The Portland City Council’s first November meeting kicked off just after 5:00 p.m. on Monday, November 13th. Councilor Zarro was absent. Councilor Fournier joined over Zoom, which triggered a hybrid meeting in which members of the public were permitted to comment virtually. All other councilors were present in chambers.
General Public Comment, Announcements, and Recognitions
Mayor Snyder began the meeting with the general public comment period for items not on the night’s agenda. Steven Scharf was the lone commenter during this portion; Scharf asked that district meetings be returned to in-person rather than being held virtually.
With no other commenters on Zoom or in chambers, Mayor Snyder moved on to announcements.
Councilor Phillips took a moment to honor the late Representative Lois Galgay Reckitt, who passed on October 30th. Phillips acknowledged the significant impacts that Reckitt had on women’s rights during her career.
Councilor Rodriguez made an announcement commemorating Veterans Day. He shared his own experience in the National Guard, and spoke about the mentorship he encountered as a Guardsman which, ultimately, the councilor said, prompted him to pursue higher education.
Mayor Snyder announced that the mayoral inauguration will take place December 4th at 6:00 p.m., during which the recently elected Mark Dion will be inaugurated.
Moving into recognitions, Snyder recognized Mary Davis, who has been serving as Interim Housing and Economic Development Director since June 2021. The mayor thanked Davis for her contributions in the role, calling it “a massive undertaking.” Davis will be replaced by Gregory Watson, whose appointment was confirmed later in the meeting. Davis will continue to work in the department as Housing and Community Development Director. Many councilors and staff offered standing ovations and applause as the recognition concluded.
Snyder also recognized two middle school students who have been picking up trash in the Oakdale and Back Cove Neighborhoods in their free time. Damon, a 7th grade student, and Will, a 6th grade student, were also applauded by the Council. Snyder shook the students’ hands, thanking them for “helping to beautify the city.”
Annual Meeting of Creative Portland
Up next on the agenda was the annual meeting of Creative Portland, the city’s “official arts agency.” Kate Anker, Board President, offered some background on the organization. The agency was formed in 2008 to, per the mission statement, “support the creative economy through the arts by providing essential resources, fostering partnerships, and promoting our city’s artistic talents and cultural assets.” Creative Portland’s staff are on the City of Portland’s payroll, and it receives other public grants, but the agency’s programming and operations are planned and otherwise funded by an independent, non-profit Board of Directors. Anker thanked the city for the $200,000 in funding the group received from the city.
Dinah Minot, Creative Portland’s Executive Director, presented the Council with programmatic updates. Minot highlighted the agency’s new mobile app and continued marketing efforts, as well as First Friday programming and the bi-annual Arts & Culture Summit. Minot also pointed to the arts sector’s economic impact, citing a study that estimated the sector generated $86 million in economic activity in Portland in 2022.
Proclamations and Appointments
Two proclamations were then read by Mayor Snyder. The first proclaimed November Native American Heritage Month. Snyder underscored the history and resilience of Native people, while acknowledging ongoing work being done to “reverse the unfair treatment, inequity, and racism experienced by the Native American community,” particularly with regard to the legacy of boarding schools and missing and murdered Indigenous women. She also noted the ongoing redesign of the Portland Public Schools Wabanaki Studies program.
The second proclamation honored police and firefighters from Portland who responded to the Lewiston shootings on October 25. The Mayor thanked them for their service and read out loud the names of the 36 police officers and 9 firefighters who were present that night. Several of the first responders were present in chambers, and were met with a somber standing ovation after the proclamation.
Up next was Gregory Watson’s appointment as Housing and Economic Development Director. City Manager Danielle West described Watson’s experience in housing, economic development, planning, and management. Watson comes to Portland from a role at MassHousing.
During public comment, Bill Weber of the Portland Climate Action Team inquired about Watson’s experience with sustainability, which, Weber said, was scant. Weber pointed out the significance of this role in meeting Portland’s sustainability goals, and encouraged Watson to meet with Sustainability Director Troy Moon to ensure compliance with those goals.
George Rheault also commented, asking the council for further transparency about the interview process and how many candidates were considered. He also asked for greater transparency on economic development projects in general, citing Portland Technology Park as a problematic example of quiet failure.
Steven Scharf then commented asking for clarification about whether the meeting was hybrid or in-person only, which had not yet been made explicit. Snyder would go on to address Scharf’s question about the meeting format. She clarified that the meeting was hybrid, due to Councilor Fournier’s attendance over Zoom. Snyder added that the decision was made that morning to do a hybrid meeting, and that, according to the sources that Snyder and others consulted, “we are well within our bounds to do what we’ve done.” Corporation Counsel confirmed the mayor’s assertion.
