Briefs from May and June 2006

By Chris Busby


June 30, 2006 

photo/Meghan Busby
photo/Meghan Busby

Anthem pulling 300 workers from Portland
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine is relocating nearly 300 employees from its downtown Portland office on Free Street to its facility on Gannett Drive in South Portland.

Company spokesperson Mark Ishkanian said it’s “just a more efficient use of space to move everybody under the same roof.”

Anthem has occupied the Free Street office building since 1972. Ishkanian said the company has no immediate plans to sell the property, which also includes a parking garage, but will do so eventually. The move is expected to begin soon.

Anthem’s Portland workforce handles Medicare business and national accounts for the health insurance giant. The nearly 300 workers will join about 900 employees at the South Portland office.

The move is disappointing news to Portland officials. “I’m sorry to see them go,” said City Councilor Will Gorham, whose district includes Anthem’s Portland office. “We’re always concerned about losing business to other towns in the community.”

“Whenever you lose downtown employees, it’s a negative impact, particularly on shops and restaurants,” said Jan Beitzer, Executive Director of Portland’s Downtown District. “The loss of Anthem is particularly hard, because it’s the heart of the Arts District, which is not the most populated area of downtown.”

“It kinda sucks for this area,” agreed Ted Arcard, owner of the Dogfish Bar and Grille down the street. 

“That puts a big damper on my business, especially during the day,” said Marcy’s Diner owner Joely Sparks. But the diner, located across the street from Anthem’s office, will weather the loss, just as it weathered the drop in revenue when Anthem cut its Portland workforce by a few hundred employees several years ago. 

“Believe it or not, a lot of the girls go to Dunkin Donuts in the morning and get coffee and donuts,” Sparks said, adding that Anthem workers account for two-to-six orders a day. 

Heather Smith, a former owner of Marcy’s who still works there, also previously worked at Anthem’s Portland office. She said workers across the street are disappointed by the prospect of moving to the Gannett Drive building – “we call that ‘The Mothership,'” she said. “They enjoy downtown,” Smith said of her former colleagues. 


June 29, 2006 

Buy Local campaign kicks off
A group of local business owners and consumer activists have started a campaign to educate the public about the benefits of supporting locally owned, independent businesses. The non-profit Portland Buy Local organization (of which Bollard Publishing is a member) is holding a campaign kick-off event on Monday, July 3, at 10 a.m., in Monument Square (not far from the new Quiznos franchise that opened there this spring). 

The group provides Portland business owners with promotional and educational materials citing the economic, cultural and environmental reasons to eschew big-box stores, corporate chains and franchises in favor of homegrown enterprises. More info can be found at


June 22, 2006 

Double-fisting: Geary's founder David Geary (left) and Shipyard head Fred Forsley at the June 19 Portland City Council meeting. (photo/Chris Busby)

Beer makes strange bedfellows
Shipyard Brewing Company’s request for a second tax break is still alive after this week’s Portland City Council meeting, but barely. 

Brewery President Fred Forsley had asked the council to extend and even expand the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement Shipyard received 11 years ago when it redeveloped a then-dilapidated site on Newbury Street. Shipyard hopes to expand its brewing and bottling facility there as well as its share of the national beer market, creating 18 new jobs over the next several years. [See “Free beer and chicken,” below]

The council’s Community Development Committee (CDC) was largely unimpressed by that prospect, and seemingly unswayed by the possibility the company might leave town if it didn’t get a second property-tax deal. The CDC made no recommendation regarding the request, and the full council was not inclined to support it. Instead, the council voted to keep the idea of the TIF alive for a year while more information is presented and further negotiations take place. The terms of the interim TIF give Shipyard just 1 percent of its property taxes back; the city gets the other 99 percent. 

“At this point in time, I’m not giving it a lot of life,” said City Councilor Will Gorham, who brought the TIF request to the full council in the absence of a CDC recommendation. Forsley “has to prove that there’s a clear benefit to the city.” 

The public comment period on this matter brought out some surprising allies and fairly predictable opponents, like Geary’s founder David Geary, who objected to the city granting his competitor another big tax break. Allies who showed up included Bob Baldacci, eldest brother of Governor John Baldacci, a friend and business associate of Forsley. [See “Tangled web of interests on the eastern waterfront.”

