SOUTH PORTLAND — Five candidates for the City Council participated in a forum on Oct. 21, answering a wide variety of issue-based questions from members of the public.
Claude Morgan (District 1), Alan Livingston (District 5), Brad Fox (District 5) and incumbent Councilors Michael Pock (District 1) and Patti Smith (District 2) responded to questions submitted in advance to moderator Mike Vaillancourt.
The first question, about each candidate’s first priority, drew varied responses.
Pock and Livingston seemed to focus more on the economic side of things.
“You take care of businesses and they’ll take care of you,” Pock said.
He cited some of the current players in the commercial tax base – Portland Pipeline, Maine Mall, Texas Instruments – whose taxes he feels are supporting property owners. The goal, Pock said, is to make sure the business owners are satisfied with their experience in South Portland and choose to stay.
Livingston said that, in recent years, citizens have been very generous with their tax dollars for funding city improvements. However, he cautioned about accepting high tax rates as the norm.
Many senior citizens in particular are concerned about rising taxes, Livingston said, adding that this is an issue that needs to be addressed in a timely manner.
“They deserve the right to stay in South Portland and not have to worry about taxes,” Livingston said.
Fox said he has heard from a variety of constituents in his neighborhood, Brickhill, that street safety is a growing issue because of a lack of crosswalks and streetlights. He said he is particularly concerned about children in the area, as well as the growing number of senior citizens.
Perhaps tackling smaller but more urgent issues like this should take precedence, Fox said.
Morgan said that his top priority would be to unite all of the stakeholders in discussions about oil and the coastline. There is an “end game,” Morgan said, and furthering the “divisive” conversation that’s taken place over the past year is critical.
“That would be my ‘first day in office,’ to start a working group that will continue this dialogue in a positive direction to determine long-term planning on the coastline,” Morgan said.
Smith said she also sees the environment as a top priority, particularly balancing the “renewed economic growth” that the city is currently experiencing with the preservation of neighborhood character and the conservation of quality attributes, such as open green spaces.
The issue of balancing business with the environment came up again later in the forum, when candidates were asked about their thoughts on the oil industry in South Portland and what role it should play in the city.
Livingston and Pock both said that it is not the City Council’s place to, nor should it be the council’s priority to, drive businesses out. Portland Pipeline, for example, is a large taxpayer, Livingston said, and hindering operations is bad business.
Pock, who voted against the Clear Skies Ordinance earlier this year, as well as the tar sands moratorium, said that he is a proponent of protecting private entities’ rights, and that the city has no business meddling in private enterprise.
Fox said that he had no problem with the oil businesses remaining in the city, as long as the Clear Skies Ordinance is upheld.
Morgan cited a report that Portland Pipeline’s Montreal exports are down 60 percent. He said that the economy may very well drive oil out of the city, and that the company, and others like it, might want an exit strategy.
However, in order to determine if this is true, and to collaborate with such companies, he said there needs to be an ongoing discussion.
Smith agreed that businesses have limited life cycles, and that she hopes the oil companies respond accordingly to the economic climate and consumer demand. No matter a company’s life span, however, Smith said, businesses should strive to be environmentally sensitive and act as environmental stewards to the rest of the community.
Though other issues were discussed, the majority of the conversation focused on such large-scale changes.
Morgan summed up the spirit of the evening: “I believe we are called to make some of the most important decisions in this city in a generation.”
SOUTH PORTLAND — Two amendments to the City Charter will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 4.
If approved, the first would amend Sections 424 and 703. Voting district representation on the Board of Assessment Review and Civil Service Commission would be eliminated, though up to three members from any one voting district would be permitted to simultaneously serve on both entities.
The second amendment would affect Sections 1001, 1002, 1003 and 1004 of the Charter, and would eliminate the requirement of one polling place for each of the five voting districts.
Added language reads, “The city council shall from time to time establish voting places for the various voting districts by council order.” The amendment would also change the status of election wardens and ward clerks from elected officials to appointed officials.
The full text of the amended Sections is available at southportland.org.
— Lily O’Gara