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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution condemning violence and hate.
Residents packed council chambers at City Hall to share their views and stand up to what some believe is a growing hatred towards immigrants due to the policies of the Trump administration.
Also at the meeting, the council approved transferring $500,000 to the Clear Skies Ordinance Legal Defense Fund, approved a rezoning ordinance, and voted to confirm Scott Morelli as the next city manager.
The new resolution condemns violence and hate speech, and expresses solidarity with Muslims and all those targeted for their ethnicity, race or religion.
Resident Bruce Bennett, who is black, spoke in support of the resolution, saying he is “so proud of my city.”
“This is personal. This is a very big step and I am in support of this resolution. We all need each other,” Bennett said.
State Sen. Rebecca Millett, a Democrat who represents South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough, said, “Anti-Muslim rhetoric has made way for anti-Muslim policy at the highest levels of our government. The targeting of Muslims and immigrants has added fuel to hurtful and dangerous stereotypes, threatening the safety of Muslim Americans, including those right here in Maine.”
The Trump administration in late January approved a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries, touching off protests across the nation, including in Portland.
“I believe it is critical for elected officials like us to speak up in the face of this resurgent intolerance,” Millett said. “It’s crucial to speak up because while the bigots often can command the largest microphones, their voices are not the voices of most Mainers.”
Resident Roberta Zuckerman agreed that being silent would allow “the voices of hate and bigotry to prevail.”
South Portland resident Adrian Dowling said “These families and individuals who came here are not so different than ourselves. I want to stand here today and say that as a community we are not going to go down this road …. We will stand shoulder to shoulder. We will defend these people when they are attacked”
“I am so proud to be a part of this,” Councilor Susan Henderson said. “The news has been depressing for so many weeks and this is a ray of hope … I love Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words: ‘It takes love to get rid of hate.'”
Mayor Patti Smith said she is “amazed and in awe” of South Portland taking a stand on the issue.
The vote was also 6-0 to transfer $500,000 from the city’s unassigned fund balance to the Clear Skies Ordinance Legal Defense Fund. The council also voted to appropriate about $100,000 in donations to the fund.
The ordinance prohibits the bulk loading of crude oil onto tankers and effectively prohibits the pumping of tar sands oil through the Portland-Montreal Pipeline to South Portland, where the fuel could then be transported by ship.
Portland Pipe Line Corp. and the American Waterways Operators sued the city in U.S. District Court two years ago to overturn the ordinance. The case is still in the pre-trial stage.
Through Dec. 31, 2016, South Portland’s total expenditures to defend the lawsuit were just over $1 million.
The council also approved a rezoning ordinance adding restrictions on building in non-conforming residential lots, as well as amending the minimum lot size in residential A and AA zones.
The new ordinance passed 6-1, with Councilor Eben Rose opposed.
Planning and Development Director Tex Haueser said the minimum lot sizes in the A and AA zones were tailored to the existing pattern of the neighborhoods, based on the median existing lots sizes for the neighborhoods, in general.
Under a three-year contract approved Monday, New Gloucester resident Morelli will begin work March 13 at an annual salary of $115,000 that will increase to $120,000 after six months.
“Scott will be a wonderful addition to our community,” Smith said. “Welcome aboard, Scott.”