Editorial: South Portland council has to turn the car around

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Whether you believe traffic on Ocean Street in South Portland’s Knightville neighborhood should be one-way or two-way, it’s hard to believe the City Council is going the right way.

Councilors’ past handling of a proposal for propane storage at Rigby Yard, their insensitivity to an attempt to diversify the city’s Civil Service Commission, and their blind eye to the use of personal email for city business were bad enough examples of how not to run a city.

But this week’s debate and vote on a citizen petition to restore one-way traffic on Ocean Street between D and E streets took things to new heights.

Not only did councilors demean, insult and show condescension toward constituents, the city attorney and the city clerk, but they discussed and voted on the issue without providing prior notice to the public.

They ignored Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett’s advice to provide a wide berth for the petition process, chastised City Clerk Emily Carrington for doing her job and consulting Daggett, and accused proponents of the petition of being deceitful.

And then, after limited public comment, they ignored Mayor Tom Blake’s warning that they were breaking the rules that require public notice, and went ahead and voted to stop the petition process in its tracks.

It’s time for a reality check.

This is no longer about one-way traffic, two-way traffic, parallel parking or angled parking. It’s about good governance, and allowing the democratic process to take its course. It’s about giving city residents, including those with whom councilors may disagree, confidence that decisions are being made thoughtfully, with consideration for all the facts, and with the city’s best interests at heart.

Carrington’s decision to extend the signature-gathering deadline – an arbitrary date she set in the first place, simply to make sure her office had enough time to verify signatures before putting a referendum on the November ballot – would have allowed petition gatherers to correct some technical errors and the process to proceed to a conclusion that residents on both sides of the traffic debate could accept.

Instead, a majority of councilors refused to stop for directions, and ended up driving the wrong way.

Their next agenda should include a U-turn: reconsideration and reversal of the Aug. 1 vote, and apologies to Daggett, Carrington and the people who circulated and signed the Ocean Street traffic petitions, so that the petition process can proceed to a more democratic end on Nov. 8.

Editorials in The Forecaster are written by the editor and reflect the opinion of the president and publisher.