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South Portland council stalls on compensation

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South Portland council stalls on compensation

SOUTH PORTLAND — A blue-ribbon commission awaits two more stripes, and the farmers market site remains in limbo after Monday's City Council meeting.

By a 5-1 vote, with Councilor Jerry Jalbert in opposition, the appointment of the Blue Ribbon Committee to explore councilor, school board and committee compensation was postponed for two weeks to allow committee organizer Mike Wing time to select two more applicants.

Wing, a Harpswell-based consultant, was hired by City Manager Jim Gailey to select the committee and oversee its review of compensation questions and prepare a report that could lead to changes in the City Charter.

Any suggested charter revisions need to be ready by Aug. 20 in order to begin the process of getting them on a November ballot. Wing was given a free reign to select the committee, and chose five people after receiving 14 letters of interest by Feb. 21. Current councilors and school board members were excluded from committee participation.

"I was looking for individuals who represented factors and stakeholders in community,” Wing said.

Wing chose Albert DiMillo Jr., who sued the city last year in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland to end taxpayer-funded health insurance for councilors.

Other selections are former councilor and mayor Brian Dearborn, former Planning Board member Carol Thorne, Haven's Candies owner Andy Charles and UNUM Managing Counsel David Canarie.

Absent from the selections was a resident of District 1, an omission that drew criticism from Loveitt's Field Road residents Kathy Hanson and Sam Fratoni, and Rosemarie De Angelis, a former councilor and mayor. De Angelis noted Wing received seven letters of interest from District 1 residents.

Each council district is represented on the committee except District 1, and there are two District 5 residents included. The geographic flaw was not the only fault De Angelis found with the committee composition.

“In this day and age, to have a man hand-select a committee with four men and woman and then led by a man should be embarrassing,” De Angelis said.

She criticized the lack of diversity on the committee as well, noting there were no members younger than 45 and wondering if Wing considered income levels in his criteria for selections.

Wing said his choices were based on past experiences such as Dearborn's council tenure and Thorne's Planning Board years, Charles' business ownership, Canarie's legal expertise and DiMillo's advocacy for city taxpayers. He added his choices were made without understanding of councilor district boundaries.

Hanson suggested councilors expand the committee, an idea taken further by Councilor Al Livingston but objected to by Jalbert. Expanding to seven members instead of six would also prevent deadlocks.

Jalbert opposed expansion because councilors would be interfering with the process and the committee after vowing to remain uninvolved.

“The whole idea was to remove the politics from this as much as possible,” Jalbert said.

Jalbert was not the only councilor wary of asking Wing to expand the committee, especially by specifying where a new member resided. Councilors Melissa Linscott and Linda Cohen worried the process would not remain free of politics and said Wing should be entrusted with his task.

Wing assured councilors he could select two more committee members before the March 18 meeting and Mayor Tom Blake said there was enough "wiggle room" in the process to prevent the delay from interrupting the committee work.

In other business, councilors approved first readings on zoning and ordinance changes to expand offerings at the outdoor farmers market and increase the number of potential sites for the market.

Licenses for craft producers and special vendors will be offered if the revisions are approved in a March 18 second reading and vote. Twenty of 28 zones in the city would be permissible as sites, given Planning Board approval as special exceptions.

Unable to attend Monday's meeting, Cape Elizabeth Town Councilor and Farmers Market Association President Caitlin Jordan said the revisions would expand the scope of the market well – if the question of its site can be resolved.

Established in 2o11 at Thomas Knight Park beneath the Casco Bay Bridge, the market shifted to the one-block stretch of Hinckley Drive between Ocean Street and Cottage Road last year.

Jordan would like to keep using the site, against the recommendation of Gailey. On Monday, Jordan was informed by Hannaford Bros. officials that relocating to the parking lot at the Mill Creek store on Cottage Road was not a possibility.

A return to Thomas Knight Park is not a good choice, she said.

“No vendors have any interest in going back down there,” Jordan said. "Hinckley Drive is the only economically feasible option to succeed."

Gailey has cited complaints from adjacent businesses about closing the street each Thursday afternoon in order to relocate the market.

In a show of unity with surrounding communities in Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Westbrook and Falmouth, Gailey was given authorization to sign a protocol for the fledgling Greater Portland Economic Development Corporation including a vow that the member communities not solicit businesses to relocate within the communities.

Gailey will be the last official to sign the protocol, which still allows confidential discussions between business and municipal officials. He said the agreement was a critical component to forming the corporation as it recognizes that existing businesses shifting within member communities does not promote true economic growth.

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