Dec 15, 2015

Listen to Rockland city council giving preliminary approval to a 6 month moratorium on Big Energy projects 12/14/15

Rockland city council gives initial approval to 6 month moratorium on Big Energy projects 

On  December 14, 2015 Rockland city council gave preliminary approval to a 6 month moratorium on Big Energy projects    Read draft moratorium (jpeg)                                                                            Second reading and final approval will take place on January 11, 2016

Tonight the Rockland city council passed - in first reading- a  6 month moratorium on considering any ten megawatt or bigger power plant applications. 

  Proposed moratorium was introduced by Councilman William Jillson. This is the first ordinance proposed by Jillson, who defeated Rockland's pro-gas councilor/mayor Frank Isganitis in the recent election.. 
So far...So Good!, Bill!
The moratorium still has to have a second reading and final vote.

But it seems clear that the needed three council members:  Jillson,  Valli Geiger and Larry Pritchett  have looked into the concerns their People have been raising about the weakness of city ordinances to take on big gas  industrial operations coastal natural gas power plant, and found them compelling.  
Moratorium opponents were either vague on why - Rockland's new mayor Louise MacLellan-Ruf. 

Or as in Councilor Will Clayton, repeating  the absent gas guy Evan Coleman's talking points: 

* What if Coleman came up with a super duper proposal two months from now?  He'd have to wait 4 months more while the city developed its big gas ordinance.

* What if some unknown would be gas power applicants suddenly appeared and had a super duper good proposal -  but then had to wait until the city drafted an ordinance? 

* What if  some UNKNOWN CITY  INDUSTRIAL LANDOWNER has to wait 6 months until regulation are developed before submitting his application?    

One supposes these frustrated corporate persons would  take their polluting industry elsewhere.  Suffice it to say no new applicant has arisen, and no new property owner eager to turn their property into a gas plant. has been identified. "Thomaston" some have said. 



Dec 3, 2015

Lobster larvae: global warming could have bigger impact on their survival than ocean acidification

Gulf of Maine water warming: bigger danger to lobster larvae than ocean acidification?
On November 23, 2015   at an Ocean Acidification gathering of scientists, NGOs and state and municipal officials, held in Augusta Maine, meeting co-host Susie Arnold of the Island Institute, read a several  reports from researchers who couldn't attend that day. 
Among them, a report by Jes Waller a UMaine marine biology graduate student . Waller compared the effects on maine lobsters of increased acidification of seawater with the effects of increased tsewater tempersure. Here's the report  read by Susie Arnold  
The word from Bigelow Lab: Lobster larvae may be  affected more by ocean warming than by ocean acidification. Jes Waller, a UMaine grad student doing her research at Bigelow, compared the impacts of water warming and acidication on larval lobsters in the lab. 
This according to an update from her that was read out to the participants at the recent ocean acidification meeting in Augusta. Listen to that reading a 2min 37sec mp3 
Waller extrapolated environmental conditions out to the year 2100, apparently by increasing the amount of acid-forming carbon dioxide in some of the larvae's environment to 750ppm, and increasing water temperature to 66 degrees in others. 
Findings: 
(1) Boosted acidification DID NOT appear to affect the lobster larvae's metabolism nor their behavior.
(2) Elevated water temperature DID affect them.Their respiration sped up, their motions increased , and their development through life stages sped up. (They have 3 larval stages, and one postlarval stage before becoming juvenile then adult lobsters.)
Waller's paper will be published soon, but it suggests that what appears to prove lethal to these superhungry larvae is that the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water and  abundance of their tiny prey doesn't increase along with their needs. Not enough for their increased respiratory and food demands  So they strangle and starve.
A legislator raised the question: does elevated acidity have impacts on lobster larvae's prey? 
No one knew. Food for the little ones include animals like water fleas , zooplankton copepods, crustacean larvae, eggs of about any fish or shellfish; and on the salad side: diatoms, dinoflagellates & filamentous algae.

Which of those are acid-sensitive and which are warming sensitive - and which are both?