Eli Cayer also spoke on Shipyard’s behalf, noting the support Forsley has given to arts and community groups like his own non-profit, MENSK, a group that holds monthly summer film screenings atop a downtown parking garage and drives an avant-garde U-Haul around on First Friday Art Walks. Cayer also happens to be a licensed real estate agent with Harborview Properties, a company Forsley owns, though he didn’t mention that to councilors. (Baldacci, an executive vice president with the national hotel management and development company Ocean Properties, is also an agent with Harborview.) 

I believe I can fly: Lou McNally addressing the council. (photo/Chris Busby)
I believe I can fly: Lou McNally addressing the council. (photo/Chris Busby)

And, of all people, TV personality “Altitude” Lou McNally (host of the public TV show “Made in Maine”) came down from the clouds to urge councilors to support Shipyard’s request. Who’s next, Connie Chung?


Coup on the Hill?
Members of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization voted to pick a new board of directors last week, and the outcome has some political tongues calling the results a “coup.” 

That’s because longtime member Will Gorham, the Hill’s representative on the City Council, lost his bid for another term on the board, and his new neighbor, Kevin Donoghue, won a seat on the 20-member body. Donoghue intends to challenge Gorham for his council seat this fall, though the registration period for official candidacy has not yet begun. Donoghue moved to the Hill, a few doors down from Gorham, several weeks ago. Gorham grew up in the neighborhood.

About 70 MHNO members voted at the group’s annual meeting, choosing 10 board members from among 13 candidates, new and incumbent. (Another veteran member, Gary Marcisso, also failed to win another two-year board term.) The neighborhood group has nearly 300 members.

Gorham had no comment on the results. 

Board president Markos Miller said he thinks the results indicate “a bit of a generational change” in the neighborhood, noting that there are “a lot of newcomers,” both young and old, calling the Hill home these days. 
The extent of this change will likely be measured this fall, when Gorham, Donoghue and perhaps other candidates vie for the comfy chair in Council Chambers.


Lights, cameras… Cloutier?
Mayor Jim Cohen’s Old Port Night Life Task Force continues to work on ways to improve safety in the tourist district – generating one ridiculous idea after another.

The latest outrage was unleashed June 20, when the board reacted receptively to a suggestion Portland ban Happy Hour citywide in response to crowd problems in the Old Port between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. on some summer weekend nights. (The poor bastards in Boston already live under a similarly prudish martial law banning the sale of booze for a reduced price.)

This dry-brained idea, along with a suggestion to regulate drink sizes and impose a one-drink-per-serving rule (no more shot-and-a-beer combos) may be crafted into legislation submitted to state lawmakers, since such changes likely need state approval. (One can only daydream about the reaction this would get in, say, Jackman: “Sorry, bub. Bud’s full price now. Seems some kids are getting rowdy in Portland’s Old Port.”) The task force is expected to make final recommendations later this summer.

Task Force members (including chairman and City Councilor Will Gorham, a former Old Port bar/disco owner; Portland’s Downtown District Executive Director Jan Beitzer; Old Port mega-landlord Steve Baumann; city attorney Gary Wood and Assistant City Manager Larry Mead) also discussed staggering the times Old Port bars close to reduce crowd formation – aren’t people already staggering out of these joints? – installing more surveillance cameras on private and public property (“Hey, that drunk chick’s hot!”), and improving lighting in the district. 

Remembrance of Policies Past: Cloutier mid-idea. (photo/Chris Busby)
Remembrance of Policies Past: Cloutier mid-idea. (photo/Chris Busby)

Mead also brought up the idea the city could adopt a tactic used in some European cities: emitting a highly irritating, high-pitched tone at closing time that only young people can hear. This sensory warfare strategy has been employed to keep Old World youngsters from loitering in front of shops, and got some worldwide press a year or so ago.

With all due respect, The Bollard actually thinks there’s a more effective, less humane option the task force should consider: blaring recordings of loquacious City Councilor Jim Cloutier’s public dissertations on such exciting topics as tax and budgetary policy, and the history thereof. (To Cloutier’s credit, he’s actually one of the saner councilors when it comes to booze policy.) That way you irritate the brains of young and old drinkers alike. 



June 13, 2006 

City voters may get final say

A clear majority of year-round Peaks Island residents – over 57 percent – voted today to secede from the city of Portland and establish a town of Peaks Island in Casco Bay. The unofficial tally was 392 to 290, including absentee votes. 

A team of negotiators representing the island will next meet with city officials in an attempt to negotiate terms of a separation settlement acceptable to both parties. Once that happens, the state Legislature will be asked to consider secession legislation which, if passed, may officially make Peaks its own township.

