputation as an earth-friendly place.

Now some city officials and others want Portland to hire its first full-time sustainability coordinator to help make it a truly "green" community.

The coordinator would be responsible for reducing energy use and other environmental impacts, and the position initially would be backed with federal stimulus funds. City Councilor David Marshall, chairman of Portland's Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee, plans to propose the new position at the June 15 council meeting.

The idea also has the support of other city officials, and it was a top recommendation by students from the Muskie School of Public Service who recently compared Portland's environmental efforts with those in other U.S. cities.

"There's opportunities for Portland to really establish itself as a sustainable community, and if we want to do that, the sustainability coordinator is the next step," said Kristel Sheesley, a graduate student and one of the researchers.

The students found that a coordinator could help make a long list of changes, from expanding community gardens to keeping dog waste and other pollutants out of Back Cove and Casco Bay.

Sustainability coordinators are now common in large corporations, universities and a growing number of cities, and are typically energy-conservation experts.

Marshall's committee wants to hire the coordinator for three years using part of a $684,000 energy-conservation block grant that the city expects to receive over the next few months. The City Council would decide whether to keep the position at the city's expense after three years, and Marshall said he's confident that reduced energy costs and reduced waste in other areas would more than cover the annual expense of the job.

If the full council approves the proposal this month, the coordinator could be hired this summer, officials said.

"There's always room for improvement in this area. In Portland, and every other city in this country, we have a very, very long way to go," Marshall said. "The sustainability coordinator is a key ingredient."

Overseeing Portland's energy-conservation efforts and environmental programs is now part of the job of the city's solid waste director, Troy Moon, and Moon and Marshall's two-year-old sustainability committee has been making progress, advocates say.

Last month, the city adopted energy-efficiency standards for new city-owned or city-financed buildings, for example. And a contractor is due to report back to the city this month after reviewing the energy use and conservation potential in more than 50 existing city-owned buildings.

Portland also has increased investment in reducing sewage discharges during rainstorms and is trying to encourage more alternative transportation. On Tuesday, for example, the city announced the designation of 31 new downtown parking spaces for motorized scooters and motorcycles.

"There's a lot of this stuff going on – it just needs to be expanded," said Sheesley, one of the Muskie students who studied Portland's green potential as part of a Sustainable Communities Seminar last semester.

The students interviewed local experts in a variety of areas, such as alternative energy and water quality, and compared Portland with other cities. It presented its recommendations to Marshall's sustainability committee last month.

"The common thread seemed to be for a city of its size, Portland seems to be taking a lot of steps in the right direction. At the same time, there's a lot of room for improvement," Sheesley said.

The students' recommendations ranged from getting better prepared for climate change and rising sea levels, to simply providing more waste containers near walking trails so dog owners have an easier time cleaning up after their pets. Dog waste frequently finds its way into local bodies of water.

Sheesley's own research team focused on local foods and recommended that Portland turn more city land into community gardens, among other things.

"There's a strong demand for locally produced food in Portland," she said.

The Muskie students all agreed that the city needs a full-time person devoted to energy and environmental efforts.

"Other cities around the country have positions like that. It seems to work well," Sheesley said.

Fred Padula, a Portland activist, also said the city has much work to do. One official with real authority could change wasteful practices throughout government and expand the effort into the community by helping residents take advantage of energy-efficiency programs, he said.

"You give (the coordinator) a couple of years, and if he can't save as much energy costs to the city as his salary costs, then he's not doing a good job," Padula said.

Adding a new city-financed position would be a tough sell given the city's financial condition, but the availability of federal grant money makes it much more appealing, said Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr., chairman of the Finance Committee.

"I think it makes sense provided this grant money is available," Mavodones said. "The money's out there and I think it would be prudent for us to take advantage of it."

Mavodones said the city could then decide in three years whether to keep the coordinator. "I'd like to think the position would more than pay for itself, but we'd have to analyze that," he said.

Moon said there are plenty of ways to reduce environmental impact and save money.

The new position "would definitely be a big help," he said. "In terms of what we're trying to accomplish there'll be no lack of things to do."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

http://www.mainebiz.biz/news44574.html

Portland passes green ordinance to encourage carbon and cash savings

By Rebekah Metzler

Mainebiz Contributing Writer

05/12/09

The Portland City Council in early April approved a building ordinance that will require all city-funded new construction and major renovation projects to be built to the Silver standard of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The ordinance, which originally was met with some opposition by the local chamber of commerce, is part of a larger effort to meet goals outlined by the Architecture 2030 Challenge, according to city officials.

