South Portland tar sands panel ready to get to work

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The task facing the three-member committee drafting an ordinance on tar sands was explained Monday by City Councilors.

But how the committee finds an enforceable way to keep unrefined tar and oil sands out of the city remained open-ended, as facilitator Jeff Edelstein and committee members Russell Pierce Jr., David Critchfield and Michael Conathan prepared for their first meeting, held Thursday at City Hall.

Edelstein and the committee met with councilors in a 90-minute workshop preceding Monday’s meeting.

Councilors also approved a new time and place for the outdoor farmers market, gave first approval to revisions in the city towing ordinance, and welcomed the 2013 Police Department Officer of the Year.

The workshop was where Edelstein and the committee made their introductions to councilors, and where Critchfield asked about the meaning of the Jan. 22 council order calling for the committee “to advise the City Council on an ad hoc basis on development proposals involving oil sands/tar sands products.”

“My understanding was that we want this committee to come up with language that will keep unrefined tar sands out of the city of South Portland. That was my understanding, that is what I want,” Councilor Linda Cohen said.

Councilor Tom Blake said he hoped for an ordinance “so foolproof we don’t have to touch it,” as it progresses through two City Council readings, a Planning Board public hearing and final council vote.

Blake said he is also ready to extend a 180-day moratorium on tar sands development proposals beyond May 5, to keep the committee from feeling rushed.

While stressing the ordinance should also protect existing waterfront businesses, Councilor Maxine Beecher urged the committee to draft an ordinance “so we are not caught in the courts for the next 100 years.”

City Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett said the work must be done transparently, and distributed almost 20 pages of materials about state open meeting laws.

“Everything you do is public,” Daggett said. “As far as your records, they are all public records. Anything you do by email is all public record.”

Daggett warned that even two committee members meeting for coffee constitutes a quorum for a public meeting, and emailed comments can become public meetings if responses are shared between all members and Edelstein.

“Use (email) for scheduling of meetings, developing your agenda and for receiving one-way communications, but it is not to be used for discussion purposes,” Daggett said.

The committee needs to decide how it receives public comment, but accepting public comment is not required. Its meetings are open to the public, and will be videotaped and rebroadcast by the city.

But councilors were also aware that drafting the ordinance and communicating with outside resources will require time beyond the meetings, and Conathan, once a staffer for former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, expressed his own concerns.

“Far be it from me to say that they do it well in Washington,” he said. “I would say probably 90 percent of the proceedings go on in meetings that are out of the public eye. I am more than a little concerned that this degree of restrictiveness is going to make our work on any kind of a timeline impossible.”

Farmers market, towing

In the regular council meeting, there was no public comment before councilors voted unanimously to shift the outdoor farmers market to Sundays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the City Hall parking lot.

The change is the third in four years for the market, which debuted in Thomas Knight Park at the end of Ocean Street in 2011. For the last two years, the market has operated on Hinckley Drive between Cottage Road and Ocean Street each Thursday afternoon.

Councilors also unanimously approved the first reading of revisions to Chapter 15 of the city Code of Ordinance governing city-commissioned towing work, which is handled by 10 licensed companies.

Included in the revisions are fee changes to $100 per tow from crash scenes and $85 per tow for other city-commissioned work. Operators can also charge an additional $70 per hour if the job takes more than an hour.

The proposed changes also require operators to provide copies of receipts for city work each month, to alert customers of release fees at an impound lot, and to copy or record driver’s licenses of customers who pick up vehicles.

The revisions were opposed by brothers Vincent, Robert and Louis Maietta, tow operators who said city staff and Police Chief Ed Googins excluded them from the process.

Robert and Vincent Maietta were suspended from doing city business for five months last year after an investigation by Police Lt. Todd Barlow found instances of overcharging customers.

Perjury charges filed by the police related to the investigation were eventually dropped for lack of evidence by the Cumberland County district attorney, but Vincent and Robert Maietta said bad blood still exists.

“This is a bullying situation,” Vincent Maietta said.

2-time winner

Googins also presented the Officer of the Year Award to Officer John Bostwick, the second time he has received the award.

Googins said Bostwick, a 27-year Police Department veteran who also won in 1988, continues to show enthusiasm for his work and “retain(s) a genuine compassion and empathy for all those he encounters who are suffering a personal loss, struggling with a mental illness, or simply overburdened by everyday pressures.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or 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.