Monday, June 26th’s city council meeting was host to a number of debates on municipal issues, including parking spots and business licenses.
Councilor Dion and Councilor Fournier were absent; all other Councilors were present.
General Public Comments
As usual, the meeting began with the 5:00 public comment period. Lisa White, an artist who sells her work on Commercial Street, was the first to speak. White shared her concerns about the homeless population in the area of Commercial Street between Moulton Street and Market Street. White described their behavior as “out of control,” having seen, per White, open drug use, harassment, and threats made to passersby. She urged the city to take action on the issue.
Richard Ward was the next public comment, coming in over Zoom. Ward railed against the LGBTQ+ community for a full three minutes, undeterred by an interruption from Mayor Snyder partway through asking him to adhere to Council rules.
Gus Warman commented in Council chambers afterward, bringing focus back to the issue brought forth by White. Warman, also a vendor on Commercial Street, sought to clarify the difference between what he saw as two separate groups: the homeless population, and “transients.” Per Warman, the “transients” group is the cause of the problems on Commercial Street that White described. “We have no recourse,” said Warman, adding that police presence did little to improve the issue.
Nate Howes of Avesta Housing, joining over Zoom, attempted to comment on the reconsideration of Order 239, but was cut off by Snyder, who encouraged him to speak when the Council took up the order later in the evening.
Steven Scharf of Brackett Street commented wanting an update on the Federated project in Bayside, asking for more transparency from the city, particularly with regard to the loan the city has taken on to fund the project.
A final Zoom comment came in from George Rheault. Rheault described the double homicide that took place in Westbrook last week and wondered if the Portland and Westbrook police departments could have done more to prevent the tragedy. “We… deserve some answers,” said Rheault, who went on to reference other incidents of violent outbursts from mentally ill persons. He called for better response protocols from the police.
The last public comment of the period came from Veronica, no last name given, store manager for Starbucks on Commercial Street. Veronica detailed the challenges her store has faced in recent months, including, per her comment, one death, six overdoses – in which she was asked to administer Narcan and begin resuscitation – and multiple other incidents of threats, harassment, and theft. Echoing sentiments from earlier commenters, she asked the City to intervene.
Announcements and Proclamations
Announcements from the Council followed. Mayor Snyder recognized Interim Police Chief Heath Gorham for his work, both as Interim Chief and across his 23 years with the Portland Police. Gorham was present on Zoom and accepted the recognition.
Councilor Pelletier made the second announcement, sharing the success of the Portland Pride parade and festival on June 17th. She expressed her support for the LGBTQ+ community and commended the group’s strength. “I always have your back,” Pelletier said. Snyder echoed her comments, also praising the parade and festival.
The final announcement came from Snyder, who shared that she would not be attending August’s City Council meeting, and that Councilor Ali would chair the meeting in her place.
Snyder then read the first proclamation, recognizing June as Gun Violence Awareness Month; her statement emphasized the need for education and advocacy, as well as support for those affected by gun violence.
The second proclamation recognized Jeff Sanders for his leadership at Maine Medical Center. Sanders was president from 2018 to 2023, and served in hospital leadership for 13 years overall. The proclamation commended his successful capital campaign, the “largest… in Maine’s history,” and his contributions to the hospital during his tenure. Sanders spoke briefly following the proclamation to say that he received critical care from Maine Medical Center as a young person and thanked the Council for the recognition. Mayor Snyder shook Sanders hand before moving on to the next agenda item.
Appointment of Mark Dubois as Police Chief
The Appointments portion of the meeting named Mark Dubois the new Chief of Portland Police Department. City Manager West spoke to his qualifications, describing his eleven years of Police Chief experience and his background as a lawyer. Dubois comes to Portland from Braintree, Massachusetts. “He’s from Massachusetts, but we won’t hold that against him,” joked West.
Bayside resident George Rheault gave a public comment on the matter, criticizing what he saw as a lack of meaningful community engagement in the hiring process. He also questioned Dubois’ qualifications, given that Portland is a larger city than Braintree, but ultimately indicated that he approved of DuBois as a candidate.
Forest Avenue resident Ken Capron also chimed in over Zoom. He supported the appointment of another attorney to city staff, and hoped that Dubois would stay in the role long term.