The ordinance applies to city renovation projects that are more than 5,000 square feet and all new city-funded private construction and renovation projects more than 10,000 square feet. Both types of projects would also need to have a total cost of more than $250,000 for the ordinance to take effect, according to the measure. It also applies to projects receiving more than $25,000 in Tax Increment Funding or municipal grants, which meet the other project criteria.

"If you are going to get a tax break for building in the city of Portland, you are going to be building for the future," David Marshall, the city councilor who introduced the proposal, told Mainebiz. "It was a huge step in the right direction."

The goal of the challenge from Architecture 2030, a Santa Fe, N.M.-based nonprofit, is to achieve carbon neutrality for all new buildings by 2030.

Marshall said he spent many months working with developers and other potential stakeholders on the ordinance's language to diffuse potential concerns

"We wanted to pass a good ordinance, because any time you tie any sort of string to an incentive, developers may see that as an obstacle," he said.

Susan Ransom, marketing director for PDT Architects, Portland-based firm that specializes in LEED-certified buildings, said even though the economy is in a recession, it's still a good time for such a measure.

"Yes, we're in a recession, but we're talking about permanent buildings -- long-term it's going to save money and save energy and make people more comfortable in buildings," she said. "This is not just about being high-minded and doing the ‘right' thing."

The point system used for obtaining LEED certifications offers options that don't necessarily cost developers more than building a non-certified building, Ransom added.

"LEED involves a checklist so development is very individualized to the building and which ‘points' the project aims to get," she said. "Ten years ago, when LEED was first invented, it was generally considered to be a much more expensive way of building. But you can get points for using a building with existing utilities or not using an irrigation system for your landscape."

The whole point of LEED is to save resources in the long term, Ransom said, which often results in monetary savings.

Some changes were made to the proposal to address concerns raised by the local Chamber of Commerce, Marshall said.

"They didn't want to see this have negative consequences that people hadn't anticipated, so we tried to think of the different projects it would have an effect on," he said. "We raised the square footage for projects receiving tax incentives from 5,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet."

"We initially objected, but we did come along," said Chris O'Neil, of Drummond Woodsum, representing the local chamber. "In general, what they did was raise the bar, so it wasn't punitive especially in smaller projects where the certification could be cost prohibitive."

The city planning director can also issue waivers in cases where the LEED certification process might impact the character of a historical renovation project, Marshall said.

Marshall called the policy a "living" ordinance.

"We might see some hurdles come up," he said. "We're largely in new frontier of policy-making, so you have to be flexible."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

PUBLIC ART COMMITTEE CHAIR JACK SOLEY AND COUNCILOR DAVE MARSHALL VOLUNTEER THEIR MORNING TO CLEAN THE PUBLIC ART BUS SHELTER

PORTLAND, MAINE



Saturday, May 09, 2009

PRESS HERALD

Taxes and the arts: Portland sees a way to benefit both

http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=255389&ac=PHnws

Revenue from an arts-tax district will be earmarked to support innovative businesses and the arts.

By TOM BELL, Staff Writer May 9, 2009

PORTLAND — Cities in Maine have used money from special tax districts to pay for things such as parking garages and extending sewer lines.

Portland will be the first to use such a district to promote the creative economy.

The fiscal 2010 budget endorsed by the City Council's Finance Committee includes $30,000 raised from the city's new Arts Tax Increment Financing District.

The money would be used to promote the arts and cultural events in the city, and to support innovative business initiatives.

"This is a new frontier on how to use TIF money," said City Councilor David Marshall. "The intent is to use it for the public good, and I really believe that using TIFs for arts and cultural purposes gets to the heart of the public good."

The tax district mirrors the city's arts district, which runs along Congress Street, between State and Pearl streets. Money generated in the tax district can be used to promote creative enterprises throughout the city.

The money is raised when new construction or renovation in a district increases a property value and generates more tax dollars.

Most of the new value this year was created when Greg Shinberg purchased the former University of Southern Maine's Portland Hall dormitory on Congress Street and converted it into an apartment building.

The $30,000 represents 57 percent of the additional tax revenue raised in the district. The rest of the money would go into the city's general fund.

The $30,000 is considered seed money because it can be used only if money from other sources matches it.

When the council created the Arts District TIF, it established the Creative Portland Corp. to distribute the money. That agency exists only on paper.

City officials are now talking about merging the Creative Portland Corp. with the Portland Arts & Cultural Alliance, a nonprofit that manages the First Friday's Art Walk and has a budget of $50,000.