Proponents of secession have said they will ask state legislators to give Peaks voters a second vote on secession before the island becomes a town. But state lawmakers have said a second vote is not guaranteed, and have raised the possibility the state could require a vote by mainland Portland residents before the island is allowed to leave.

“In the end, I don’t think the Legislature’s going to approve it,” said City Councilor Will Gorham, who represents Peaks Island, the East End and much of downtown. “I don’t believe they’re interested in promoting smaller governments.”

Gorham also said he thinks state lawmakers will require a city-wide vote.
Mayor Jim Cohen released a statement shortly after the results came in. “[I]t is my belief that secession ultimately will make residents of both the island and the mainland worse off,” Cohen said. 

Cohen added that the city “has a duty to negotiate and, if necessary, lobby in Augusta for the best interests of the remaining residents and taxpayers in Portland.”


June 12, 2006 

Cianbro deal won’t slow Ocean Terminal re-use
News last week that Maine-based construction company Cianbro has landed a deal to help convert two sulfur tankers into supply vessels at the Portland Ocean Terminal hasn’t changed the city’s intention to find a new, more lucrative use for the marine industrial facility.

City Manager Joe Gray said Cianbro will pay the city about $130,000 to use the publicly owned terminal during work on the ships, which is expected to last until late next year. The city received about $1 million in annual rent from Cianbro when it worked on two oil rigs at the facility several years ago, but some of that rent was exchanged for structural work the company performed on the terminal and pier beneath.

In the two years since the rig project, neither Cianbro nor the city – in many cases working together – has been able to land another sizeable marine construction project. Earlier this year, Gray directed the council’s Community Development Committee (CDC) to begin exploring other uses for the site. And as The Bollard reported earlier this spring, private developers have been eyeing the property for a luxury hotel and other non-marine uses. 

The CDC held a preliminary meeting to discuss potential re-uses last month, and will take up the topic again at its June 14 meeting. The full council will hold a workshop on the subject prior to its June 19 meeting.

Gray said even with the new Cianbro deal, the city is projected to lose over $600,000 in unrealized revenue from the terminal this year, making the decision to go forward with re-uses a no-brainer. 

Captain Jeff Monroe, the city’s Director of Ports and Transportation, agreed with Gray’s bleak assessment of the site’s potential for future marine industrial use. He called the Cianbro deal “a rarity,” and added, “I’m not real hopeful this is going to be a steady source of business for us.” 


Drug-free “safe zone” push pushed back again
The Portland City Council’s Public Safety Committee again deferred action on a police department request to create drug free “safe zones” in and around the city’s parks, playgrounds and athletic fields. People who commit drug crimes within the 1,000-foot “safe zones” are subject to a higher level of criminal penalty and longer minimum prison sentences. [Read our Jan. 30 special investigative report here.] 

When the Public Safety Committee first considered the cops’ request in January, all three members voted in favor of creating the zones, but the committee expressed concern about establishing “safe zones” on private property, as police had requested. Yankee Lanes, Happy Wheels and the Portland Rock Gym were among the properties on the department’s initial list. 

Councilors also wondered back in January how the zones would be enforced around public trails, many of which snake for miles around the city. By law, the “safe zones” must be “conspicuously marked,” necessitating hundreds of signs were the full list to be adopted. 

In February, committee chairman Will Gorham postponed bringing the measure to the full council, saying the idea needed to be refined “to make sure it’s done correctly, that it targets those we want to target.”

Last week, police department attorney Beth Ann Poliquin was back before the committee with a new list, this one minus all privately owned properties and public trails. But this time, councilors were even more skeptical of the law’s utility and fairness. 

Councilor Cheryl Leeman told Poliquin to come back with data supporting the need for the zones, a map showing recent drug arrests and a new list further refined to only include areas where drug activity is most common. For example, councilors struggled with the inclusion of both Capisic Park – an 18-acre nature preserve – and Capisic Pond Park. “They’ve have to be on the water,” Councilor Donna Carr said.

Leeman and Carr also struggled again with the fairness of raising drug crimes committed in “safe zones” to a higher class of felony. (Gorham was absent from last week’s meeting.) 

Leeman noted that felony convictions can disqualify young people from college aid programs and close other opportunities to better their lives. She said she has a “huge concern with bumping these into a category [of crime] that could ruin their lives due to a stupid mistake.” 

Poliquin indicated she will return with the materials the committee requested at a later meeting.

In related news, Auburn police made that area’s first “safe zone” bust last month, bagging 57-year-old Lee Jordan for alleged possession of a half pound of pot, paraphernalia and a loaded rifle in his apartment, WLBZ-TV reported. Forty-year-old Harry Buck was nabbed there the next day, when he allegedly arrived with a new shipment of weed.