In response to issues raised during public comment on the appointment, Anne Torregrossa, Human Resources Director, approached the podium to share details about the search process. According to Torregrossa, the city hired a municipal search firm and consultant to conduct the search; the consultant then engaged with a number of community members and organizations, including heads of neighborhood associations and city staff, to determine their concerns and priorities. The city then conducted a national search that culminated in four finalists, from which Dubois was selected.
Dubois’ appointment passed unanimously.
Consent Items and Licenses
One item was added to the consent calendar – the St. Peters Bazaar and Italian Street Festival, taking place from August 11th to 13th along portions of Federal Street and India Street. The item passed unanimously.
Music at The Thirsty Pig
The first business license of the evening caused considerable stir among members of the public in attendance. The license in question was for The Thirsty Pig, a bar located at 37 Exchange Street. Public commenters on the license generally fell into two groups – the establishment’s staff, supporting the license, and neighboring residents, opposing the license due to noise concerns.
According to backup documents included in the agenda, the noise concerns at The Thirsty Pig began in 2017. Since this time, the City has conditioned multiple licenses for The Thirsty Pig in order to mediate the noise complaint issue.
While staff at The Thirsty Pig referenced a sound mitigation plan that would involve sound prevention panels, a limit on amplified music, and a time cut-off, concerned neighbors did not seem assuaged. Tensions were high between the two groups; Rachel Henderson of Middle Street called The Thirsty Pig staff “rude [and] unbelievably awful,” while Alison Stevens, the bar’s owner, remarked that she was “willing to buy you all noise-canceling headphones, honestly” to the neighbor group as she walked away from the podium.
Following public comment, Councilor Trevorrow offered an amendment that would formally restrict any outdoor entertainment to unamplified sound, which seemed to be in line with what The Thirsty Pig was already offering. Councilor Pelletier opposed the amendment, saying that the bar should be able to use amplified sound with the sound mitigation plan in place, and that if it continued to be an issue, the Council could revisit the license when renewal time arose. The Council then voted on Trevorrow’s amendment; it passed 5-2, Pelletier and Phillips opposing.
Councilor Rodriguez then proposed a second amendment to the order, which would formalize 9:00 PM as the end time for any outdoor entertainment. Zarro expressed concern that adding so many amendments set a bad precedent for the Council, and worried that they would be asked to do so more often going forward. Councilor Trevorrow supported the amendment, and felt that taking precautions was a smart way to avoid the two groups having to “backtrack” through a “more painful process.”
Councilor Ali suggested that the license could be made for a shorter time period, allowing the Council to revisit it in six months instead of in a year. However, the ensuing discussion indicated that members of the Council did not see this change making much of a difference.
The Council moved to vote on Rodriguez’s amendment, setting the 9:00 PM end time. It passed narrowly, with Zarro, Pelletier, and Phillips opposing.
Following the passage of the two amendments, the Council voted on the license itself; the license passed unanimously.
Several other establishments also had their licenses approved. The Great Lost Bear renewed its outdoor dining permit; The Portland Beer Hub added an outdoor dining space; Tandoor Indian Restaurant changed owners; and Stars and Stripes Brewing added liquor to their menu. All licenses were passed unanimously.
A Further Delay in the Budget
The budget vote was delayed once again, due to a lack of final statewide budget, which funds portions of the municipal budget. The budget will be voted on at the July 17th meeting. As such, all orders involving passage of the municipal budget (Orders 209 through 222, 224, 245, and 246) were postponed. In light of this delay, an emergency order was passed that enabled the City to continue spending under the FY23 budget, at the rate of approximately $27 million per month, in order to continue municipal operations.
During council discussion for the budget orders, Councilor Zarro asked if the budget could be passed sooner than the 17th in the event that the state budget is finalized. City Manager West answered “no,” given that the public had already been notified of the July 17th date.
Public commenter Steven Scharf pointed out that the actual text of the emergency order, Order 263, was missing from the agenda packet; a second public comment, from Ken Capron, disputed whether the emergency order could be legally implemented.
City Manager West responded to both comments, stating that the passage of such an order is permitted within the city charter. She also affirmed that the order text was indeed missing, and paused the meeting while the issue was rectified.
Next, the Council addressed Order 102, concerning the Payson Park Music Festival. According to the Council discussion, the organizers have not provided further information about the festival and thus the Council unanimously voted to delay the order indefinitely.
