City government watchdog prepares for 'new hobby'

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PORTLAND — For years, he has introduced himself the same way.

“Robert Hains, Holm Avenue,” he’d say simply as he spoke to City Councilors on points large and small during public comment opportunities at almost every council meeting.

But from now on, all of Hains’ Monday nights will belong to him. He said he will no longer be a fixture at City Council meetings.

“I decided to find another hobby besides being a pain in the butt to councilors,” he joked Dec. 16.

For more than 40 years, Hains, 73, has attended meetings long and short, sparsely attended and standing room only.

“For a long time, I had a perfect attendance record,” he said. “I would plan my vacations so I would be away on non-council weeks.”

The rest of his weeknights will be free as well: he won’t be attending the committee and board meetings that are also at the core of municipal government. 

Hains will be missed, at-large Councilor Nick Mavodones Jr. said Monday.

“He is a very civil guy and thoughtful guy. He reads all the material, and he will pick up things that oftentimes people don’t,” said Mavodones, who just began his seventh three-year term.

For much of the time Hains attended and participated in meetings, Cheryl Leeman represented Council District 4. After 30 years in office, she decided not to seek re-election in 2014, and said she was impressed by Hains’s dedication during her time on the council.

“The effort and time he put in was far and beyond what most people do,” Leeman said Dec. 18. “He was very grounded in making sure people and different viewpoints got represented.”

Leeman said she appreciated Hains’ attention to detail on policy and council rules, and his demeanor when he spoke.

“I always enjoyed his perspective; it gave balance to some of the issues and you got another viewpoint,” she said. “He was a strong advocate for transparency and following the proper process, and there is nothing wrong with that.”

Hains said he began attending council meetings because of policies that affected properties he owned.

“I started going down to comment on what was going on,” he said. “In my mind, I was speaking for those who did not like to speak in public.”

Hains did not limit his activities to public comments. He has twice run unsuccessfully for City Council, and twice unsuccessfully for seats in the state Legislature.

Hains has been a member of the Republican City Committee, but said he was a Democrat when he arrived and is less conservative than many people may think.

“I’m fiscally a moderate,” he said. “I like people who have an idea about what things cost and how they are going to pay for them, instead of voting for the things regardless what they cost.”

Hains has been joined by Steven Scharf at council meetings for almost 15 years. Both of them speak out against expanded government and increases in spending, but Scharf said they approach the same ideas differently.

“Bob’s outlook on things is different from mine in that he analyzes details of projects, while I look at the overall view,” Scharf said Monday. “He’s more even-handed than I have been, he is from a different time where you were taught to be more civil.”

Hains has watched and interacted with city managers dating back to A. J. Wilson, who left in 1980. He praised Robert Ganley, who is now deceased – at least at the outset of Ganely’s tenure – and said he appreciates current City Manager Jon Jennings’s business experience.

Hains said he has a good relationship with the current council.

“I like Nick Mavodones, although I don’t always like his votes,” he said. “I like the way he treats people and he treats me.”

Mavodones, Leeman and Scharf praised Hains for the breadth of his institutional memory.

“We disagree more than we have agreed, but he has been a great asset to the city,” Mavodones said. “The citizens of Portland have benefited from his interest and dedication.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Robert Hains, right, addresses the Portland City Council on Monday in what he said is the last meeting he will attend after more than 40 years. Councilors David Brenerman, left, and Jon Hinck look on.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.