Portland council adds constables to library staff

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PORTLAND — It took two votes, but city councilors on Monday approved a new Portland Public Library policy allowing security staff to give trespass orders to unruly patrons.

The new policy adds three constable positions beginning Jan. 1, 2015, despite warnings from homeless advocates the policy will unfairly target some of the city’s most vulnerable citizens.

Councilors also approved revisions to the parking ordinance on the peninsula and the neighborhood near the former Nathan Clifford School that will halve the times parked vehicles will have to be moved because of street cleanings.

The initial vote to appoint constables passed 6-2, with Councilors Jill Duson and Kevin Donoghue opposed to empowering library staff to issue patrons trespass orders that would ban them from the library for six months.

“I still feel strongly we should not take this step. I think it should be inconvenient to ban someone from the library,” Duson said of the order, which was postponed from the Nov. 3 City Council meeting.

Following the vote, Jim Devine of Homeless Voices for Justice protested because public comment was not allowed, as had been promised on the agenda.

Councilor Nick Mavodones, acting in the stead of absent Mayor Michael Brennan, then opened the floor to public comment from three speakers.

Devine said the library is a resource and refuge for the city’s homeless trying to improve their lives, or just escape the weather. He praised the current policy, where police can be summoned by staff and issue trespass orders, but remained wary of allowing library staff the same powers.

“It would erode a system that works so well,” he said. “(It) would make them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.”

Before the first vote, library director Stephen Podgajny said the constables are needed because it “allows the deployment of (police) in a more efficient way.”

Podgajny also took exception to the idea the constables would target the homeless.

“It is about treating everyone equally and having an expectation of behavior,” he said.

After public comment was taken, councilors agreed to re-open the question. The ensuing vote was 5-3, after Councilor David Marshall joined the opposition.

Councilor Jon Hinck agreed with speakers there were bigger issues about homelessness at play, but still supported the order.

“I’m not convinced appointing the constables changes the landscape that much,” he said.

At Duson’s request, councilors also required the number of trespass orders served to be submitted to the Public Safety, Health & Human Services Committee.

Councilors unanimously supported changes in street parking regulations that Marshall and city staff including Public Services Director Mike Bobinsky and Parking Manager John Peverada developed in response to constituent complaints and the reduction of city street sweeping.

The new regulations will require owners to shift vehicles from one side of the street to the other twice a month on assigned days, instead of the current four times, to make room for cleanup.

Time requirements for clearing a side of the street were also amended to 12:01-7 a.m. or 10 a.m.-2 p.m. The changes provide more clarity and an extra two hours in daytime.

The changes could cost a much as $85,000 to implement, Bobinsky said, with $50,000 for signs and $35,000 set aside for possible overtime work installing signs.

The area near the former Nathan Clifford School, west of the University of Southern Maine, was added after a motion by Councilor Ed Suslovic. Bobinsky said the inclusion should not affect the cost of implementation.

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

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.