By merging the two agencies, the city can take advantage of the expertise of the Portland Arts & Culture Alliance. In addition, the agency's budget can be used as a match, Marshall said.

The tax program is structured so it caps the amounts of money that can be spent on the arts at $30,000 this year, $70,000 next year and $100,000 in the third year.

The agency is open to the idea of the merger, said Catherine Valenza, the agency's executive director. She said the additional money could be used to leverage current public and private efforts and create new ways to bolster the city's creative economy.

"Pooling our efforts and forming creative partnerships is important during these difficult economic times," she said.

The Creative Economy Steering Committee last October recommended the new tax district after holding meetings for more two years. The committee, established by former mayor James Cohen, represented a variety of creative enterprises in Portland, including cultural organizations, specialty manufacturers, and architectural firms, marketing companies, colleges and the media.

Portland's growth is strongly tied to its quality of life, including arts and culture, as well as the city's ability to leverage the growth in knowledge-based businesses, Cohen said.

"We need to maintain what we've got and improve in order to maintain our competitive advantage," he said. "This can help set Portland apart from other communities in the region and the country."

In 2006, Americans for the Arts found that the direct economic impact of spending by nonprofit arts and cultural audiences in Portland was $15.4 million – about five times larger than in regions of similar size.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherarld.com
Copyright 2009 by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The City Council unanimously voted to adopt Green Building Codes on Monday April 4, 2009. See the story in the Press Herald and listen to MPBN's Maine Things Considered by clicking on the link below and then listening to the Thursday, April 9, 2009 edition.

http://www.mpbn.net/OnDemand/AudioOnDemand/MaineThingsConsidered/tabid/633/Default.aspx

PRESS HERALD

http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=249429&ac=PHnws

Portland City Council votes to go green

New city-owned buildings and renovations will be certified for green design and energy efficiency.

By TOM BELL, Staff Writer April 7, 2009

PORTLAND — The City Council voted unanimously Monday to require new city-owned buildings and renovation projects to be certified for energy efficiency and "green" building design.

The ordinance also affects developers of major projects that receive tax breaks or grants from the city, including federal and state grants the city controls.

The ordinance is part of the city's effort to reduce its carbon footprint and combat global warming, said Councilor David Marshall, who chairs the council's Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee.

Because heating and cooling of buildings generates 40 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, increasing energy efficiency is the best way to combat global warming, Marshall said.

"In this case, the city is showing leadership, saying we are going to impose this on ourselves, we are going to do the right thing," he said.

The new standards apply to city-owned buildings larger than 5,000 square feet.

To appease the business community, the council adopted an amendment that applies the ordinance only to private projects larger than 10,000 square feet.

The council approved another amendment limiting the ordinance to major renovations, such as when renovation costs are as great as the total value of a property.

Chris O'Neil of the Portland Community Chamber said he was pleased with the changes.

"Hardly anybody is entirely thrilled with it," he said. "But what you've got is palatable, forward-looking and – if indeed sustainable – will be good for all of us."

Robert Hains, a retired landlord who has renovated many buildings, said the goals are laudable but he worries about unintended consequences.

"Some of these things are not going to work to rehab older buildings," he said.

To comply with the ordinance, projects will have to be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, which was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The program is a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

The program recognizes performance in five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

Projects are awarded points for specific practices in each area.

Depending on the number of points earned, a building is awarded a "certified," "silver," "gold" or "platinum" ranking.

The city's ordinance requires projects to earn at least a "silver" certification.

The standards address energy efficiency, use of natural lighting, recycling materials, non-polluting carpet and paint, and low-flow water fixtures and toilets.

To gain certification, developers would have to pay from $2,500 to $15,000, depending on the size of the project.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com
The City of Portland will use streetlights more efficiently to save money and decrease our carbon emissions. A three-step plan will see its first step implemented through this year's budget by reducing the City's streetlights by 25% we will save $225,000 a year.

After assessing the inventory, Public Services Department will eliminate the lights that are not necessary for safety. Over lit areas can cause problems as bright lights cause more shadows, cause people to squint, and force eyes to readjust when leaving the overly lit area. The streetlight reduction will occur along the arterial streets, away from the high-crime areas near the downtown.

The second step will be to convert all of the 1,400 streetlights the City owns to Light Emitting Diodes, which promises energy savings of 50%. The third step will be to gain ownership of the remaining 4,200 lights from CMP and convert those to LED's as well.