The council voted unanimously of those present to approve the order appointing Watson as an emergency, meaning that it takes effect immediately. Snyder expressed her excitement for the new hire and again thanked Davis for filling in for the interim. Watson briefly spoke to thank the Council and accept the position.
Licenses and Communications
One business license was approved, for Argenta Brewing Company, a new brewery set to open at 82 Hanover Street.
Communication 15 came from Mary Davis. Davis presented the Council with the FY 2023 Tax Increment Financing Report. Tax Increment Financing pertains to the public funding of affordable housing and other projects considered important to the city. This works by promising the builder of a new project up to 100% of the increased property tax revenue for a period following construction; Portland forgoes this increased tax revenue for that period, but afterwards receives the full levy. No council discussion took place.
City Manager Danielle West gave Communication 16, pertaining to the new shelter for asylum seekers at 166 Riverside Industrial Parkway. Per the communication, the shelter is set to open on November 29th. The new shelter has a capacity of 179, and is projected to free up between 100 and 120 beds at the municipally operated Homeless Services Center, where a majority of residents are asylum seekers. The shelter will be owned privately, leased to the non-profit Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC), and co-staffed by the City of Portland.
Communication 18 concerned the Greater Portland Metro annual budget and assessment of Portland’s contribution, and was presented by Brendan O’Connell, Finance Director. Metro is a regional organization to which Portland sends representatives. O’Connell noted that the budget represented a 4.6% decrease in expenditures, netting about $150,000 in savings to the city.
The last communication of the night came from the mayor, who shared a letter she penned to federal and state delegations. The letter asked for help sourcing funding for the city to continue supporting asylum seekers through the Resettlement Program. Currently, the city receives $1.16 million in funding from FEMA which goes towards this work. However, due to federal level policy changes, the FEMA funding will expire at the end of the year. Snyder believes the most essential functions of the program can be maintained with just $700,000 in new funding from Augusta or Washington.
Councilor Dion sponsored Resolution 3, supporting a sister city relationship between Portland and Garissa Township, Kenya. Dion explained that the relationship “sends a strong signal to future friends in East Africa” and is intended to promote cultural and educational exchange.
Eight people came forward with enthusiastic public comments. Many shared their own relationship with Garissa Township; Hatim Ibrahim, now of Lewiston, was born and raised in Garissa Township, while others noted that they had lived in the nearby refugee camp before coming to the U.S. All commenters were ardent supporters of the resolution.
Following public comment, Councilor Ali thanked the groups who had brought this resolution forward, and underscored how important it is for immigrants to feel connected to homes they left behind.
Councilor Rodriguez, also supporting the measure, asked if there were any operational expectations on the city as part of this measure. City Manager West responded that the work of maintaining the sister city relationship usually falls to whatever private group brings the proposal forward, and that there is no budget associated with sister cities.
Dion, as the resolution’s sponsor, elaborated on West’s response. “What we’re approving tonight is a path for a free exchange of ideas and personalities,” going on to say that he’s witnessed the success of Portland’s ongoing sister city relationship with Archangel, Russia.
Councilor Phillips added that it was “truly an honor” to learn from the people who advocated for this resolution. Councilor Pelletier expressed her support and encouraged the commenters to “come back anytime.”
Mayor Snyder also expressed her support, noting that she recently went to a well-attended event celebrating the sister city relationship between Portland and Mytilene Greece. The resolution passed unanimously of those present and was met with much applause.
The next resolution came from Councilor Ali. Resolution 4, Supporting an Assault Rifle Ban and Other Gun Regulations in the State of Maine, is intended to send a message to state legislators that Portland supports gun control measures, explained Ali. He added that he worked with gun control advocates following the Lewiston shooting to draft the resolution.
No public commenters came forward. Councilor Fournier encouraged the public to attend the Legislative and Nominating Committee meetings, which take place Tuesday mornings, where councilors further discuss matters such as this.
Phillips asked Ali for clarification on the Resolution, given that such legislation falls within the purview of the state, not the city. Ali explained that, as a Resolution, the act does not compel any action, but rather expresses hope on behalf of Portland’s government that such an action will be taken by state legislators.
Dion chimed in to affirm Ali’s explanation, adding that he believed in the importance of bringing this topic up for conversation. Phillips reiterated her support for the Resolution, before the council went to vote, where it passed unanimously of those present.
Shelter Expansion – Round Three
Order 37 was then once again before the council. The group had already voted on this order at the two most recent meetings, (see earlier coverage for further detail.) However, the last vote was split 4-4, after Councilor Phillips reversed her vote to a ‘yea’ but Councilor Fournier (previously in favor) was absent. In the event of a tie, an order such as this continues to be on the agenda each following meeting until it is resolved with a more decisive vote, usually either passage or indefinite postponement.
