October 23, 2013

Letters to the editor: South Portland councilors sidestep open-meeting law

A statement opposing a citizens’ initiative is issued without public notice or opportunity for public comment.

On Oct. 14, a holiday when city councils do not meet, five of South Portland’s seven city councilors signed a letter indicating opposition to the citizens’ initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot (“Five on S. Portland council reject oil initiative,” Oct. 15).

click image to enlarge

The HS Electra unloads its cargo of oil in South Portland in March. South Portland city councilors excluded the public from discussion of a statement opposing a proposed ban on the potential handling of tar sands petroleum in the city, a letter writer says.

2013 File Photo/John Ewing

They acted outside a public meeting, without public notice or opportunity for public comment, and without notice to the two remaining councilors.

They emailed their signed statement to nine media outlets. Evidencing their calculated effort to circumvent Maine’s open meeting law, their cover email stated, “the second page of the file is my documentation of when and where there was signature by the individual councilors to document that the councilors did not meet as a group.”

Clandestine meetings of five of South Portland’s seven councilors – whether by email, telephone, personal interaction or otherwise – violate the open meeting law. A series of meetings one after another is a violation just like a group meeting.

Maine courts have not expressly so held, but many other courts are clear (www.openmeetinglaws.com: Section 6.34 and the following).

Maine defines “public proceeding” as “transactions of any functions affecting any or all citizens of the State by ... (a)ny board, commission, agency or authority of any ... municipality ... .” With inapplicable exceptions, “all public proceedings must be open to the public and any person must be permitted to attend a public proceeding.”

Maine’s Legislature “declares that public proceedings exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business” and that “clandestine meetings, conferences or meetings held on private property without proper notice and ample opportunity for attendance by the public not be used to defeat the purposes of this subchapter.”

All elected officials receive training in open meeting requirements (Maine Statutes Title 1, Sections 401-03, 412; http://www.maine.gov/foaa/Training/index.shtml).

Powerful democratic policies support open meeting laws, adopted throughout the U.S., to ensure that the people’s business is done in public.

Ann Taylor Schwing

author,“Open Meeting Laws 3d”

Sacramento, Calif.

To ease risk to health, jobs, back waterfront ordinance

There is heated debate on whether to adopt a zoning ordinance change to prevent the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from pumping tar sands oil onto ships for export. Rather than listen to all the experts and politicians, I have done my own research and found there are unacceptable risks.

If spilled in the water, tar sands is impossible to clean up with existing technology. A spill in the harbor could cause a permanent shutdown of the Casco Bay lobster fishery. In 2012, 13 million pounds of lobsters were landed in Casco Bay, with a boat price of $39 million. That’s a lot of local jobs.

Loading of tar sands will require releasing tons of volatile organic compounds in the air, which will be hazardous to everyone’s health in Greater Portland.

I have carefully read and shared the proposed ordinance with a couple of lawyer friends and concluded it will not adversely affect any waterfront businesses. Oil industry trade journals say tar sands will be exported through the Portland Pipe Line. The question is when.

I have decided to vote for the Waterfront Protection Ordinance on Nov. 5. This is not the first time South Portland residents have stood up to Big Oil. In 1969, we defeated a proposal by Maine Clean Fuels to build a $150 million fuel desulfurization plant on outer Highland Avenue. We can do it again.

I am a lifelong South Portland resident and a senior citizen on a fixed income. My health and that of our community is more important than saving a few tax dollars.

David Orbeton

(Continued on page 2)

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