SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors showed support Tuesday for the construction of a skate park.

They also discussed modifications to a policy governing their access to the city attorney. 

Councilors said they are seeking volunteers for a committee to help identify possible sites for the park, as well as funding models. They said they would like to fast-track the project and possibly have it open by summer 2019. 

They decided to schedule a forum next month to gather public input on the project, but did not set a date.

In a City Council workshop Tuesday, resident Brian Leonard told councilors he used to skate in dangerous and illegal places not designed for recreational use while growing up in Detroit.

“I wish we had a skate park when I was a kid,” Leonard said. “I’m all about this and I hope you are, too.”

Seventh-grader Emmons Whited, part of a group of students who started an online petition a year ago to generate support for the project, said they have attracted attention, including from a North Carolina contractor who wants to build the facility. 

Councilor Claude Morgan said the decision could come down to “location, location, location,” noting Councilor Adrian Dowling had identified some areas in the city where a park could be built, including the Redbank neighborhood.

Legal advice

Continuing their discussion from a February workshop, councilors informally agreed on policy modifications to increase individual councilor access to legal advice from Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett. 

Under the policty, councilors will now each have one hour a month to meet with Daggett.

Requests for meetings would go through the city manager and staff; the city manager, the mayor or city clerk would be present at meetings between the attorney and a councilor.  

Councilor Eben Rose said the gatekeeping role is unnecessary, while as Mayor Linda Cohen and Morgan said it would both protect both the lawyer and provide oversight of city resources. 

Rose, who initiated the discussion, said the issue is more of a culture change than a rule change. He said the corporation counsel is an attorney for the entire council, per the City Charter, not just the executive branch of the city, and the changes will create more checks and balances in the system. 

“It protects this body from just being a wink-and-a-nod way of doing things,” he said. “I’m looking for full accountability.”

Rose said increased access to legal advice will help councilors understand their rights and duties clearly, as well as the possible ramifications of their vote. 

Rose also said he would prefer to strike language that says the mayor or city manager would have to be asked permission for a councilor to seek advice from the attorney on matters of city business. But others said they saw that stipulation more as a protection to ensure money isn’t spent on unnecessary legal fees.

The policy also states that in the event the attorney provides legal advice at the request of an individual councilor or board member without prior contact with the mayor or city manager, payment for those services will be the individual councilor’s responsibility. The exception would be if the City Council subsequently agrees to approve the payment for services.

Councilors also said they support an annual review of the services provided by Daggett’s firm, Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry of Portland.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106., or at [email protected] or on twitter @Juliette Laaka. 

Emmons Whited gets air while practicing scooter tricks at Small Elementary School in South Portland last year. He helped lead a campaign for a skate park in the city.