Before diving into the matter at hand, West proposed an amendment to change the end date of the proposed state of emergency. In the order as it was written, the end date was November 20th. Given that the Council had not yet acted on the matter, and thus the state of emergency had not yet been enacted, West suggested moving the end date to February 5th.
Rodriguez inquired about what action the council would take on February 5th, should this order and amendment pass. West clarified that the council could choose to either extend or end the state of emergency at that time.
The amendment then went to a vote. Trevorrow was the only dissenting voice. The amendment passed 7-1, with Trevorrow opposing and Zarro absent.
The council then took up the order itself. Ali was the first to speak, asking if there had been any update on community partners opening up shelter, to which West said no. Health and Human Services Director Kristen Dow noted that the First Parish Church was opening up a warming center in partnership with the city, as announced previously, but that the shelter would only operate on cold nights.
Rodriguez chimed in to say that he acknowledges that the shelter expansion is not “ideal,” but rather, “one piece of the puzzle” towards getting people into shelter.
In an unexpected move, Councilor Dion voiced his support for the order. Dion had previously vocally voted against the order twice. Explaining his position, Dion stated that he had hoped his “no” votes would encourage the City Manager to find alternate solutions. However, he added, the shelter expansion now appeared to be the best option available. “I don’t think anyone should freeze to death for us to prove a political point,” said the councilor.
Snyder echoed some of the points of her colleagues, adding that the priority is to get as many people inside as possible during the winter months, given the danger of not only cold temperatures but of unsafe heating mechanisms. She described Monday’s fire on Eastern Promenade caused by a propane tank being used inside a tent.
After a 4-5 rejection and a 4-4 deadlock, this three-meeting long discussion finally culminated in a 6-2 vote allowing the shelter expansion to pass. Trevorrow and Pelletier voted against the order, (absent Councilor Zarro had previously also been a ‘no’ vote,) and all other members present voted in favor.
Moving on, the Council took up Orders 55, 56, 57, 58 together, all pertaining to an affordable housing project at the Riverton Park Complex. Mary Davis took the podium, first thanking the council for their acknowledgement of her work as Interim Director, and thanking the staff in her department who make their work possible. Davis then moved on to the matter at hand, describing the redevelopment of the Riverton Park Complex.
Per Davis, the complex will include 182 units. The units will be allocated as follows:
- 130 units for people making 50% or less of the Area Median Income, or AMI
- 25 units for people making 60% or less of the AMI
- 16 units for those making 80% or less of the AMI
- 11 units at market rate
According to the project summary, the majority of the apartments will be two, three, four, and five bedroom units, intended to accommodate families.
Public comment brought two people to the podium, first Tyler Plant of the Portland Housing Authority, who sponsored the project. Plant said he was excited to see the project progress after over two years of planning. He noted that the complex would include a neighborhood center with a clinic, as well as units specifically geared towards housing people who are currently unhoused.
George Rheault asked why the council isn’t bringing the 50% subsidy for the project up to 75%, as they had done for previous projects. Since the city government has discretion in applying Tax Increment Financing plans, different projects may receive different proportions of the diverted tax revenues. While a highly-favored project can receive 90% or more of said revenue, (constrained by several state-mandated limits,) other projects may receive less, like 50%. Rheault insinuated that certain developers and projects in Portland receive sweetheart deals from the city, while less embedded firms and plans receive the lower-tier financing.
Rodriguez, responding to Rheault’s comment, inquired about the 50% subsidy. Davis stated that the applicants – in this case, Portland Housing Development Corporation – requested that amount on their application, and that the figure was corroborated by an outside consultant as sufficient. Little further was made of the subject.
All four orders concerning the project passed unanimously, 8-0.
Order 59 concerned a $100,000 grant from the Glickman Foundation to expand the city’s Natural Helpers program. Glen Cummings, of the Glickman Foundation, commented briefly to thank the city and express his enthusiasm about the project. The order passed unanimously, 8-0.
Order 60 also pertained to a grant, this time from the Governor’s Office for Policy, Innovation, and the Future, or GOPIF. The $45,200 in funding would go towards the Electrify Everything program.
Bill Weber again made a comment on behalf of the Portland Climate Action Team, asking that the money go towards a reassessment of greenhouse gas inventory for the city, which has not taken place since 2017, according to Weber. The inventory, Weber went on, is an important part of the city meeting their climate goals, and even knowing how far we have (or haven’t) come.
