2014-08-15 / Letters

Take a look at ‘new South Portland’

To the editor:

I (a six-year planning board member, long time South Portland resident, and now conflicted lover of the city) and thousands of other voter residents are still trying to figure out what is sadder and more distasteful – what South Portland has done or how they did it? “How” wins by a nose. The total and utter lack of due process, absence of fair, deliberative debate and collaborative decision-making is numbing. Where was the fact-finding, where was the all-sides-in inclusive process of long, drawn out research, mediation, strategic vision planning, and standard operating procedure, within or even outside the Comprehensive Plan? Heck, have a moratorium for as long as it takes to figure it all out, but do so together, as one city, with a far greater likelihood of at least still shaking hands at the end. That is what we had always done up to this point, as well as what we all had already learned in kindergarten. As my friend Kathy said, “You missed a key step here, and it was a doozie.”

The only thing close to real public discussion and community participation was a city-wide vote that I think we won, but umm, voting does not count in the new South Portland, where mulligans and do-overs are only a wobbly or irrational councilor away. Please ask Jeff Edelstein if he has ever in his long career chaired such a preordained, narrowly directed ordinance edict. Answer – never. Please ask any city staffer or manager what they think of this travesty and force an answer. Dislike oil sands all you wish, South Portland. I am not a huge fan, but dislike lack of process and a few hundred rabid rulers even more. History will show this was ultimately not about oil sands (reminder – it is not even mentioned in the new ordinance), terminal manifest destiny, Portland Montreal Pipe Line, or big oil. It was about yelling the loudest and scaring the most. It was textbook 101 on how to disregard a public vote and process, circumvent ethics, Charlie McCarthy a council, and Marcel Marceau a city manager into submission. Was it all right and fair? Nope. Was it all legal? To be determined.

Folks, it is time to call this sordid affair what it was – a sham, a joke and shame on any councilor for trying to sell this as anything but what it was – an appeasement to an all-emotion, passion-only, well-organized and nationally directed crowd – an emerging minority voter block of South Portland that are “my way or else,” off-oilers, and Utopia theorists with no basis other than select and slanted websites, “it feels right,” and my asthma-must-be-caused-by something. Heck, why let facts, mixed use energy policies, moderation or petroleum-based clothing and products get in the way of good old mob rule. Sorry, a ban on sneakers and cling wrap is next. The new South Portland drivers include many newbies with no frame of reference of the value or history of our unique area. When your sister was not building liberty ships, or your uncle shipping freight, it is far easier to see every tank only as a condo or hotel (or maybe they prefer casinos?), and every terminal as but a nuisance that would never fly in Cambridge or Berkeley.

Wake up, South Portland. You were a fine blue collar, old-time Dem-leaning town with plenty of socially liberal indies like me mixed in. A diverse, hard-working and mixed community of enormous blessings. It all worked. You are now running with the new left, the uber-liberals and darkgreenists, many from more urban settings and education, who want to remind us how much smarter they are than us, and where real estate pricing trades quite well with Willard Beach haunts – those who praise us on marriage equality and medical marijuana (yeah we agree) while condemning and scolding on any other disagreement. Those who define acceptable business in only the number of bagel and coffee shops we have. Stand up, speak up, at your peril. They know what they like and get what they want, and are not afraid to knock on any door or run city hall from a bully pulpit. An energetic few hundred can clearly do a lot. As Bob Dylan crooned, “The times they rrrrr a-changing.” Accept assimilation or minimally get out of the damn way.

Even worse, some of the new hardcore activists, mixing well with some existing South Portland progressive pals I still call friends (sadly they might disagree), seem to find comfort in calling those of us who believe in process and give and take at all costs – “Damn you tall oil,” “You and your like are pure evil” or more convincingly, “I hope you die of cancer from the stuff you all are shipping.” Wow. An environmentalist South Portland granny I quote directly. Makes Tom Blake’s supposed bag of dog feces on his doorstep seem mild, huh? Clean up in aisle five in Hannaford please. Now that is passion and emotion. I, of course, wish her nothing but a long, healthy and happy life. Hugs to all, especially those I disagree with. I also greatly respect her right to speech and opinion. I do have some questions though.

Do you really think a sound, legal and reasonable ordinance is one where one side is downright giddy to their Natural Resources Council of Maine toes and the other side is totally unhappy and feels ignored? Is this the way to treat a culture and industry base that has served us so well for so long and has done nothing wrong? Do you really, truly think that this was South Portland’s best practices in place, as responsible, fair and inclusive local politics? Do you believe in due process and debate and true mediation or only when it suits you and your cause? Process is your friend only when you don’t have the council votes? Do you believe in what one councilor said – “Well, Don, sorry, I need to pay the most attention to those who call or show up” (God help us if neo- Nazis start attending council meetings with that distorted thinking where squeaky wheels get their grease no matter where they are driving – and with no map).

Shame on the council (and their dual action of timidity and irresponsibility), and shame on city leaders for not sticking their well-paid necks out. Shame on those of us who stayed in the shadows so as not to feel uncomfortable with more passion-filled neighbors. “Gertrude is wrong, but she feels so strongly, and I love her dog and she always brings me garden tomatoes.” Shame on any who don’t believe in process and debate and some semblance of mutual agreement before decisions are made that carry huge ramifications to this city’s future, the region, the country and the planet. Who needs debate when you know you are right and what is best for everyone. Sure must be great to be so ... so certain. I, for one, like to leave room for continuing education and revision.

And finally, what a shame, I am now ashamed to wear a sky blue shirt in this divided city that I thought believed in more important things than oil sands will ever be. You know, you remember, those really cool and valuable things that make us humans, make us Americans, make us good people that can coexist. Dang, and I was told I looked good in blue.

Sincere regards and God bless the new South Portland.

Don Russell
South Portland

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