Check out the link to MPBN to hear the Maine Watch episode on the Dark Skies movement and see the Press Herald story below.

MPBN Maine Watch
April 3, 2009 - The Dark Skies Movement

http://www.mpbn.net/ProgramsSchedules/LocalPrograms/Television/MaineWatch/tabid/477/ctl/ViewItem/mid/2547/ItemId/9935/Default.aspx



PRESS HERALD

http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=247779&ac=PHnws

Portland to consider lights-out proposal

Streetlight reductions could save up to $225,000 a year and shrink the city's carbon footprint, officials say.

By TOM BELL, Staff Writer March 30, 2009

PORTLAND — City officials plan to remove hundreds of streetlights in an effort to reduce the city's carbon footprint and save money.

Officials have yet to decide how many lights to remove, but they say the savings would be considerable.

Removing 10 percent of the light fixtures would save the city an estimated $100,000 a year, Public Services Director Michael Bobinsky told the City Council's Finance Committee last Thursday. Removing 25 percent of the fixtures would save as much as $225,000, he said,

Bobinsky said the most likely streets affected would be the city's arterials and collectors, such as Congress Street, Forest and Washington avenues and parts of Stevens Avenue.

He said the city would not remove lights from high-crime areas, downtown or the Old Port.

Officials also hope to reduce the wattage used by some streetlights; use photocell technology to turn off streetlights when they're not needed; and eventually replace mercury vapor and high-pressure sodium lights with energy-saving light-emitting diode streetlights.

The city spends $1.2 million a year on 7,600 streetlights, the vast majority of which are leased from Central Maine Power.

"It's a lot of money," Bobinsky said in an interview, "and certainly, if there are ways we can reduce that, either with energy conservation or reduced lighting, I think that is what we will try to do."

Bobinsky said the city would remove lights in the middle of blocks rather than at intersections. The city would not remove lights on residential streets, he said.

He said his department would work with traffic engineers and the police department to develop a set of standards for deciding which lights will be removed and which ones will remain in place.

In addition, he said, Ameresco Inc., the Massachusetts company that is doing an energy audit on city-owned buildings, would include the 1,400 lights that the city owns as part of that audit.

Ameresco will identify ways in which investments can save the city money over the long term.

Moreover, Bobinsky said, the city has received $684,700 in federal stimulus funds to be used for energy efficiency, and a portion of the money will be used for buying more-efficient lights.

He said the city is working in cooperation with Central Maine Power, which leases light fixtures to the city based on the wattage of each fixture. If the city buys more energy-efficient lights for the CMP fixtures, he said, CMP would be able to lower the city's lease payments.

The initiative was developed in the council's Energy & Environmental Sustainability Committee, said City Councilor David Marshall, the committee's chair.

He said he believes the public would support the measure if the city can demonstrate that it is taking a thoughtful approach and is being considerate of the impact on neighborhoods.

The savings, he said, could translate into more and better services, such as more police officers.

Councilor Daniel Skolnik, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, said he is assured that the public would not be compromised, because Bobinsky is leading the effort.

"I don't think he will do anything reckless to save money," he said. "He is somebody who is a careful thinker and planner, and he knows what he's doing."

The effort to reduce energy consumption is consistent with other city polices, said City Council member John Anton.

"We should have done this a long time ago," he said.

Marshall said the initiative is part of a large national movement in which cities are trying to use lighting more efficiently in order to reduce energy usage and cut down on light pollution.

The public is becoming more aware of the need to reduce light pollution, said Martha Sheils, Maine representative of the International Dark-Sky Association.

Exessive lighting not only wastes money, but it also disorients migratory birds and makes it more difficult for people to see the night sky, she said.

But Sheils, a Portland resident, says the issue of lighting is politically difficult for local officials because people have strong feelings about the topic.

"Some people want more streetlights. Some want none," she said.

John Carroll, a spokesman for Central Maine Power, said the utility will cooperate with the city on the initiative. CMP crews would take down the light fixtures, most of which are on CMP poles. If a fixture is at least 15 years old, there is no fee for removing it.

The City Council will likely discuss the issue next month as part of the budget process.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com
Forbes Magazine Ranks Portland as the Nation's Most Livable City

http://www.wmtw.com/news/19084191/detail.html

Forbes Magazine gave us props for what we already knew was true. Portland is a great place to live and the arts scene, nightlife, diversity, safety, and job opportunities are some of the reasons. The rating is for cities with a metropolitan region of 500,000 people or more.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

http://www.theportlanddailysun.com/cgi/story.pl?storyid=20090317082141000825

Friday, January 16, 2009

http://www.mpbn.net/News/MaineNews/tabid/181/ctl/ViewItem/mid/1858/ItemId/8960/Default.aspx

Pier Project Scuttled Again

Listen

January 16, 2009 Reported By: Josie Huang

What was to be one of Maine's largest development projects in years no longer has anyone to build it. Ocean Properties has pulled out of talks to redevelop the dilapidated Maine State Pier after first pitching its $160 million proposal to the city of Portland more than two years ago. "It's pretty simple. It's a business decision, " says Harold Pachios, an attorney for the Portsmouth-based Ocean Properties. Pachios says that there aren't the resources or people to manage the project.



"Over the last year or two as the recession has deepened, Ocean Properties has been in a position to invest and build and has done so and there's only so much they can put on their plate. This a very large project here in Portland, a very complex project."

The city had initially awarded bargaining rights to a competitor of Ocean Properties. But two months ago, negotiations with rival Olympia fell through. Pachios, when asked whether things would have turned out differently had the city originally picked Ocean Properties last year, said he didn't want to re-open a debate. "Ocean Properties have been on the project and was prepared to go forward, but I don't think that really makes any difference in this. I think the city tried to do its best here."

Ocean Properties is led by Bangor native Tom Walsh. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and Robert Baldacci, brother of Gov. John Baldacci, were part of the team of high-profile Democrats that pushed Ocean's proposal. The company wanted to build a hotel, offices, parking garages and a maritime storage facility on the pier.

Portland city councilors say they are surprised and disappointed by Ocean's announcement, even as they expressed optimism for the project's future. "We know we need to fix the Maine State Pier -- that has not changed. We now need to go to the drawing board and figure out how."

Not only would the project have brought in much-needed tax revenue and waterfront jobs. It would have come with $18 million in repairs to the pier that the city cannot afford on its own. "While there is little time to lose, we will not be hasty or rash in our decision-making. I and the members of the City Council understand what is at stake and we remain focused."

The issue of who would be awarded the right to redevelop the Maine State Pier had sharply divided the council, and became a factor in the last election. That's when councilor Ed Suslovic, who supported Olympia's proposal, was ousted from his seat by Dory Waxman, a paid community organizer for Ocean Properties.

Councilor David Marshall, who opposed Ocean Properties' proposal, says that Ocean's exit means the the city can start the pier re-development process afresh.

He says the city gave developers too much leeway in directing plans for the state pier. "I think we now have an opportunity to take and have a citizen-driven process. This was a developer-driven process from the beginning and we need to go back and ask Portlanders what they want to do with their public pier."

A city spokeswoman counters such criticism by saying that the public had been invited to dozens of meetings to speak out on the topic. Next month, the city manager will present options for rehabing the state pier. The mayor says she hopes the pier could be included in the Obama administration's plan to fund infrastruture projects as part of a national stimulus package.
http://www.mpbn.net/News/MaineNews/tabid/181/ctl/ViewItem/mid/1858/ItemId/8931/Default.aspx

Municipal Campaign Finance Disclosures Unavailable

Listen

January 14, 2009 Reported By: Colin Woodard

Ever wonder if one of your elected representatives is in somebody's pocket? One way to find out has been to have a look at their campaign finance disclosures. In Maine, disclosures for candidates for federal, state and county offices are all just a web search away. But if you're interested in who's been underwriting the political careers of your local or city officials, you may be out of luck. Most of those documents have been destroyed with the blessing of state officials.



Even if you don't live in Portland, you've probably heard of the proposed multi-million dollar hotel and office development on the city-owned Maine State Pier that's stirred so much controversy. There are lots of archived news stories detailing the three-year-old saga. But if you were wondering who might have contributed to the campaigns of the local politicians who have shaped the story, you might be out of luck.

"In the 20 years I've been clerk, I have systematically destroyed the records according to the disposition rules," says Portland City Clerk Linda Cohen. Cohen says that on the advice of state authorities, municipal officials have been destroying disclosures, pulling them down from websites and shredding all paper copies--within as little as two years after an election. "I'm an administrator and I have to systematically clean out our files and that's how this has always been done under the rules that the state of Maine has handed down to us."

Under Maine statute, campaign records for candidates for county and state offices are retained for at least eight years, and can be downloaded at the website of the state's commission on governmental ethics. Candidates for local office in muncipalities of 15,000 or greater also must file disclosures, but those records fall under separate document retention rules interpreted by the Maine State Archives.