The order passed unanimously of those present.
Order 61, concerning a zoning map amendment near the intersection of Washington Ave, Bates Street, and Veranda Street, was postponed at the request of staff to the December 18th meeting by an 8-0 vote.
Minor League Soccer
Order 64, allowing a new professional men’s soccer team to use Hadlock Field, turned out to be the most lively order of the evening.
The process of drawing up the contract between the team and the city had lasted over two years. Ethan Hipple of the Parks, Recreation and Facilities department elaborated on the agreement and why it was such a lengthy process.
Hipple explained that as part of a grant the city received from the National Parks Department to improve the stadium, they are obligated to keep the facility a public place. This led to some negotiations between the soccer team and the city, with the city’s goal being to preserve public access.
Hipple highlighted some other aspects of the contract, including that the team would not be paying a rental fee to the city for up to 10 years, instead footing the bill for various improvements to the stadium that the city had hoped to complete. The soccer team will have use of the stadium for 25 dates per year, negotiated down from 40, to ensure that the high school and other community members are still able to use the facility. For a more detailed (and skeptical) perspective on the deal, see this recent breakdown,
36 people spoke up during public comment, enough to push commenters into the overflow balcony. The overwhelming majority of comments were enthusiastic supporters of bringing a professional soccer team to Portland. Many of them were soccer players at Deering High School and St. Joseph’s College. The supporters highlighted the power of soccer to bring people together across cultures and divisions, noting that there is already a strong soccer culture in Portland. One student athlete relied on a friend to translate from Portuguese his enthusiasm for the team.
Opponents of the order were largely critical of the contract’s details, such as the 15-year commitment to a potentially risky undertaking. Some commenters argued that the city should be paid a rental fee, and others that more sustainability provisions should be included.
Moving into council discussion, Rodriguez asked Hipple to elaborate on how the contract would ensure the high school’s access to the field. Hipple responded that all parties using the stadium would need to request usage dates by September 1st. He also said that his department had offered specific dates to the soccer team using past schedules and usage data, to offset the possibility of schedule conflict. Rodriguez did not seem appeased, noting that he would prefer more of a guarantee that preference for the stadium would go to the high school.
Other councilors seemed to share his sentiments; Ali asked if the high school athletic director had been consulted, to which Hipple responded in the affirmative. Snyder asked how the improvements to the stadium would benefit the public. Hipple explained that while some improvements, such as the team locker room, would not be beneficial to the public, others, such as stadium lights, sound system improvements, and press box improvements, would enhance the facility for all users.
Councilor Forunier spoke up in favor of the order, noting that her roller derby team successfully shares space with the Maine Celtics. She also spoke about the positive impacts that a professional soccer team had in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the councilor formerly lived.
Despite the concerns raised by some councilors, the order passed unanimously of those present. Snyder tamped down an eruption of applause after the vote in accordance with council rules and out of respect for those against it.
Order 65 accepted a $79,630 federal Department of Justice grant for the Portland Police Department. According to the agenda, the PPD plans to use the money to “purchase mobile data terminals, laptop and desktop computers and mobile video recorders.”
The order was voted on as an emergency in order to meet a deadline set by the DOJ. As such, Snyder moved to waive the second read, which passed 7-0, unanimously of those present. The order was then voted on; of the councilors present, all voted in favor allowing it to pass as an emergency, 7-0. Councilor Pelletier had stepped out of the room during both votes.
Finally, the Council took up Order 66, concerning a Purchase & Sale agreement for city-owned property at 43 and 91 Douglass Street. Developers are purchasing this land from the city to create the following, per the Council agenda:
“A three- unit condominium … Unit 1 consisting of 63 units of residential rental apartments in a five-story building (no change), Unit 2 consisting of 20 home ownership condominiums units in two buildings (a change from the original limited equity cooperative units proposal), and Unit 3 consisting of 42 units of residential rental apartments (a change from the original limited equity cooperative units).”
Public commenter Karen Snyder asked whether this project would include affordable housing units, and added that the city should not sell land for market-rate housing.
Dion took up her question during council discussion. Matt Peters of Maine Cooperative Development Partners, who are purchasing the land, clarified that 9 apartments will be made available for people making at or less than 50% of the Area Median Income; the remainder will be for those making at or less than 100% of the AMI.
The order passed unanimously, 8-0.
The clerk then read first reads into the record, including controversial Order 68, before Snyder adjourned the meeting at 8:50 p.m.
Erica Snyder-Drummond – Erica is a proud Portland resident, documentary filmmaker, and baker. Previously she has been a campaign canvasser, an immigration advocate, and a server. You can see more of her work at www.ericajsd.com.