2016-12-09 / Front Page

Cape councilors set annual goals

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Portland Head Light glistenS under the first significant snowfall of the season, Tuesday Dec. 6. Fort Williams Park, in which the venerable light sits, was the subject of much debate at a Cape Elizabeth Town Council workshop Monday night, as the town’s executive body set its goals for the coming year. Concerns were raised about the financial burden of the park, with one councilor, Sara Lennon, even suggesting it may have to close to the public. (Russ Lunt courtesy photo) Portland Head Light glistenS under the first significant snowfall of the season, Tuesday Dec. 6. Fort Williams Park, in which the venerable light sits, was the subject of much debate at a Cape Elizabeth Town Council workshop Monday night, as the town’s executive body set its goals for the coming year. Concerns were raised about the financial burden of the park, with one councilor, Sara Lennon, even suggesting it may have to close to the public. (Russ Lunt courtesy photo) CAP ELIZABETH — The Cape Elizabeth Town Council began the process of laying out what it hopes to achieve in 2017 during a two-hour workshop Monday, Dec. 5, achieving in the process their first goal – to not set so many goals.

During a similar session last year, new council Chairman Jamie Garvin said, the council created a “laundry list” of 43 things to do for the year, that included “everybody’s wants and needs.”

“I don’t think that was the most strategic way to go about it,” he said. “I think we can do better in our approach with things that support more of a broad vision and direction. Individual action items, initiatives, all that kind of stuff, will be determined on an ongoing basis.”

What followed was about 20 minutes of debate on the value of setting highlevel directives over specific deliverables. Ultimately, councilors crafted a list of 19 policy paths that was a mix of broad goals and specific things to get done by this time next year.

One issue raised by more than one councilor was Fort Williams Park. With maintenance of the 90-acre site growing more expensive every year, Councilor Patricia Grennon said the direction given to whoever replaces outgoing Town Manager Michael McGovern should be to “just keep the lights on.”

“I feel like Fort Williams is a big thing we need to come to terms with,” Councilor Sara Lennon said. “Right now it’s just getting more and more out of hand every year.”

“We put it on our list every year, but we don’t make the big decisions,” she said.

When the subject of redoing the intersection in the center of town was brought up, McGovern said residents had turned down that idea after the council had spent more than a year on it, given the million dollar cost.

That prompted Lennon to suggest contracting a town survey of spending priorities – something Councilor Jessica Sullivan said the town had once looked into, but found might cost as much as $25,000.

Still, Lennon said it was important to find some way of soliciting greater taxpayer input.

“We can set goals, but I don’t think we really know what the people want,” she said. “Prior to making this big picture decisions about spending I think we need a survey. For example, would you rather have Fort Williams be a local park again and not allow any tour buses in there, to pay for it [park maintenance] out of your taxes and not have tour buses going all down Shore Road, so you can enjoy it again? I think people would say yes, but maybe they’d say, we want to throw it wide open and generate as much revenue as we can. We don’t know the answer to that.”

Lennon also suggested creating a land bond to buy and preserve more open space in Cape Elizabeth, but again said residents need to be polled to see if they would support such a thing before the council sets it as a goal to achieve, lest a repeat of the about face on the town center intersection.

“Let’s find out where people want to spend their money, and where they don’t,” she said.

The full list of 19 goals includes things such as establishing a moratorium on marijuana retail shops in order to buy time to craft governing ordinances, obtaining renewable energy sources, enhancing services to senior citizens and updating the town’s comprehensive plan, as well as finding direction on future use of Fort Williams Park as it becomes more and more popular as a tourist destination.

The most immediate goal for the council, however, is hiring a new town manager to replace McGovern, who is retiring at month’s end after 38 years with the town. Assistant Manager Debra Lane has been tapped as an interim manager until a replacement is hired, and McGovern has agreed to be available for the next six months as a consultant, to help the next manger get through budgeting season.

“When you have that kind to institutional memory, that’s something you definitely want to take advantage of for as long as you can,” Garvin said.

Meanwhile, the deadline has passed for the submission of resumes to replace McGovern. Although the town only employed local and regional advertising methods, some of the 38 applications came in from as far away as Texas and Idaho.

The council has since narrowed the list down to six hopefuls it will interview next week.

“We have, I think, a very good mix in the types of people we are going to be speaking with,” Garvin said. “We have both people whose experience is very broad and deep in this profession, but also a kind of what I consider non-traditional candidates as well. We wanted to look at a wide range of people with a diverse background, and I think we’ve accomplished that with the range of people we are going to be meeting with.”

Meanwhile, one of McGovern’s last duties as manager will be to summarize and refine the list of 2017 goals agreed on Monday, matching it with other past goals and council objectives still ongoing from last year’s list of 43. The council will take up that new list and set priorities from it sometime after the first of the year, Garvin said.

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