Peaks Island Council disintegrating 3 years after secession movement spurred establishment

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PEAKS ISLAND — The advisory council created three years ago in the wake of a failed secession attempt is in danger of losing all of its members.

The Peaks Island Council is a seven-member elected board charged with being the “voice” of islanders, working closely with Portland city officials and city councilors to address the needs of island residents.

But members of the council say it has not worked out that way, and they are frustrated by the lack of progress made on issues brought to the city’s attention.

Three councilors whose terms expire this year are not seeking re-election. Three others have turned in their resignations, effective Nov. 2. Chairman Michael Richards said this week he has not yet decided whether he will resign, too.

“The councilors are frustrated with trying to work with the city to try and improve the island,” Richards said. “I think it came about largely as a result of the city’s decision on policing issues on Peaks Island.”

Richards referred to a decision by the City Council in May to cut police coverage on the island from two full-time officers to one, and instead have a firefighter trained in emergency medical response on the island.

The island council, as part of its budget request, had asked for two people trained in police, fire and medical emergency response to be assigned to the island around the clock.

Another source of frustration, Richards said, is the $50,000 in funding the city granted to the Peaks Island Council to deal with transportation and parking issues. The funding has now been reduced to $30,000, and Richards said it has to go farther, including paying for ferry transportation for private school students living on Peaks, which the city used to cover.

Richards said the biggest issues – transportation and parking – have gone unaddressed by the City Council, despite countless hours of work by islanders to figure out how to make ferry costs and parking more affordable.

“It’s clear that the Peaks Island Council is not working,” Richards said.

Council member Suellen Roberts, who will not seek re-election, said in her resignation letter that islanders feel ignored by the city.

“The council simply functions as a complaint department,” Roberts wrote.

Lynne Richard, who has decided not to seek another three-year term on the island council, said that despite having a good group on the panel, it’s just not working.

“It feels like we’re adding another layer of bureaucracy that is slowing things down,” Richard said. She said councilors feel powerless, yet they are the ones islanders are told to go to with complaints or issues.

“We are spinning in place,” she said.

Richard said she would like to explore other options for island representation, including creation of a village corporation.

Village corporations exist on several islands in Maine, including Bustins Island. The corporation would have more decision-making authority, but still remain a part of Portland, which Richard acknowledged is important to the city.

The City Council created the Peaks Island Council in 2007, after a state legislative committee rejected secession of the island, but told the city it had to improve the relationship with island residents.

City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, whose district includes Peaks Island, acknowledged the island council is in jeopardy of losing its quorum. He said he would not try to explain the island councilors’ motives, and that he had not heard from any of them with particular concerns in a long time.

Along with Richard and Roberts, island Councilors Thomas Bohan is not seeking re-election. Rob Tiffany, Judy Piawlock and Marjorie Phyfe are resigning.

Three seats will be on the ballot in November, but the other three – four if Richards decides to resign – won’t be on the ballot because the resignations were too late for the 120-day notice period required for an election.

The Peaks Island Council has the ability to appoint members to fill vacancies until the next election, but there has to be a quorum of four to do so and it is possible that by Nov. 3, the council will only have three members.

City Clerk Linda Cohen said nomination papers are available at her office for the three seats now held by Richard, Roberts and Bohan, and are due back Aug. 23.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-366 1ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net

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