An Unexpected Debate on Parking
The following order, Order 240, aimed to allocate residential parking spots for island residents along Thames street. Since 2008, parking spots have been made available on the peninsula for island residents to use free of charge, and without time constraints. Every year the Council determines whether or not to renew these spots, and if changes to the number of spots should be made. There are also island resident parking spots along areas of Marginal Way and Cove Street. Though many spots have held this status for some time, the order before the Council on Monday would make the residential designation permanent, instead of requiring yearly renewal.
Three public comments came in to oppose the order. Amy Oberlin, a Munjoy Hill resident, cited the fiscal ramifications and criticized the lack of financial statement in the order’s memo. Oberlin then calculated that the city could lose approximately $100,000 in annual revenue by giving up metered income from these spots.
George Rheault also opposed the order; he noted that the new Bayside development has no parking spaces attached, and that island residents should have to “figure it out” like other city residents do. Nathaniel Ferguson, Oakdale resident, was the third to speak out against the order. Ferguson pointed out that other uses of public space – outdoor dining, for example – required fees paid to the city.
In response to these comments, Parking Director John Peverada stated in chambers that the island resident permits work the same as any municipal residential permit – meaning that the parking spots can just as easily be occupied by non-island resident cars for 1-2 hours, depending on the particularities of the spot.
Both Mayor Snyder and Councilor Phillips indicated that they were surprised by the critical comments, and hadn’t expected there to be much discussion on the item.
Questions from Councilor Zarro and Councilor Phillips prompted Peverada to specify what other spots are allocated for island resident permit holders. According to the discussion, island residents have 50 spaces in the Ocean Gateway parking lot, 123 on-street spots with the island resident designation, and are eligible for certain discounts at the municipally owned Elm Street parking garage.
Zarro also asked if part-time island residents are able to obtain island resident parking permits; Peverada answered that anybody who owns property on the island can obtain a permit, or anyone who lives on the islands for at least six months out of the year.
Councilor Trevorrow spoke up in favor of the order, noting that the island resident designation is the same as any Portland resident having residential parking privileges.
Ultimately, the order passed 6-1, Phillips opposing. Though Zarro seemed to hesitate before his vote, he ultimately voted in favor of the order. Councilor Fournier and Councilor Dion were not present.
Order 241, Accepting and Appropriating a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfield Assessment Grant of Up To $500,000, was then presented by Mary Davis, Interim Housing and Economic Development Director. Davis specified that the money from the grant would go towards assessing environmental hazards in businesses and new development projects. Councilor Rodriguez asked how much of this grant money is typically used, to which Davis responded: all of it.
The order passed unanimously.
Orders 242, 243, and 244 were all taken up together, as all concerned Portland Downtown.
The orders outlined the Portland Downtown Development Plan, which prioritizes relationship building, murals, and public restrooms, among other items; the orders also specified funding amounts and the agreement between the nonprofit entity and the City.
George Rheault’s public comment was the only dissenting voice, stating his belief that more resources are allocated to the downtown area “at the expense of the rest of us,” and that the money the City gives to Portland Downtown does not benefit other neighborhoods. Cary Tyson, Executive Director of Portland Downtown, expressed his support for the orders’ passage and noted that the group’s budget had not increased.
All three orders passed unanimously.
Up next, the Council deliberated as to whether or not to reconsider Order 239, which had been on the agenda at the June 5th meeting. At that time, the Council passed the order unanimously, following a lengthy discussion.
Councilor Trevorrow explained the decision to bring the order forward for reconsideration, stating that new information had come to light regarding the wage scales referenced in the order. Although Trevorrow did not specify what this information was, a written public comment in the agenda’s backup materials seems to be what she was referencing. The public comment, coming from Jason Shedlock, President of the Maine State Building & Construction Trades Council, outlined plainly that the order in question would lower wages considerably for workers.
Mayor Snyder questioned whether reconsidering the issue was the right choice, given that the Council had ample time to look into the issue prior to their vote. Ultimately, however, the Council passed the reconsideration 6-1 with Snyder opposing. The Council then voted unanimously to send the order back to the Housing and Economic Development Committee.
Order 255 followed, allocating a $9,428.57 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to the Portland Fire Department. The order passed unanimously.
The remaining orders were first reads of matters to be discussed at the next council meeting, and following these reads, Mayor Snyder adjourned the meeting at 8:15pm.
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.