Smith's advice to South Portland councilors: 'Be ready to listen'

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SOUTH PORTLAND — After Dec. 4, Mayor Patti Smith is going to have much more free time.

“Having those Mondays freed up, it could be like a three-day weekend,” Smith joked Wednesday as she reflected on her nine years on the City Council, which include two, one-year terms as mayor.

A native of Concord, New Hampshire, Smith, 55, came to the city by way of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Philadelphia, and Gorham. She won her District 2 seat in 2008, and was unopposed for re-election in 2011 and 2014.

City term limits prevented Smith from seeking re-election this year.

“Kate Lewis will be great, smart and fair-minded,” Smith said of the new District 2 councilor who will be sworn in Monday, Dec. 4. “I think it is nice to pass the torch to someone I feel will be very involved.”

Smith said she will explore life beyond city council meetings and workshops that are held nearly every Monday night of the year.

“My wife has a to-do list,” she joked, but added she has her own “double-nickel list” that will keep her involved with time for travel.

Now the corporate operations officer at Scratch Baking, Smith has also worked in human resources at Coffee By Design and Planet Dog in Portland.

“Aligning people with strategy is my catch phrase,” Smith said.

Smith also served as mayor in 2012. Her council tenure includes some contentious discussions and decisions, including passage of the bond to renovate South Portland High School, banning the importation of “tar sands” oil into the city, and the traffic and parking issues in the resurgent Knightville neighborhood.

The council’s flip-flops on parking and traffic flow in Knightville are something Smith said she regrets, especially the short-lived decision to have one-way traffic on one block of Ocean Street. 

“I waffled on the second time around, but my gut was saying follow the engineers. It was one of those things where everyone was twisted and turned around,” she said.

Smith also recalled her first effort to build a land bank for the city went poorly.

“It flopped when I first brought it out there,” she said. “I did not understand how to bring people along.”

But she believes she eventually got the knack.

“You have to speak with a wider voice,” Smith said, “which was frightening to me at first.”

She said she also enjoyed working with City Managers Jim Gailey, Don Gerrish and Scott Morelli.

“I love that dynamic, those people have all sorts of skills I can learn from,” she said.

Governing takes time and patience, she added.

“I have patience for process and hearing people out,” Smith said. “You try to do what’s right, so if it means you have another workshop, you have another workshop.”

To anyone who ever thinks of running for the council, Smith offered this advice:

“If it is in your heart, do it. Because you have to really want it, and to be ready to listen. If you are a good listener, you are going to be a good councilor.”

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.