2015-06-05 / Front Page

City suffers under lack of volunteers

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Capt. William “Bill” Van Voorhis, who works at Eastcoast Maritime Solutions, is sworn in by City Clerk Susan Mooney to his fourth three-year term on the Harbor Commission, at Monday’s city council meeting. The city council had to pass over 11 other open positions on its appointment calendar Monday for lack of volunteers. (Courtesy photo) Capt. William “Bill” Van Voorhis, who works at Eastcoast Maritime Solutions, is sworn in by City Clerk Susan Mooney to his fourth three-year term on the Harbor Commission, at Monday’s city council meeting. The city council had to pass over 11 other open positions on its appointment calendar Monday for lack of volunteers. (Courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — Despite rule changes designed to draw more applicants, South Portland continues to suffer from a lack of volunteer help on its various boards and committees.

That doesn’t mean no one is stepping forward, of course. The city has more than 80 people serving on 13 standing boards, committees and commissions, not counting the board of education. However, it has 11 openings councilors have been struggling to fill, particularly on the Civil Service Commission which, with the unexpected death last week of Brian Dearborn, is down to just four members.

“It’s hard to get a quorum sometimes when you only have four members,” Mayor Linda Cohen said, noting that Dearborn was a former holder of the city council gavel.

Within the past year, the council has made several changes to its procedures in hopes of luring more committee volunteers. At one time, all appointments due to be passed over at a council meeting were lumped together in a bulk motion to table the votes to a later time. In order to avoid the appearance of minimizing the importance of those appointments, the council agreed to address each appointment individually. That decision has slowed the pace of council meetings considerably, but has not apparently lead to an increase in applicants.

Last year, the council also made a series of ordinance amendments to allow members to appoint residents living anywhere in the city. Previously, appointees had to live in the same district as the councilor tasked with making the appointment. The only restriction now is that no committee may have more than three members from any one of South Portland’s five voting districts.

However, because the Board of Assessment Review and the Civil Service Commission are mentioned in the city charter, opening up the appointment process on those bodies required voter approval. Residents soundly defeated that proposal at the polls last November, with 56 percent saying no.

Most councilors expressed disappointment with the result.

“It’s really a shame,” said Councilor Maxine Beecher, at city hall on election night. “It was something that was really very much needed, but the citizens have spoken, although I’m not sure they all really understood what was at stake. We’ll just have to carry on, trying our best to fill what vacancies we can.”

Carrying on however, has become somewhat comical, with councilors joking with each other while addressing the appointment calendar at recent meetings over their respective inability to score willing volunteers.

One seat, on the Board of Assessment Review, has been vacant for more than eight months, ever since member Christopher Kovacs moved to Scarborough and had to resign.

At Monday’s meeting, Cohen, who has recently taken to Facebook to solicit volunteers, asked that City Clerk Susan Mooney increase advertising in local newspapers.

“We obviously can use some help,” she said.

One particular need is on the city planning board, where Caroline Hendry, stepped down in April after nearly a decade of service.

“I did hear from a planning board member who said they are really desperate to get people on this board,” Cohen said. “This is a really important board and hopefully we can find someone to step up.”

A prospective applicant from that post, to be appointed by Councilor Melissa Linscott, can live anywhere but in easternmost District 1.

Linscott said at Monday’s meeting she hopes to fill that spot soon, but is having considerably less luck finding an applicant for her appointment to the Civil Service Commission which, because of the November vote, must reside in District 3.

“I’m definitely looking from an applicant, searching high and low,” she said.

“I’m asking all District 5 folks to please help us out and apply for this position,” said Councilor Brad Fox, chiming in on the similar restrictions for his commission appointment.

The third Civil Service Commission applicant must come from District 2, represented by Councilor Patti Smith.

The Civil Service Commission includes seven members, each serving a five-year term. A somewhat archaic body, it was established during nationwide progressive reforms of the early- to mid-20th century to combat nepotism on pubic safety departments. Although such commissions have been phased out or had their roles changed across Maine in recent decades, South Portland’s remains in place. Proposed changes to the commission’s structure were debated, but ultimately not enacted by the council three years ago. Its members meet “as needed” and deal with all matters related to the appointment, promotion, demotion, layoff, reinstatement, suspension and removal of members from the police and fire administrations.

Current openings in South Portland, listed with the length of the available term, appointing councilor and the required district residency, include:

 Conservation Commission — March 3, 2018. Councilor Claude Morgan, District 1, 3, 4, or 5.

 Conservation Commission — Nov. 20, 2017. Smith. District 1, 3, 4, 5.

 Board of Assessment Review — Dec. 31, 2016. Fox. District 5.

 Civil Service Commission — March 1, 2020. Smith. District 2.

 Civil Service Commission — March 1, 2019. Linscott. District 3.

 Civil Service Commission — March 1, 2016. Fox. District 5.

 Energy and Recycling Committee — May 5, 2018. Morgan. District 1, 3, 4, or 5.

 Energy and Recycling Committee — May 5, 2018. Smith. District 1, 3, 4, or 5.

 Energy and Recycling Committee — May 5, 2016. Cohen. District 1, 3, 4, or 5.

 Planning Board — April 1, 2018. Linscott. District 2, 3, 4, or 5.

 Board of Appeals — July 23, 2017. Linscott. District 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.

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