The Bollard’s View

Confederacy of boobs

So a guy tries to bring a tacky, sexist chain restaurant to town and the Portland City Council passes a new law to stop it from opening. But it turns out this guy – Michael Harris, the would-be proprietor of a Hooters – is the one with class, the one who acts reasonably, with the public’s best interest in mind. The majority of our City Councilors are the real boobs.

Go figure.

Five of our nine City Councilors voted to enact a sweeping new law last Monday night and then to form some sort of “stakeholders group” to figure out what the law should really say and do. [See “Hooters halted, Dunkin’ danglin’.”] 

That’s pure idiocy, but these five aren’t stupid. They know this complex ordinance needs more study, more work and more public discussion before it’s on the books. They just wanted to nix Harris’ plan for a downtown Hooters and they needed to strike while they had the five votes to do so.

Before we continue, let’s be clear which five we’re talking about: City Councilors Jim Cloutier, Jill Duson, Nick Mavodones, Dr. Donna Carr and Karen Geraghty. Last Monday’s meeting was Geraghty’s last on the Council. 

The next time the Council meets it will have two newly elected members, Kevin Donoghue and Dave Marshall, who should join Councilors Cheryl Leeman, Ed Suslovic and outgoing Mayor Jim Cohen in moving to have the “Carr Ordinance,” as it’s being called, reconsidered and reversed. 

Dr. Carr introduced the amendment to form an after-the-fact group of “stakeholders” (are they supposed to kill vampires, too?). Reversing the Carr Ordinance puts the horse back before the cart – first you do your homework on this issue, then you consider changing the Portland City Code. 

None of the five who supported the Carr Ordinance had the integrity to admit they were acting solely to crush Hooters. 

By contrast, Harris has made no secret of his intention to bring the franchise to town. He released a lengthy announcement about it last summer, and has since tried to assuage the community’s concerns in a host of ways. Most notably, Hooters would have faced Free Street and sat in the shadow of the Civic Center, rather than occupy the Congress Street side of the building Harris leases, where it would be a much more visible – and, one assumes, viable – business. 

Before the Council voted, Harris’ attorney told them his client would voluntarily postpone his plans for six weeks to give Councilors more time to consider what they were doing. That was a generous, classy offer that could have resulted in a better ordinance. But again, the Hooters Five weren’t interested in passing a law informed by facts and analysis. 

The Council already has a group of volunteers they appoint to consider zoning matters and provide informed recommendations. It’s called the Portland Planning Board. The fact that this major zoning change was never submitted to the Planning Board for consideration is further evidence the Hooters Five have acted in bad faith and betrayed the public’s trust.

This clusterfuck of a law was largely crafted by a secretive group convened and led by outgoing Councilor Geraghty. Very few people understand it, and of those who do, most oppose some portion of it, be it the dense tangle of restrictions or the gaping loopholes.

The Hooters Five had some pathetic excuses for supporting it – that is, those who bothered to offer any reasoning at all. 

Cloutier’s contention that this isn’t a “land use” regulation was comical, and all the more so when Leeman pointed out its title: “Amendment to Portland City Code Chapter 14 (Land Use) Article III.” 

When Mavodones said it wouldn’t “hurt” to pass the law and then form a group to figure it out, it was less funny – at least to those watching Michele Tribou’s face. The would-have-been proprietor of a Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli franchise in the Old Port sat in the audience looking stunned and saddened as her plans crashed unexpectedly in the wake of Harris’. 

Duson, the self-described “process queen” of the Council, had no comment on the lack of process here and offered no rationale for her vote. She kept her mouth shut and chewed a Hostess cupcake given to her by a troubled man who weeks earlier was harassing Councilors from the audience with a fake rat.

Geraghty said little other than to urge a quick vote. It was after 1 a.m., and “some people have to get up in four hours,” she said, referring to herself. 

What a fine way to enact a sweeping new policy governing business in the heart of Maine’s largest city – bleary-eyed with fatigue and begging for sleep! 

Perhaps the worst part of this whole sorry affair is the way it has unnecessarily divided our community, pitting neighbor against neighbor, business owner against business owner. It was clear from public comments given during the few public hearings on this matter that most people support some form of regulation to keep Portland from being overrun by charmless chains. 

There is constructive middle ground to be found on this issue, details that real estate brokers, business owners, anti-chain activists and ordinary consumers can agree upon. It may take six months or more to craft regulations that make sense, but the consensus reached will be well worth the time and effort.

Sure, Hooters may open on Free Street in the meantime. But we, as a community, already have the power to decide what chains do business downtown: the ones we support with our own money. 

Don’t like Hooters? Then don’t eat there. 

Hate Hooters? Then hit the sidewalk in protest, holding signs and distributing flyers, as you have every legal right to do.

Too lazy to do that? Then get off the Portland City Council before we kick your ass off at the voting booth, as we have every legal right to do. 

— Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard.