Portland councilors speak out against violence, hate

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PORTLAND — Councilors on Monday took a stand against hate speech, and deferred other pending actions to just before or after the Nov. 8 elections.

In the 90-minute meeting that also included a 30-minute “State of the Schools” presentation by School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione, councilors postponed a hearing and vote to Nov. 7 on requiring some city building owners to list energy usage and sustainability standards.

The package of recommendations for “housing insecurity” recommended by the Housing Committee was accepted on a first reading, but the public hearing and vote were pushed back to Nov. 21.

A proposed moratorium on development at 155 Sheridan St. was also accepted on first reading, after Councilor Belinda Ray decided against seeking passage as an emergency measure to be enacted immediately. Ray and Councilor Spencer Thibodeau were absent from Monday’s meeting, and the public hearing and vote are now scheduled for Nov. 7.

Councilors approved funding and agreements for pedestrian improvements at the intersection of Forest Avenue and Dartmouth Street, and loans for two affordable housing projects.

The vote on the two-party agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation for Forest Avenue work was previously postponed Oct. 5 for more information about the scope of the work.

The $103,000 project that is part of the 2016-18 Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System work plan will cost the city around $21,000.

Public Works Director Chris Branch said the improvements will not impede traffic flow on Forest Avenue, and possibly re-timing the intersection traffic signal could improve it.

“The amount of work at this site will be relatively limited,” he said. “The intent was to deal with some (Americans With Disabilities Act) issues at the intersection.”

Mayor Ethan Strimling recused himself from the vote on distributing $255,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, passed on by the Cumberland County HOME Consortium, because of his prior work as executive director of the nonprofit LearningWorks.

Most of the funding, $191,000, was loaned to Developers Collaborative principal Kevin Bunker to repair a former LearningWorks building at 42 Gray St. The 12-unit building is the former school for St. Dominic’s Cathedral and was converted to housing about 15 years ago.

Bunker sought the loan to repair water damage and replace windows while promising three of the low-income units will be set aside for people who have been living in city homeless shelters. Management of the building would be taken over by nonprofit Avesta Housing.

Councilors approved the 30-year loan on recommendation from city staff, but Bayside resident George Rheault asked them to postpone the vote. Rheault wanted more assurance the building would remain available for low-income residents and objected to Bunker’s plan to spend $72,000 to resurface the parking lot.

The HOME loans also include $64,000 to the Portland Housing Authority for planned low-income housing at 58 Boyd St. in East Bayside.

At the urging of Councilor Jon Hinck, councilors unanimously approved the resolution condemning violence and hate speech, while expressing solidarity with the city’s Muslim community.

“I’m willing to say the situation has been better in Portland than other places, but I am not 100 percent certain of that,” Hinck said as he recalled teaching in Iran 40 years ago.

Hinck said the resolution was needed because of recent comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage’s comments Monday about the city grocery store owner under investigation for fraud.

“Part of the message ‘they hate us’ gives license to hate back,” Hinck said.

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

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.