Peaks Island Council, and secession movement, get new life

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PEAKS ISLAND — Life was breathed back into the Peaks Island Council on Monday evening when Portland City Clerk Linda Cohen swore in six new members to the advisory council, amid howls and cheers from about 30 people watching at the Inn on Peaks Island.

Meanwhile, a separate group of islanders is reportedly beginning another attempt to secede from the city. A similar effort, which spawned the PIC, failed in 2007.

The PIC was considered doomed earlier this year, when no one took out nomination papers for three open seats and four other members abruptly resigned, citing their ongoing frustration with city officials.

But residents Eric Eaton, a 41-year-old graphic designer; Lawrence “Rusty” Foster, a 34-year-old computer programmer, and Sid Gerard, a 69-year-old contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense, received enough write-in votes to be elected.

There were more than 130 write-in votes on the island, according to Cohen’s office. Eaton received four votes and Foster and Gerard each received three. Since they were not declared write-in candidates, voters had to write their names and addresses and fill in the oval for the votes to count.

Like the results of the election, the location of the inauguration ceremony and first PIC meeting was unusual. Rather than taking place at the MacVane Community Center, the event unfolded in the restaurant and bar at the inn, which opened specially for the occasion.

After being sworn in, the group quickly caucused to choose their leaders in front of the jovial crowd of islanders.

“Do you mind if I’m elected chair tonight?” Eaton asked Foster and Gerard.

“Whatever you guys want to do is fine with me,” Gerard said.

With that, Eaton was unanimously elected chairman and Foster the vice chairman.

The new island councilors then held their first official meeting to appoint three other members until the next municipal election – an action that had to take place before the resignation of Island Councilor Marjorie Phyfe takes effect on Dec. 1. Four councilors are needed to conduct business.

“I call this meeting to order,” exclaimed Eaton, raising a large mug to the cheering crowd.

The group unanimously appointed Heather Thompson, a 34-year-old office manager; Rob Meharg, a 34-year-old engineer, and Scott Kelley, a 47-year-old artist.

“In many ways, it’s island politics at its best,” Kelley said later. “It could be fun. It could be awful. Who knows?”

Michael Richards, the former PIC chairman who resigned in November, said earlier on Monday that he was thrilled with the write-in results. He called Eaton, Foster and Gerard “outstanding individuals.”

Richards also had a word of warning for the Portland City Council.

“I think going from us to them is going from the frying pan into the fire for the city of Portland,” Richards said. “Because these folks are a lot less likely to put up with the city’s shenanigans. They’re more likely to call a spade a spade.”

When Richards left the council, he and other councilors expressed desire to form a village corporation to govern island affairs. But those efforts have stalled since doing so may increase, not reduce, the island tax rate, Richards said.

He also said a group of islanders is forming to again try to secede from the city, since many islanders consider the PIC experiment a failure.

The PIC was formed at the Legislature’s request, following islanders’ unsuccessful effort to secede in 2007.

Richards said some islanders are looking into whether the 2007 secession effort could continue, or whether the effort must begin anew.

Prior to the inauguration, Foster said he supports the new secession effort, but it is not an effort he wants the PIC to lead.

“I hope they’re successful,” he said.

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

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Eric Eaton, left, Lawrence Foster and Sid Gerard are sworn into the Peaks Island Council by Portland City Clerk Linda Cohen at the Inn on Peaks Island on Monday. Eaton, Foster and Gerard were elected to the panel in November.

Rob Meharg, left, Heather Thompson and Scott Kelley are sworn into the Peaks Island Council by Portland City Clerk Linda Cohen, after being appointed during a ceremony on Monday night at the Inn on Peaks Island.

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