2014-08-22 / Community

In the News

Personnel issues

The South Portland City Council on Monday adopted several changes to a 78-page personnel policy for nonunion employees, but shied away from amending one section that gave the city legal fits in the recent past.

In April, the city ended up paying nearly $100,000 in attorney fees related to a 2001 lawsuit, in which then-librarian Karen Callaghan challenged the policy, after being told that, as a city employee, she could not stand for re-election to the school board. The courts eventually found that Callaghan had a first amendment right to run for office, regardless of her employment status.

In a June 30 memo to Human Resources Director Don Brewer, City Attorney Sally Daggett interpreted the court ruling, saying, “First Amendment interests are not implicated by service in, as opposed to candidacy for, elective office.” In other words, said Daggett, the city may not be able to stop a municipal employee from running for a seat on the school board, but, that person having prevailed at the polls, it can force a choice between a public office and a public paycheck. Daggett proposed replacing the “resign-to-run” prevision in the policy with a “resign-toserve” restriction.

“I’m not comfortable with that language,” said Councilor Tom Blake. “I think what we are doing here is circumventing the judge’s decision.”

The council agreed to adopt the proposed policy changes minus the section about political activity. That section will be the subject of a future workshop.

Highlights of the changes that were voted in include a prohibition on “romantic and/or physical relationships” between supervisors and subordinates, a provision that anyone leaving the city within two years of receiving an educational reimbursement pay back a prorated share of that benefit, and caps on the amount of money the city will pay to employees who decline health insurance coverage, fixed to rates in place Jan. 1, 2013.

Garbage ban possible

At its Aug. 18 meeting, the South Port-

land City Council passed the first reading of amendments to the city’s “garbage and refuse” ordinance that will deny collection services to apartment buildings and condo complexes. If the ordinance update passes final reading Sept. 4, trucks from Pine Tree Waste, the city’s contracted trash collection service, will not serve any new complex with more than four units.

Buildings and housing parks that now receive service will be grandfathered, said City Manager Jim Gailey, while those that wish to take advantage of recycling pickup can do so, provided tenants drag their recycling bins to the nearest street-side collection point. Gailey said the changes really only codify what has been in place since the 1990s, while taking into account city practice since it adopted a recycling program in the mid-2000s.

Although the first reading passed unanimously, some councilors, including Linda Cohen, expressed concern over fundamental fairness. The owner of a condo unit could pay more in property taxes than the owner of a single-family home, and yet receive fewer services.

It also was noted that many apartment and condo tenants have in the past balked at carrying recycling bins out to the street.

“In many ways we are a lazy society,” Cohen said. “The easier we can make it for people in condos and businesses to recycle, the better.”

City to vote on bond

The South Portland City Council voted unanimously Aug. 18 to send a $3.5 million bond request to voters in November.

If approved, the city would apply to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for a loan though its Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, administered by the Maine Bond Band. That money will fill a funding shortfall needed to complete the latter phases of a sewer and stormwater reconstruction project in the Thornton Heights neighborhood.

According to City Manager Jim Gailey, the amount to be bonded comes to less than 30 percent of the total $12 million cost for the project, for which the city already has obtained nearly $1 million in grants from the Portland Area Regional Transportation System to rebuild Main Street. Finance Director Greg L’Heureux said DEP will forgive $100,000 of the loan principal, while interest rates on the loan, currently at 1.5 percent, could be as low as 0.8 percent by the time the money is bonded.

With other city loans being paid off over the next few years, the new borrowing would have a “minimal” impact on sewer rates (about 4-cents) and “no net impact to the tax rate,” Gailey said.

Home on auction block

South Portland will sell a home at 56 Washington St., acquired for nonpayment of property taxes in January. According to City Manager Jim Gailey, the Cape Codstyle building, which is “in need of some work,” was abandoned by the homeowner about two years ago.

The city has the building, along with its 0.14-acre lot, accessed at $166,200. Councilor Melissa Linscott, who buys and rehabs homes for herself and clients, sat out the otherwise unanimous council vote to unload the property.

City elections gear up, or not

With just two weeks until the Sept. 8 deadline to turn in nomination papers, no one has filed to run for city council from District 5, which serves the Thornton Heights neighborhood.

Mayor Gerard Jalbert announced in early August that he would not seek re-election, bringing to an end 20 years of public service, first on the zoning and planning boards and then on the city council. Jalbert said it’s time to focus on his personal life, given that he has “a long bucket list.” As of Tuesday, no one had taken out papers to serve District 5, while only incumbent Patti Smith has taken out papers to run in District 4.

A race could be shaping up on the East End in District 1 however, where school board member Rick Carter has filed to oppose incumbent Michael Pock, who does hope to serve a second term.

In 2013, Pock beat Carter by two votes, 180-178, in a four-way race to finish out the term of Tom Coward, who resigned after winning election as a Cumberland County commissioner. In that race Energy Committee chairman Bob Foster received 139 votes, while Rob Schreiber, then a member of the planning board, got 111.

Currently, a three-way race is shaping up for two atlarge seats on the school board, where Fairlawn Avenue resident Christopher Hershey has filed to challenge incumbents Karen Callaghan and Mary House.

– Compiled by Contributing Writer Duke Harrington

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