And a report issued last month by the Maine Department of Public Safety states that in 2005, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency made 43 of its 626 drug arrests (almost seven percent) within the 1,000-foot “safe zones” surrounding all Maine public schools. 


June 6, 2006 

Old Port cop swap 
Portland Police Chief Tim Burton has reassigned the lieutenant who’s been in charge of policing bars in the Old Port for the past four-and-a-half years. Lt. Janine Roberts now has a largely internal position overseeing the department’s support services – managing police records and the like. 

Lt. Don Krier, recently promoted from sergeant, is taking Roberts’ place – in a way. Lt. Roberts headed the PPD’s so-called Tactical Enforcement Unit. Lt. Krier (pronounced “career”) will head what’s now being referred to as “evening directed patrol.” The change in titles is part of a department-wide reorganization Burton is undertaking to make officers’ duties less specialized.

In mid-April, Roberts, the department’s first female lieutenant, was passed over for one of two captain’s positions in the PPD in favor of then-Lt. Ted Ross, the officer whose drunk driving accident three years ago cost the city over $275,000. [See “Once troubled cop promoted to captain.”] Though the move had the potential to spark criticism from advocates of affirmative action – many of whom protested Burton’s hiring over a black applicant for the job last year – no one has publicly made a peep.


June 4, 2006 

The space where they used to show "talkies." (photo/Chris Busby)

Burnham Arms race

The vacant lot between Geno’s rock club and the Burnham Arms apartment building on Congress Street is being readied for development. According to the city’s planning division, Michael Burnham of MPB Properties has submitted an application to build a four-story building on the site. The first floor would be retail space, with a total of 15 apartments on the three floors above.

The Burnhams own a host of Portland properties, including the building Geno’s moved into a little over a year ago. The rock club has another year on its lease, with an option for two more years after that, though the new residential development next door could complicate that arrangement. 

The new building will occupy the site of the long-defunct Capitol Theater, a popular movie house in the early-to-mid part of last century. The theater fell into disrepair after the larger Fine Arts Cinema opened next door in the early 1960s. It was demolished a couple years ago, and has since been used sporadically as a parking area.


Deputy Sheriff Bill Holmes?!
As we reported in Briefs on May 8 (see below), Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion has a challenger in the race for top county cop this year: Edward “Ted” Blais, a former Gorham cop who recently became chief of the University of Maine at Farmington’s force. When Blais announced his candidacy last month, he said he intended to run as an independent, unaffiliated with a political party.

Looks like he’s already flip-floppin’. 

Bill Holmes – chairman of the Cumberland County Republican Committee, not that FSU guy – sent an e-mail last week announcing that Blais is running as a Republican. To be listed on this November’s ballot as such, Blais needs 300 write-in votes in the June 13 primary. Voters supporting this effort must include Blais’ town of residence (Standish) and spell his name right: “Ted Blaze” won’t cut the mustard with election officials; it’s “Blais, Edward.”

Despite Blais’ “impressive credentials, we must questions [sic] his wisdom however, as he has asked me to serve as his campaign manager and in his administration once he is elected Sheriff in Cumberland County,” Holmes wrote. 

Holmes was almost sitting in the Sheriff’s chair himself four years ago, when he challenged Dion, a Democrat then seeking his second term. At the time, Holmes was a captain in the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department (he now works, sans gun, as director of the county’s Communications Office). 

Dion beat Holmes by less than 6,000 votes county-wide (57,802 to 51,840), though the Democrat got nearly twice as many votes in Portland (15,675 to 8,328). It’s believed a good portion of Holmes’ 8,000+ urban votes were people thinking they were voting for “that FSU guy.”


May 23, 2006 

Don’t tell Dad
Portland School Committee member Stephen Spring announced today that it just got easier for high school students to conceal their existence from pesky military recruiters.

Last year, Spring successfully pushed to change the way the school department asks students whether they want their personal contact information provided to military recruiters. [Read the Nov. 7 Brief here.] Beginning last fall, this question was included on an emergency contact information card all students are required to fill out and submit. (The prior form was optional, and students who failed to return it – the vast majority – had their contact information made available to military recruiters.)

The result: At Deering High, over half the students opted not to share their information; at Portland High, it was 65 percent opting out.

Last year’s emergency card stipulated that students under 18 needed their parent or guardian to fill out the military contact portion. In fact, Spring said, that’s not the case. Policy research conducted with Jack Bussell of Veterans for Peace showed that students of any age can opt not to make their names, addresses and phone numbers available. Next year’s card will reflect this change.