Dec 2, 2015

George Bank area oil drilling - a look back at how CLF fought them in the 1970s & 1980s

While the proposed oil drilling may be off Canada, It is helpful to helpful to look at  three of Conservation Law Foundation's court battles with the feds  & oil industry over Georges Bank  from the 1970s and 1980s when the US was trying to drill on Georges.  Yes they were American companies but Canada got involved back then because spills from these could harm the sealife  of their waters and shores too.

1979 
Com. of Mass & CLF . v. Andrus481 F.Supp. 685 (D. Mass., 1979), a notice of sale was issued by the Secretary of Interior on October 5, 1979 scheduling the opening of bids for Tuesday, November 6, 1979 in the State of Rhode Island.  The State of Massachusetts and the Conservation Law Foundation brought suit to stop the sale and the matter came on for hearing before the Federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts on a motion for preliminary injunction and cross-motions for summary judgment.   Andrus won

1983
March 28, 1983 Federal District Judge David A. Mazzone issued a temporary restraining order  stopping the sale of oil drilling lease rights on 2.8 million acres of the Georges Bank The offering, the largest of its kind ever proposed by the Federal Government, was to go up for bids in New York City  on the 29th. The ruling was the latest development in a five-year effort by the New England states and various environmental groups to restrict the Government's plan to lease almost all of the continental shelf for oil and gas exploration by 1987.

1986
End of Judge's decision: On November 21, 1984, the Secretary filed a notice of appeal. On December 21, over two months after a decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined that the tracts in question belonged to Canada, he cancelled Lease Sale 82, Part II. On March 5, 1985, after the Secretary represented by affidavit that no new sales would take place until February 1987 at the earliest and that the administrative record for Lease Sale 82 would be abandoned, the court dismissed the case. 

Nov 28, 2015

US Marine Natural Monuments: From President Clinton to President Obama

The Justice Department explains why designation of marine national monuments is legally sound - in certain locations though not in others - and ecologically important.

"Establishing a National Monument in the Territorial Sea or the EEZ." was prepared by Randolph D. Moss, Asst AG, Office of Legal Counsel U.S. Department of Justice* . The key legal assertions are summarized at the top of the memo as follows: (bulletpointed for ease of reading) (see transcription of full report)

"We conclude that the President could use his authority under the Antiquities Act to establish a national monument in the Territorial Sea.

* "We also believe the President could establish a national monument in the EEZ to protect marine resources.

* "We are unconvinced, however, that the President could establish a national wildlife refuge in either area based on implied authority rooted in practice.

"Finally, with respect to the management issues, we believe that

* "Department of the Interior must have management authority over any national monument, that
* "The Fish and Wildlife Service cannot share management responsibilities with another agency over any national wildlife refuge area within a national monument, that

* "Fishery management plans issued under the MSFCMA must be consistent with regulations applicable to national monuments, and that

* * Establishment of a national monument would not preclude the establishment of a national marine sanctuary in the same area under the NMSA" [National Marine Sanctuaries Act]"

The above is the opening summary of a much longer document
whose sections are:

INTRODUCTION Page 1-10

PART 1. Establishing a National Monument under the Antiquities Act.
(A). The territorial Sea Pg 11.
(B). The Exclusive Economic Zone Pg 16

PART II - ESTABLISHING A NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE Pg 20

PART III MANAGEMENT ISSUES
A. Management of National Monuments Pg 24.
B. Effect of the MSFCMA on Establishment and Management of National Monuments. Pg 26.
C. Effect of Establishment of a National Monument on the Secretary of Commerce's Authority to Establish a National Marine Sanctuary under the NMSA. Pg 27

* Randolph D. Moss is presently US District Court Judge in the District of Columbia Court


Maine Ocean Acidification meeting 11/23/15 Audio MP3s

On November 23, 2015, a meeting was held  of governments officials, businesses and NGOs involved in Ocean Acidification research, education and advocacy.  Susie Arnold of Island Institute moderated the meeting. Listen below to  excerpts from the meeting on updates on research and monitoring.  (mp3s)  Or save them to your desktop or phone.