Those rules never mention campaign finance documents, but there is a clause that allows "all elections records not otherwise specified" to be destroyed after two years. According to State Archivist David Cheever, his staff has long interpreted that phrase to include campaign disclosures, and have advised city clerks that they may destroy them accordingly. "You're not dealing with irresponsible clerks out there who are hurrying around to trash records or dispose of records prematurely. You are looking at people who, to the best of their ability, have been following the regulation or the rule as it has been interpreted."

As a result, it is now impossible to trace over time the relationships between elected municipal officials and the real estate developers, unions, political action committees and individuals who underwrote their political careers. The city of Bangor has destroyed all campaign records prior to 2004, according to city clerk Patti Dubois. Last year, Portland pulled electronic records from its website, and has destroyed all records dated before 2006, including those of sitting city councilors. And Augusta recently shredded all disclosures dated before 2004.

"I'm very concerned that we do not have access more than two years old, especially when you consider that it takes some effort to destroy records, especially when they are electronic records, which most are today," says John Bartholomew, director of the Maine chapter of Common Cause, a public interest group that seeks to curb the influence of money in politics. "I would urge first and foremost any cities that are already doing this to stop. It is not required of them, it is only advised of them. So please, stop now."

Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics agrees that local records should not be destroyed after two years. "Ideally you would keep disclosures of how elections are financed and how candidates raise their money forever because it's good to know what a contributor's track record is with a politician."

Ritsch, whose Washington D.C.-based organization tracks money's influence on elections, says local politicians can be influenced by special interests. "Real estate developers are probably the biggest campaign contributor at the local level because they have so much at stake at what city councils and county planning boards do. They want approvals for their projects and one way that they grease the skids is through campaign contributions. And given the nature of development projects, that they don't just go up over night, it's all the more important that you keep records on hand of how developers have financed political campaigns beyond two years.

But Portland City Clerk Linda Cohen says that until now nobody has expressed concerns with current policy and that the rules are sensible. "From a space standpoint we don't have a lot of space to be keeping any documents that we don't have to keep forever longer than the disposition rules tell us to keep them. In order to be able to keep those records and be able to easily find them whenever the public wants to look at them I think the rules have been reasonable in the retention period for everything that the clerk's office deals with."

Change may be on its way. State officials have been contemplating a new requirement that local governments retain campaign disclosures for fifteen years, according to Archivist David Cheever. "We're going to recommend fifteen. We hope that's what it is. It will put an additional burden on some local governments to retain those records for that period but that's part of what's going to make this work so everybody can have access to this material for what we would consider to be a reasonable amount of time."

Cheever expects the proposed changes will come before the State Archives advisory board sometime this year.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Second Annual Report

The year of 2008 has presented us with many challenges that we are facing together. The global economic crisis has forced us to do more work with fewer resources. Over the past year I have focused my efforts on moving us towards a sustainable future, coordinating with Police Department and the neighborhood associations to address crime, refocusing economic development, and strengthening our neighborhoods.

Sustainability

Energy is at the core of the challenges that we face globally and locally. Our dependence on fossil fuels has led us to foreign wars and climate change. In order to face our ongoing energy and environmental challenges, we need bold action to decrease our energy usage, develop renewable energy sources, and reduce our carbon emissions.

The City Council uses standing committees to process policy for the Council to consider. Councilor Donoghue and I pushed Mayor Suslovic a year ago to create a new committee to develop energy policy and Mayor Suslovic created and chaired the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee to which I was appointed a member.

The first matter of business for the EESC was a Climate Action Plan to reduce Portland's carbon footprint. The, No Idling Ordinance was also enacted to decrease emissions from private automobiles. We initiated a request for proposals for an energy service contract. The City has received many of these proposals from energy service companies. One of the companies will be chosen to upgrade all of the City buildings and will be paid back through the savings. The investments will improve the energy performance of the City buildings while saving us money and reducing our energy use and carbon emissions.

With sustainability in mind, I worked with the State and the region to expand passenger rail service instead of widening I-295 between exits 5 and 7 in Portland. Last fall, Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee was prioritizing a request for federal tax dollars through an earmark from Maine's congressional delegation to widen I-295. Public hearings were announced for PACTS and the Maine Department of Transportation I-295 Corridor Study.

