By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,227)
D. Michele Sturgeon, CFPM, CPO and Portland’s Health Inspector is no longer inspecting Portland restaurants. Instead, State Health Inspectors are doing the work for which Sturgeon was hired last year – she’d been on the job just over a year when the change was made. And in that period of time, Sturgeon, who is respected by many in the industry for her high standards had shut down a number of restaurant facilities because of dirt and poor work practices. Portland, known in New England as a “foodie” city could not tolerate this continued negative publicity and certainly restaurants did not want to incur the financial losses during the closures.
One person in the field speculated that by shutting down restaurants for bad practices, the city would lose much needed revenue. Late this afternoon, City Manager Mark Rees shot down this question saying that the city does not make a substantial amount of money from the inspections conducted by the city. Another source speculated that Sturgeon was removed from her inspection duties due to pressure from the business community who did not want prolonged negative publicity. Perhaps her high standards are a threat to some poorly managed restaurants one source suggested. Perhaps her high standards backfired.
The subject peaked this past summer when Sturgeon said that the waterfront landmark and controversial watering hole, The Porthole, on the waterfront needed to be closed for several weeks because of serious infractions of the health code; infractions such as rat infestations, lack of labeling of refrigerated foods and numerous pages of other serious problems. Porthole owner Oliver Keithley, called Councilor Mavodones who recommended he call Doug Gardner, Sturgeon’s supervisor about the scheduled closing. As a result, Gardner overruled Sturgeon and ordered the restaurant re-opened. What transpired was never satisfactorily explained. The popular watering hole closed earlier this fall; due mostly to the negative publicity it could not overcome as well as a natural wintertime slow down.
“I have no comment on the matter,” said city manager, Mark Rees, this afternoon in his office when asked whether or not Sturgeon had been officially removed from her health inspection duties. (Hhn.com was referred to Nicole Clegg, city spokesperson for comments on the subject by Manager Rees, but did not follow through on this, due to the lateness of the hour; city offices were closed at this time) Sturgeon apparently remains employed by the city, however.
So, it begs questions: What is Sturgeon doing besides lying low? And who is doing the busy restaurant inspections if Sturgeon isn’t? Another anonymous source in the food business said: “MIchelle Sturgeon has done a great job. If any changes need to be, it needs to be with the laws she is being paid by the city to enforce. Some of them are absurd and need to be changed. She’s a scapegoat here.”
Portland has a long history of restaurant health inspection problems. Complaints of staff incompetence, rudeness and indifference to small business start-ups have been widespread on Portland’s east end for years. Less than ten years ago, an expert was called in to assess the inspection process and a very negative report resulted. Up until last year, restaurant inspections were done by the Code Enforcement Office. Sturgeon works for the Health & Human Services Department, managed by Doug Gardner who directs the Department. It was believed that this department was a better fit for the Health Inspector than Code Enforcement had been.
Mayor Michael Brennan said he had no knowledge of Sturgeon’s changed duties; personnel matters are not under his authority. But he’d met with Rees this morning and nothing was said on the subject. Doug Gardner did not return a phone call on the subject to mhn.com