Introductions   5min 27sec

Nick Battista, Island Institute 3min 32sec

UPDATES
OA Updates 1 Bigelow Lab. 7min 30sec

OA Updates 2. 8 minutes

OA Updates 3 Mook Sea Farm. 3min 30 sec

OA Updates 4  Richard Nelson. 3min 30sec

MONITORING DISCUSSION
OA Monitoring 1. 6min 21sec

OA Monitoring 2, 3minutes

OA Monitoring 3.  10 minutes

OA Monitoring 4. 10min 30sec

OA Monitoring 5. 5min30sec

OA Monitoring 6. 8min 45sec

OA Monitoring 7. 7min 30sec

OA Monitoring 8. to end of meeting 8min 9sec

















Nov 26, 2015

Canada's Scotian Shelf Acidification Report: Micro- marine organisms affected, too.

Read what Canada has found to be true or at least, likely, of ocean acidification's effects on the Scotian Shelf ecosystem  in the State of the Scotian Shelf 2012, We observe that like theirs, our region's marine microbes that create tiny calcium based shells to live within are affected by reduced pH - as much as or more than we megafauna and macrophytes! Here's the report's section on marine microbes

4.3 Calcifying Micro- organism Productivity 
Micro-organisms are small bacteria, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and invertebrate species. They are responsible for almost half of all global primary productivity (Rost et al. 2008). Primary productivity is the production of oxygen and other organic compounds.

Micro-organisms are also the basis of the marine food web. Due to climate change, changes in dissolved carbon dioxide concentrations, pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and stratification will all combine to influence the composition and dominance of micro-organisms in the sea. This will impact their role in respiration, nutrient cycling, and many other important biological processes (Rost et al. 2008) (see Climate Change theme paper).

In some instances, however, increased dissolved carbon dioxide in ocean waters could exhibit beneficial impacts on certain micro-organism species, due to varying respiratory responses. For others, more negative responses may be observed.

In short, increased carbon dioxide dissolution in the sea is expected to affect micro-organism species differently, by impacting species-specific productivity, composition, assemblage, and succession (Orr et al. 2005; Rost et al. 2008).

Calcification is important to the prosperity of many micro-organisms by way of body structure, functioning, and protection (Pörtner 2008). Calcification is often a function of complex physiological processes in organisms that make use of bicarbonate or trapped carbon dioxide rather than carbonate, thus, although carbonate saturation may be a good proxy for calcification it is not necessarily a direct driver at the organism level (Atkinson and Cuet 2008; Pörtner 2008).

Some calcareous-based micro-organisms can survive extended periods of time in the absence of their calcareous structures, while many oth

ers cannot (e.g., echinoderms such as starfish) (Pörtner 2008). Typical calcareous marine micro-organisms include foraminifera (calcite shells), coccolithophores (calcite shells), and euthecosomatous pteropods (aragonite shells). They account for almost all of the flux of calcium carbonate from the ocean’s surface waters to the deep sea (Fabry et al. 2008). Foraminifera and euthecosomatous pteropods are particularly important inhabitants of sub-polar regions such as the Scotian Shelf. Micro-organisms vary in their response to ocean acidification, even within like species, and this has implications for the adaptation of individual species (Fabry et al. 2008). For lower trophic calcifying marine micro-organisms, such as Emiliania huxleyi (Figure 7), declines in their population may have significant implications on the ecosystem as a whole, by causing changes in food chain dynamics (Riebesell et al. 2000; Fabry et al. 2008; Rost et al. 2008). Emiliania huxleyi are commonly found in the waters of Atlantic Canada, includi-

ng those on the eastern Scotian Shelf (Brown and Yoder 1994). The species is particularly vulnerable to changes in ocean pH. In general, acute and long-term sensitivity to dissolved carbon dioxide is likely to be highest in lower trophic invertebrate species, which are poorlysuited to tolerate changes that can influence important life processes such as calcification (Pörtner 2008). The result is a lower tolerance of these species to changes in temperature that will reduce their spatial distribution, associated species interactions, and affect their role in the ecosystem (Pörtner 2008). Pteropods are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification due to their highly-soluble aragonite shells, while very little is known about the impacts of ocean acidification on cnidarians, sponges, bryozoans, annelids, brachiopods, and tunicates (Fabry et al. 2008). In contrast, increased dissolved carbon dioxide appears to have little impact on marine diatoms (Fabry et al. 2008). Some zooplankton species may exhibit diminished respiration, with species reliant on calcium carbonate showing signs of depressed physiological function (Royal Society 2005; Fabry et al. 2008; Rost et al. 2008)

