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Cumberland County officials: Civic center GM misused authority in Question 1 statement

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Cumberland County officials: Civic center GM misused authority in Question 1 statement

PORTLAND — Cumberland County officials scrambled on the days before Tuesday's election to disclaim an e-mail sent by the Cumberland County Civic Center general manager in support of Question 1 on the statewide ballot.

Question 1 is an effort to repeal tax reform enacted by  the Legislature to lower income taxes by increasing the sales tax on some goods and services.

Many of those new taxes are on entertainment services, like concerts and sporting events held at the civic center.

On Wednesday, June 4, General Manager Steven Crane sent an e-mail to patrons on official letterhead urging them to vote "Yes" and repeal the new law, which included a 5 percent sales tax on most civic center events. 

"If this tax is imposed, it will greatly impair our ability to attract major popular concert artists and entertainment events to Maine," Crane's message said.

But the e-mail was never approved by the civic center board of trustees or Cumberland County commissioners.

On Friday, the county issued a press release that said Crane was expressing his personal opinion.

"The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners had absolutely no prior knowledge of this e-mail being sent," Chairman Richard Feeney said. "We do not feel it is appropriate for a civic center employee to use letterhead to endorse a position on a matter affecting taxpayers."

Neal Pratt, chairman of the civic center board, which has direct oversight of the center and its general manager, said employees have a right to their personal opinion.

But Pratt said it is up to the trustees to take an institutional stand on political issues. In this case, the board decided to remain neutral, he said. 

"The board has taken no formal or informal position," Pratt said. "The institutional view is that people have to decide for themselves."

Pratt would not say whether any disciplinary action would be taken against Crane, citing the confidentiality required in personnel matters.

Crane was not in his office Friday or Monday and did not return a request for comment.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net