Cumberland town councilor to step down after 12 years

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CUMBERLAND — After 12 years on the Town Council, at-large Councilor Jeff Porter is not seeking re-election for another term.

“I’ve served four terms, and I think it’s time for somebody else to run,” he said Monday. “I’ve had a pretty good run; I’ve really enjoyed being able to serve as a councilor for those years.”

The 45-year-old Crossing Brook Road resident said he doesn’t rule out running again at some point in the future. But he noted that a lot of time has passed since he and his then-7-year-old daughter went door to door on roller blades in his first campaign; she is now a college sophomore.

The Town Council election is June 14, and Councilor Bill Stiles’ Cumberland Center seat is also on the ballot. Stiles is running again; nomination papers are available and due back to the town May 2.

Porter, a lifelong Cumberland resident, said a strong belief in public service is what led him to run in the first place. His father was a public servant, and the community rallied around his family when his mother died.

“I always viewed one of the ways that I could pay back that debt was to serve the community,” he said.

Porter said the town is in good hands. He praised Town Manager Bill Shane as “first rate” and added that “this is by far the best Town Council I’ve ever served on, with all members of the council contributing and working hard. So I’m very confident of the direction of the town in the future.”

Porter, who is married and the father of five children, is a Cumberland-North Yarmouth Lions Club member and recently completed nine years on the People’s Regional Opportunity Program board. His job with the U.S. Commercial Service, as director of the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Portland, has taken him to about 30 countries in the past 15 years.

“Although there are some beautiful places, and really neat places, I don’t think any of them hold a candle to Cumberland,” Porter said.

Moving past resistance to help establish a town cable TV channel was among his proudest accomplishments on the council, he said, along with the town’s purchase of the Rines Forest and allocating town lots for Habitat for Humanity homes. But he said he looks back most fondly on being council chairman at a time the town needed to replace its manager, with the search that led to Shane’s hiring in 2003.

“I would say that Bill’s affect in the town of Cumberland has been incredibly positive, and because of Bill being there, many new and innovative things have come into place,” Porter said. “… It’s funny; we looked at candidates from all over the country, all over Maine. Little did I know that the person best fit for the job lived 20 yards to my right.”

Porter noted that he and Shane “have always had good, honest disagreements, but that’s what you want to see in a manager-style government; you want a strong executive, and then you want councilors that bring different perspectives.”

The praise is mutual. Shane said he would “tremendously” miss Porter, who he called an ardent defender of people who are less fortunate. He noted that Porter has done much to bring credibility to Cumberland’s General Assistance program, and he praised his advocacy of affordable housing and the town’s Habitat homes.

Shane also lauded Porter for not being afraid of criticism, and starting conversations about tough subjects, with an eye toward improving the community.

Even if a topic “was unpopular, or just a little uncomfortable to talk about, he was willing to at least put it on the table and at least force the debate,” Shane said. “Whether right, wrong or indifferent sometimes, he was always willing to at least debate both sides of an issue before it ever got voted on or put to bed, so it wasn’t just a rubber stamp process.”

Porter acknowledged his tendency toward passionate argument.

“I’ve never understood the concept of putting your finger in the air and just appeasing individuals that may be in the audience,” he said. “You need to do what’s right, regardless (of whether) it helps you politically or is what people want to hear.”

Porter said he will miss the camaraderie of his council colleagues, although it’s doubtful he’ll be far away.

“I’m sure I’ll find something else to do,” Porter said. “I’m too opinionated to sit on my butt.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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Cumberland Town Councilor Jeff Porter.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.