Spring predicts as many as 90 percent of high school students will opt to keep their info secret next year, and cast the decision in terms of privacy rights, rather than anti-militarism. 

When teachers pass out the cards this September, “it’s a teaching moment: ‘Your privacy rights are being violated by the federal government.’ It’s a lesson about what they’re hearing on CNN… all these privacy rights [issues].”

Portland is one of a small handful of school districts nationwide that include the military contact question on a mandatory form. The town of Bethel also does so, Spring noted in an e-mail.

An effort to require schools statewide to include the question on emergency cards was quashed earlier this year. The legislature’s bi-partisan Education and Cultural Affairs Committee voted unanimously against the measure, which was sponsored by State Rep. David Farrington, a Democrat who represents parts of Gorham and Buxton. Portland legislators Herb Adams and Charlie Harlow also signed on. 

Committee members cited the “significant” cost of requiring districts to print the contact question on the cards, the Kennebec Journal reported, and it was not deemed politically feasible to require the state or the schools to pay for such costs. Spring said it costs “absolutely no money” to make the change Portland did.

Education Committee members instead directed state education officials to send a letter to district officials reminding them that federal law requires parents be notified they have the option to withhold the info. 

The KJ reported that Maine National Guard Col. Peter Golding told committee members he was not opposed to parents knowing they have that choice. But at the same public hearing before the vote, he was quoted as saying, “I urge you to be cautious of the connotations going out if you sign on to this legislation…. The alternative to an all-volunteer force is an all-nonvolunteer force.”

After the vote to kill the measure, Col. Golding told the Morning Sentinel, “We definitely don’t want to recruit young men and women if their parents don’t want us to do it.”


PACA surveys the scene
The Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance, flush with $10,000 in city money restored at the 11th hour (see Brief below), now has a Web site up and running at

Visitors can take their pick of two online surveys – assuming you’re an artist, arts organization, or “Creative Sector Business” – and basic info from the surveys will be used in the future for an online database on the site. [Feel free to take our “artist survey” here; the data is relayed directly to the N.S.A.].

Also on the way is a calendar of events and interactive online “bulletin boards.” 


May 15, 2006

Free beer and chicken?
As reported by the Portland Forecaster last month, the chicken-processing company Barber Foods has been talking with city and state officials about plans to expand its plant on Milliken Street – and ways the city and state could provide tax breaks for such an expansion. Those discussions are presently on hold while the company considers the impact the state’s repeal of the business equipment tax may have on an expansion’s financing. 

Last week, city officials heard from another local manufacturer hoping to get a tax break: Shipyard Brewing Company president Fred Forsley. Shipyard got a 10-year tax-increment-financing deal (TIF) when the company built its brewery on Newbury Street a decade ago and cleaned up environmental problems at the former Superfund site. 

The company is now seeking another 10-year property tax break. Forsley said a new TIF would help the company pay off debt from past work on the site and expand its current facility, creating as many as 18 new jobs at the brewery. Shipyard is trying to grow its share of the beer market outside Maine, especially in California and Florida, said Forsley. The plant expansion would double both capacity and employment at the Newbury Street facility.

Jack Lufkin, director of the city’s Economic Development Division, said Shipyard is seeking to get back 75 percent of its property taxes over the next 10 years. The previous TIF returned 90 percent of the company’s property taxes during its first five years, and 50 percent of its taxes during the last five years. If approved by city and state officials, the new TIF could be worth about $1.1 million in tax relief to Shipyard, Lufkin said.

Forsley is also a principal of Riverwalk LLC, the development team building a huge complex of condos, retail and office space, parking and apartments across from the forthcoming Ocean Gateway cruise ship terminal on the eastern waterfront. The Riverwalk project includes a 12-year TIF agreement worth $5 million for construction of a parking garage near the brewery, a few blocks from the waterfront. 

And speaking of parking, city officials are also being asked for a TIF agreement to facilitate construction of an office building, student housing complex and parking garage in Bayside, at the corner of Marginal Way and Preble Street. That deal, if approved, would last for 15 years and could be worth as much as $6 million to the developers over its entire term. 

The city council’s Community Development Committee is considering the TIF requests, and the full council may take action on them later this spring. 

Thus far there’s been no discussion of the most obvious way Barber Foods and Shipyard could compensate the city for its tax largesse: free beer and chicken at all city-approved festivals. 


