Friday, January 16, 2009

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

Pier Project Scuttled Again

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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

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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.


--
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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