FIGURE 7. Evidence of reduced calcification in two calcareous marine coccolithophore plankton species: Emiliania huxleyi (see Panels a,b, d, and e) and Gephyrocapsa oceanica (see Panels c and f) (Riebesell et al. 2000). The organisms were exposed to simulated dissolved carbon dioxide concentrations of approximately 300 ppm by volume (Panels a–c) and 780-850 ppm by volume (Panels d–f), respectively. The scale bar represents 1 micrometre (µm) in length (one thousandth of a millimetre). At the higher simulated dissolved carbon dioxide concentrations, organisms demonstrated signs of malformation, as represented by abnormalities in their shape and roughness of their edges (reprinted with permission from the Nature Publishing Group, Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature, Riebesell et al. 2000)..

Elevated dissolved carbon dioxide concentrations favour plankton species with high carbon demands and low surface area-tovolume ratios, that is, larger micro-organism species or species that lack carbon dependence. As a result, increased dissolved carbon dioxide may cause a shift in the global ocean’s planktonic community structure (Wolf-Gladrow et al. 1999). For instance, non-photosynthetic micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and protists may prosper under conditions of a lowered-pH sea. Many of these organisms have greater metabolic variability, which could give them a competitive advantage (e.g., nitrogenfixing cyanobacteria may benefit from ocean acidification) (Royal Society 2005). This could further contribute to an altered chem

stry of the sea (Orr et al. 2005). Last, increased dissolved carbon dioxide in the sea may increase the extra-cellular polysaccharides found on surfaces of plankton organisms. Extra-cellular polysaccharides behave as a glue that binds multiple organisms into large aggregates, subsequently altering the residence time and flux of planktonic biomass from surface waters into the deep sea (Royal Society 2005). As a result, essential minerals and energy found in the surface ocean could also dramatically change

END





Oct 29, 2015

One thing after another: Rocklanders writing what they think about their new Rockland city manager.

Below, read Rocklanders speak ing out quite emphatically in reaction the  to the statements of  James Chaousis II and Rockland city councilors  (especially councilor/mayor Frank Isganitis), recorded by Villagesoup  at an October 22nd meeting and reported  on by  the Rockland Courier Gazette.(copy)

================================

Selected comments
POSTED BY: ADAM S ACKOR Oct 27, 2015 15:35
comments and scrutiny from the public and press come with the territory.  The level of
arrogance within this council and city administration is unparalleled.  The public should always be encouraged to remain engaged in the process and discourse.  Who is the vocal minority the speak of?  Are they referring to the abutters and neighbors who spoke out about the Pleasant street hotel project, or are they referring to the vocal minority who are now attempting to dismantle our school district.  Are they referring to the vocal minority who believe that the harbor should be more of a cash cow?  or is it the vocal minority who believe that a power plant, producing energy for export out of Maine, would be a good replacement for our city hall....I'm just curious about who they are referring to.  If city councilor's don't like the criticism and engagement of the public, then they should step down and go home.

========================================
POSTED BY: KENDALL MERRIAM Oct 27, 2015 13:08
We (Kendall & Phyllis Merriam) are stunned by the attitudes of our city's council's and administrator's toward city employees and the public they are elected to serve. However, the following thoughtful Americans say it better than we can:
"Whereas it appeareth that however certain forms of government are better calculated than others to protect individuals in the free excercise of their natural rights, and are at the same time themselves better guarded against degeneracy, yet experience hath shown that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny."
-Thomas Jefferson
And from another great American and social critic:
"Forget the politicians. They are put there to give you the idea you have freedom of choice. You don't.   ...the city halls control just about all the news and information you get to hear. They don't want a population of well-informed citizens capable of critical thinking."
-George Carlin

================================================================


POSTED BY: DAVID E MYSLABODSKI Oct 28, 2015 15:29

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER IS A QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN VALUE!
....
What is next? If The People cannot “get along” with city council, are we going to be shipped to The Gulag?