May 8, 2006 

Opponent emerges in sheriff’s race
University of Maine at Farmington Police Chief Edward “Ted” Blais intends to challenge incumbent Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion in this year’s race for the sheriff’s office. Dion, a Democrat running for a third four-year term, was previously unopposed.

Blais, a former Gorham police officer with over 20 years of law enforcement experience, is collecting signatures to run as an independent candidate on this fall’s ballot. 

“This was an opportunity that came to me because I found that Mark didn’t have anybody running against him,” said Blais, who’s been chief of the university’s force for about a year. Health care and other operating costs at the Cumberland County Jail will be among the issues Blais intends to raise during his campaign, he said.

Dion said he knows of Blais and welcomes the scrutiny of his department a competitive race may bring. “The public has a right to evaluate the performance of my administration,” said Dion. “I have no problem with that. I think we’ve done a good job in the last eight years.” 


May 1, 2006 

Blue bag price hike halved; more cops, arts funding
At its meeting on April 27, the Portland City Council’s Finance Committee voted on several last-minute changes to the proposed city budget. Those changes include a reduction in the cost increase for city trash bags, money to hire five additional police officers, and the reinstatement of $10,000 for the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance that was cut by City Manager Joe Gray when he completed his budget proposal earlier this year.

The full council will hold a public hearing on the budget during their May 1 meeting. A formal council vote is scheduled for May 15.

Gray’s original budget would have more than doubled the cost of city trash bags – from $4.75 to $10. The three-member committee voted unanimously to make the cost $7.50 for a pack of ten 15-gallon bags or five 30-gallon bags. 

Included in the committee’s meeting materials was a summary of public comment prepared by a city staffer that day. It reported that to date, the city had “received 154 responses” to the proposed cost increase – 62 via a city e-mail address, and 92 responses the staffer read at the bottom of an article about the increase posted on the Portland Press Herald‘s Web site. 

Of those responses, 22 (or 14 percent) were in favor of the price hike and the expanded recycling services it is supposed to help pay for; 132 were “generally opposed.” The staffer noted that 21 commenters “clearly identified themselves as a non-Portland resident” in their e-mail, though that figure could be higher, given that many anonymous posters gave no indication where they live. 

The request for additional officers was not in Chief Tim Burton’s original budget request. Deputy Chief Joe Loughlin said the department is still deciding exactly how it will use the five additional cops. The concept at this point is to assign more officers to patrol specific neighborhoods, and have those officers work closely with neighborhood police officers already working the area. 

Loughlin said the staffing beef-up is the result of an increase in drug-related crime: robberies, thefts and burglaries perpetrated by people seeking cash to feed their drug habit. 

“We don’t want to see what happened in Lowell and Lawrence years ago,” Loughlin said, referring to the two Massachusetts cities that have struggled with drug crime. He added that “what you read in the news” about drug-related crime in Portland “is just the tip of the iceberg.” 

Including estimated benefits, the five new cops would cost just over $175,000 combined. 

The Finance Committee also voted to restore $10,000 for PACA, the same amount the non-profit arts organization received last year.

“It’s just great news to us,” said PACA board president Katie Brown. Brown said the group, which has had its organizational ups and downs over the years, is working on a new action plan and fine tuning its mission. The city funding would help PACA maintain a Web site, which should be launched in the next few weeks, and possibly expand its small staff.


Get on the bus, kid
The board of the Greater Portland Transit District voted last week to begin giving students in grades six through twelve free rides on METRO buses running in Portland and Westbrook. 

METRO’s director of operations and acting general manager, Pete Cavanaugh, said the board passed the new initiative “as an experiment” that will run from September through December this year. 

Many details are still to be worked out, Cavanaugh said, including how the program will be administered and who will oversee it. 

In an e-mail to Portland School Committee member Stephen Spring – one of the principal advocates of student METRO ridership – Superintendent Mary Jo O’Connor said students will need to pick the bus up at an existing METRO bus stop. Students will be given “some sort of punch pass,” O’Connor wrote, and when that pass is full, student riders can exchange it for a new one. Students in Westbrook would get the same deal.

The Portland Green Independent Party send out a press release celebrating the decision, with quotes from two Greens running for the school board this year.
“Developing environmentally-sound [sic] transportation choices is a no-brainer,” party co-chair and District One contender Rebecca Minnick is quoted as saying. 

Granted, unless entire neighborhoods of students start riding city buses everyday, the initiative will not save any fuel or money. But given the cast of characters often encountered aboard METRO buses, it should be one hell of a sociology lesson.

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