By Carol McCracken (Post # 751)
The State’s Joint Committee on State and Local Government heard about five hours of public comment today on L.D. 1079 – an act intended to allow Peaks Island and several other smaller islands to secede from the City of Portland in what some are calling a “truncated” process. If the Act is approved by the 13 member committee, then the voters of Peaks Island would have the opportunity to vote the matter up or down themselves. The hearing in which fifty-four people testified took place today at the Cross Building, Augusta.
Rep. Windol Weaver, (R) York, who sponsored the bill said in his opening remarks that he wanted to “let my people go” – comparing himself to Moses. His people are being “held captive in a David & Goliath” story – remarks that evoked much laughter in the SRO hearing room. But for the twenty-seven who testified in favor of the Act, that was one of the last laughs they enjoyed all day. Committee members, of which 7 are Republicans and 6 are Democrats, asked tough questions of the 27 which often showed more work needs to be done before this bill can be passed.
The perceived lack of process in this instance was a major focus of the hearing for both sides of the issue. Portland Mayor Nick Mavodones, Jr. one of twenty-three who spoke in opposition to the secession bill, stated that the process as outlined in State law “creates a fair, thoughtful, purposeful process that is inclusive and transparent. The law was written intentionally to ensure that enough time was allotted to necessitate a thoughtful public discussion that examined the wide array of issues that secession presents to a community.” The process had been short-circuted when the AG’s office said that the current secession attempt was a continuation of the effort that failed several years ago and so the complete process need not be repeated. However, supporters of L.D. 1079 testified that what they are looking for is an opportunity for the residents to vote on the bill which they did not receive in the prior effort because the bill died in the same committee.
Karen Taylor a twenty-seven year Peaks resident, took a positive look at the relationship between the Island and Portland. She cited the city’s donation of city-owned property to a Senior Housing project as well as numerous other similar acts. Proponents of the secession bill cited high property taxes on the Island, the lack of adequate police protection and that they wanted to give residents an opportunity to vote the matter up or down – which they previously were denied – when the proposed bill died in committee by a close vote.
Following the hearing, Senator Nancy Sullivan (D), said: “I do have a leaning on this. I’m opposed to the bill. We are all suffering in Maine.” Rep. H. David Cotta (R) and several other committee members said that they would wait for the deliberations on Wednesday afternoon before making their final decisions on the bill. The vote is not expected to be along party lines.