2017-07-07 / Community

In the Know

APPOINTMENTS — Bonnybank Terrace resident Katherine Gatti has been appointed to the South Portland Planning Board to fill out the term of Taylor Neff, who resigned the position. Gatti, an attorney with the Injured Workers’ Legal Center in Brunswick, was sworn in at the June 19 city council meeting and will serve until April 1, 2019. A graduate of Bates College (2006) and the University of Maine School of Law (2012), Gatti’s work focuses on workers’ compensation law, social security disability, insurance denial and personal injury claims. An outdoor enthusiast, she once biked 2,400 miles from Fort Myers, Florida, to Lewiston to raise money for the Lewiston chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

PETITION PROCESS — The South Portland City Council on June 19 voted unanimously to amend the process by which residents may petition to bypass the council and place ordinance changes directly before their fellow voters at the ballot box. Born out of confusion during summer 2016 that resulted when some Knightville residents attempted to call a referendum on downtown parking rules, the new rules set a 60-day time limit on circulating a petition, but also allow petitioners one chance to correct any deficiencies in the petition. Previously, there was no time limit, but the city clerk could effectively kill a petition by ruling that it did not meet any of the enumerated requirements for circulating a petition and obtaining a set number of signatures.

While state law sets a signature requirement for municipal petitions at 10 percent of those who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election, the South Portland City Charter references “qualified electors.” City Clerk Emily Scully said the office has and will continue to interpret this as the number of registered voters at the time of the election, irrespective of how many actually cast ballots. The “point in time reference” is set in the new rules to be the number of registered voters at the last regular municipal election, rather than a gubernatorial contest, in order to match language elsewhere in the city charter.

“Is this going to make the process for getting initiatives brought to the council perfect? Probably not, but it’s going to make it a heck of a lot better and more explicit for the people who are in this process than what we currently have,” said Councilor Linda Cohen.

“We found ourselves struggling to understand our own process,” Councilor Claude Morgan agreed. “This wraps it up and puts a bow on it, and allows people to go into the future with a stronger set of rules and an understanding that everybody is going to play by the same rule book.

“I do not believe that we have made it more onerous or difficult to bring a referendum,” Morgan added. “What we tightened up in some areas we loosened in others. So, I think it’s a wash. The process is no more difficult that it was before, but it certainly is clearer.”

COPS GRANT — South Portland has applied for a Community Orientated Policing Services (COPS) grant through the U.S. Department of Justice in hopes of hiring an officer to work exclusively in the city’s two middle schools. If awarded, the grant would cover $125,000 toward entry-level pay and benefits for the new officer for three years, leaving the city to cover $113,543. The city also would be required to retain the officer for at least one additional year at its own expense.

According to Amy Berry, South Portland’s deputy chief of police, the officer, who would split his or her time between the two middle schools, would operate in much the same fashion as a similar resource officer at the high school.

“It can be just spending a lot of time building relationships, if nothing else,” Berry said, of what the officer would do. “Not getting involved in school discipline, but being readily available to handle whatever law enforcement tasks are needed, or to teach different types of classes, depending on the skill set.

“It’s a good thing to be fostering a lot of good, positive relationships with the younger students,” Berry said. “Truancy, or cyber-bulling are things specific to that age group we would hope to be impacting.”

“Any chance we have to break down barriers between police officers and our youth, that’s a good thing,” said Councilor Linda Cohen.

Councilor Eben Rose questioned staging an armed police officer in the schools.

“I have to admit I am conflicted about how it comes of psychologically, to have every space that we have, every space that should be a teaching space, a safe space, there in the presence of a gun – an armed officer, yes, there to protect and serve, but also in the national dialogue an object of fear, and I think rightfully so,” he said. “It seems to be that it’s really tough to break down barriers when you’re packing heat.”

Berry said while a new police officer would be hired under the grant, it would likely be a veteran with the department who would be assigned to the schools.

– Compiled by Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington.

The show

See the 25th anniversary show of “The Best of Broadway” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 12 and Thursday, July 13 at The Temple, 50 Temple Ave., Ocean Parks. Tickets are $12 at the door or from a company member.

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