The League of Young Voters and I lead the effort to petition the State Government to invest in rail infrastructure and maintain the current road system instead of widening I-295. At a public hearing hosted by Maine DOT, over one hundred Portland residents delivered more than 450 petition signatures. At the hearing, public officials, GrowSmart Maine, the Sierra Club, and others told PACTS to drop its earmark request for I-295 expansion. A couple of weeks later, over 150 Portland residents spoke in favor of investing in transit instead of expanding I-295 at a public hearing hosted by PACTS.

In order to expand passenger rail service to Brunswick, the tracks needed to be upgraded. Working with Patricia Quin of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority and Tony Donovan of Fishman Realty, we developed a strategy to amend a bill for the State to guarantee a Federal rail infrastructure loan for NNEPRA. The Chair of the State Transportation Committee, Boyd Marley, successfully amended LD 2019 accordingly in the Committee. Speaker Cummings pushed for its passage in the Legislature. On the final day of the session LD 2019 passed the Appropriations Committee by one vote thanks to Governor Baldacci's influence. It was because of a strong group effort that we will have passenger rail service to Brunswick starting in 2010.

Finally, this fall PACTS voted to prioritize earmark funding requests for sustainable transportation investments and to remove I-295 widening from its top priority list. Councilor Donoghue, the only elected official on the PACTS Board, was key player in convincing the Board to drop the I-295 widening earmark request. Instead the PACTS Board requested regional transit vehicles, bicycle and pedestrian improvements to Veterans Bridge, and rail upgrades north of Portland for passenger rail. Thanks to the efforts of transportation activists across the State, we are now headed towards a sustainable future.

Public Safety

The Police Department under the leadership of Intern Chief Joe Loughlin, has a done a great job adjusting to the loss of the Police Chief, a Deputy Chief, and other members of the force due to injuries, staff reductions, and other challenges. Meanwhile the City has seen an increase in violent crimes in connection with crack and cocaine use. The West End and Parkside were hit particularly hard this year with high profile criminal activity.

As the Chair of the Public Safety Committee, I hosted a public forum for the Intern Chief to inform us on recent crime trends and provide safety tips. The forum emphasized the importance of our cooperation with the Police Department to address our challenges with crime. Through our neighborhood associations we have formed crime watch groups and have met regularly with the Police Department. With the help of the City Inspectors, Attorneys, and the Public Services Department, we have started to address the hot spots of crime in our neighborhoods.

In order to improve policing during tough financial times, we must share resources with neighboring cities. Portland took a big step this year by coordinating with cities and town in Cumberland County and the County Government to develop a regional crime lab at the Portland Police Headquarters. The crime lab will allow local law enforcement agencies to act more effectively and efficiently in solving crimes.

Finance

The 2008 Budget was the most difficult the City has seen for decades. Facing revenue shortfall and increased cost, I worked as a member of the Finance Committee to keep expenditures down. Through consolidation of departments and spreading staff reductions across all levels of all departments, the City – not including the School Department – was able to achieve an expenditure increase of less than 1%.

The consolidation, although a challenging undertaking, has brought forth efficiencies. Most notable is the ability of the Pubic Services Department to increase sidewalk plowing by 17 miles, a value of over $100,000. Before the consolidation, the Public Works Department plowed the streets while the Parks and Recreation Department plowed the sidewalks. Ineffective communication between departments often resulted in to ineffective snow clearance. Often the street plowing would push snow onto sidewalks that had already been plowed. In addition to the extra sidewalk plowing achieved through consolidation, the Finance Committee added 13 more miles through the budget.

With the active support of the West End Neighborhood Association, I was able to get the Council to amend the budget and save the Reiche Branch Library. After the Finance Committee had recommended the budget to the City Council, the Library Director announced that a $30,000 budget decrease would result in the closure of the Reiche Branch Library. During Council deliberations over the budget, I identified $30,000 that the Finance Committee had placed in a contingency fund. The Library Director agreed to develop a long-term facilities plan with public feedback and keep the Reiche Branch open in exchange.

The Finance Committee also developed the Creative Economy Steering Committee Recommendations into policies. The CESC, for which I was a co-chair, had embraced the idea of setting up a Tax Increment Financing District and used the TIF revenues for arts and cultural purposes. The Arts District TIF concept was one that I generated while running for City Council two and one-half years ago and published a letter to the editor in a June 2007 issue of the West End News regarding the matter.

With the help of Representative Herb Adams and the League of Young Voters, we were successful in amending State Law to allow the use of TIF revenues for arts and cultural purposes. In the Finance Committee we drew the lines for the Arts District TIF and set a plan for funding the Creative Portland Corporation, a quasi-municipal non-profit with the mission of growing the creative economy by implementing the CESC recommendations. It was a great to see the Council unanimously support the Arts District TIF and the rest of the Creative Economy Recommendations.

