Cape Elizabeth hopes for 'good discussion' on paper streets

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The same firm that helped the Greater Portland Council of Governments formulate its strategic plan will facilitate public forums here next week about paper streets. 

The Town Council met in a workshop Wednesday with Craig Freshley of Good Group Decisions to discuss his role in the conversations.

The council also planned to discuss its Code of Ethics and 2018 goals, but postponed those items until Feb. 12 due to a lack of quorum, attributed to scheduling conflicts and the flu.

Good Group Decisions was hired by the town after the council voted in November to maintain its rights to paper streets on Lighthouse Point Road, Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place. The streets are laid out in the town’s subdivision plan, but were never developed or completed.

Town Manager Matt Sturgis said he recommended hiring Freshley because he recently helped GPCOG work out its strategic plan, which Sturgis called a “very successful experience.”

Freshley has a master’s degree in public policy and management from the Muskie School of Public Service and has been facilitating group discussions for municipalities, state agencies, nonprofits, and corporations for 15 years. He started Good Group Decisions in 2003. 

Freshley stressed that he is not an expert on paper streets and holds no position on the issue or preferred outcome.

“My side of the partnership is to help (the town) have a good discussion,” he said. “(The council’s) side of the partnership is to learn new things and … be able to make a good decision. I really think that if you have a good process, the right thing to do becomes self-evident.”

The town is paying Good Group Decisions $2,500 for the two sessions, both of which will be held at the Fire and Rescue Department on Jordan Way.

The first will be 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, and the second 10 a.m.- 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 3.  

Both sessions will be structured similarly, so while Sturgis said everyone is invited to attend both of them, it is not necessary.

Council Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan said the sessions are for the public; councilors have been invited, but will not participate.

She added having sessions for only an hour and a half will allow residents to share their views while keeping discussions focused and on track.

After posing a couple options for the structure of the forums, Freshley and councilors thought the best approach would be to divide citizens up into groups, based on which action they’d like to see the council take on paper streets, whether that is permanently accepting, vacating, or doing nothing and continuing with their current 19-year extension. 

From there, Freshley plans to break residents into smaller groups and ask what their interest in the selected action is and why that option appeals to them.

“What we might find is that many of the underlying interests will be similar,” Freshley said. “That’s when we’ll be able to find some commonality.”

He added it’s important to focus more on what residents’ interests in the paper streets are, rather than their positions. For example, he said, “I would like to be able to continue walking my dogs down the path on Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place,” rather than, “I’d like the town to permanently accept the paper street on Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place.”

“That’s how compromise happens,” Freshley said.

Sturgis said he hopes the forums will lead to much more in-depth conversations between interested parties, who, until this point, have primarily voiced their opinions during limited public comment periods at council meetings. 

“Public comment period is fairly binary,” he said. “There’s not much time to interact or have conversations.”

While the council’s goal with these conversations would be to find some common ground and areas of compromise between opposing views, Sullivan noted that the council is still the “decision-maker” on the issue. 

“The citizens are not making the decision,” she said. “There’s nothing final or formal about this.”

When asked by Freshley, Sullivan said she believes that regardless of what the council eventually decides, the town will be sued. But she also said the town will be able to defend its action.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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