Strengthening Our Neighborhoods

As the District 2 City Councilor, my highest priority is to strengthen our neighborhoods through organization, planning, and strategic investment. The neighborhoods of District 2 are characterized as being the most diverse, youngest, with the highest levels of residential density. District 2 also consists of neighborhoods of affluence and poverty. Each neighborhood has unique assets and challenges.

The West End and Parkside are both affected by criminal activity with highly publicized events. Through the neighborhood associations we have been organizing crime watch groups. During neighborhood meetings we discuss the criminal activity with the Police Department and identify steps that can be taken by the City to address the challenges. Neighborhood beautification days have taken place in areas that are hot spots for criminal activity. Efforts are also underway to increase street lighting and porch lighting. Both the Maine Medical Center and Mercy Hospital are working with the neighborhoods and the City to address criminal activity.

Meetings to mediate issues of anticipated institutional expansion have been taking place with Waynefleet School, the Western Promenade Neighborhood Association, the West End Neighborhood Association, the City's Planning Department, and I. Through meetings that are mediated by Alan Holt of the Community Design Studio as a hired consultant, the parties are striving to develop an overlay zone for the Waynefleet School Campus. The overlay zone is being considered as part of a long term vision for the School with strong consideration for neighborhood concerns.

The Oakdale Neighborhood has benefited from increased street sweeping and new sidewalk investments. The Oakdale area near the University of Southern Maine – bordered by Forest Avenue, Dartmouth Street, Brighton Avenue and Deering Avenue – became part of District 2 after the 2000 Census. The sidewalk improvements were funded through the Capital Improvements Program, an annual program in which the City loans for physical improvements. The additional services and investments were brought forth in response to the activism of residents of Oakdale.

After a controversial contract zone was approved by the City Council on Valley Street, I initiated a planning effort with the residents, businesses, and organizations of the surrounding neighborhood. Several neighborhood forums were held in conjunction with Graduate Students of the Muskie School of Public Service with Alan Holt as the Instructor. The neighborhood forums resulted in the first steps towards a neighborhood plan along with calls for the creation of a new neighborhood association. Through helping a group of committed residents of the area, we drafted bylaws and formed the St John Valley Neighborhood Association. The SJVNA is now pursuing a planning process similar to the one that created the Bayside Vision and seeking much needed investments in public infrastructure.

Community Development Block Grant Funds are Federal tax dollars used to invest in entitlement neighborhoods that have the oldest housing stocks and the highest rates of poverty. The West End and Parkside have been entitlement neighborhoods for years. St John Valley Neighborhood became entitled after the 2000 Census when the median incomes of the residents fell below the poverty line and is lining up for its first CDBG investment this coming year. Just west of the St John Valley Neighborhood in District 3 is Libbytown, which also became an entitlement neighborhood after the 2000 Census. In District 1, the entitlement neighborhoods include Munjoy Hill, Bayside, and Cliff Island.

Over the past two years Parkside has received 66% of the CDBG funds spent on reconstructing sidewalks throughout the entitlement neighborhoods. Reconstruction of sidewalks on Park Avenue and Grant Street were funded. Also, the Parkside Neighborhood will benefit from a new playground in Deering Oaks worth $325,000, which will include natural elements along with traditional playground equipment.

In the West End, improvements to Taylor Street Park were funded at $95,000. Sidewalk reconstruction was provided for Brackett St from York to Danforth at $74,000 along with the installation of dozen handicapped accessible ramps near Riche School. The Reiche Community Center has received $225,000 work of CDBG funds for handicapped accessibility, upgrades to the locker rooms, new flooring, and window replacement. An additional $75,000 was provided to Reiche School from window replacement through the Capital Improvements Program.

Conclusion

During 2008 the City, Region, and State took the first steps towards a sustainable future through long-term investments and policy decisions necessary to face the global economic challenges that we are facing. In 2008 my focus was sustainability, public safety, finance, and strengthening our neighborhoods. During 2009 I am excited to continue this important work while chairing of the Housing Committee and the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee.


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Best Wishes,
Dave Marshall


David A. Marshall

City Council, District 2

City of Portland, Maine

207.409.6617

damarshall@portlandmaine.gov

www.portlandmaine.gov




Fine Artist

Constellation Gallery

Consteallationart@gmail.com

www.DAMFineArt.com

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