=============================================================
POSTED BY: AMY FILES Oct 27, 2015 14:35
While I can understand frustration that city workers and volunteer council are constantly under fire -- I agree with Mr. Ackor that we should be VERY VERY weary of a council who is blaming a "vocal minority" as one of their major problems. A government intent on quieting its opposition in a democracy is a very scary thing. While I sometimes find myself part of this "vocal minority", and others I find I am in disagreement with it -- I would always prefer that there be people keeping a watchful eye on what is going on, and getting the word out about concerns -- as opposed to a council who passes important policy and prefers that "'Nobody even knows we've done this." Council should consider that more transparency and communication could result in a larger and louder opposition -- not simply assume that the "vocal minority" has no reasonable case to be upset with their actions or methods. There have been multiple duplicitous approaches to projects this year by the City -- from how we've handled bids, to having vote do-overs, to having our code officer act as lobbyist -- asking local businesses for of new development. I would prefer a "vocal minority" intent on calling these issues out than a Council who prefers to quiet them.
========================================================
POSTED BY: DAVID E MYSLABODSKI Oct 28, 2015 15:10

Isganitis, Clayton, Geiger, Pritchet, Mclellan Ruff & Chaousis [[mayor,city councilors and city manager]] think that Rocklanders are just a bunch of Morons!

On their "vision" they state "with a focus on renewable energy. . ." and then, they proceed to promote a natural gas burning plant!

What kind of Kool-Aid is being served at the council meetings?

Should we cry or should we laugh?


==============================================================
POSTED BY: SANDRA SCHRAMM Oct 28, 2015 11:29
This meeting was despicable and the taxpayers paid for it! More waste.

The counsel outlined all the weaknesses they observe. Remind them that most of them have been in office long enough to create more than enough decline and debt.
Recently I was told that the City officials let MBNA walk out on 8 million in taxes due! I would like to see the accounting on this and who signed it as it was the beginning of the debt issue resulting in former Mayor Pritchett's mission to sell of our PW garage and city hall for a greatly outdated plan for a natural gas plant. He likely plans to sell our harbor off as well for export.


===========================================
The very issues the described fear mongers have been trying to explain at the podium are the issues that will take Rockland down. The actions of this council, manager and city attorney need close scrutiny in my humble opinion! If theses thorns were not correct why are we so feared we are all but banned from city hall?

==================================================

The local Press:  we can thank the stars above our press representation finally has been restored to fair and respectfull representation. Stifling the press is to take away our First Amendment. As a young student in the Camden school system we learned early on the importance of the press and understanding the duties bestowed upon them.  Locally, we have a press team to be proud of. Yes there are issues nationally everyday where the press is called into question but I consider our press representatives to have restored their profession to a high standard after a long period of controlled press news reporting.  The men and women locally can be proud of the job they do each day exhibiting great integrity with some of what they have to deal with.  The only complaints come from city officials! Shameful.
 ===================================================

To describe residents or the press as threats is not representative of a Democracy. To deny either entity of the Freedom of Speech is shameful and against our Constitution. They have as others have said, trampled the Charter of the City of Rockland. Is the Constitution next?

Please attend tonight's meeting and above all, Vote for change November 3rd.

I will will add that I sat in on this meeting for 75 minutes and was overwhelmed with the disdain shown for anyone opposing these people. It would be a positive step for the City should this piece of work be destroyed and those not tolerant enough of the entire populace resign their reign.


POSTED BY: DEBRA L WHITTIER Oct 27, 2015 21:05
"Enhanced civic amenities" certainly does not include an outsourced Recreation Department.  Having grown up in Rockland, this change will always bother me.

POSTED BY: DEBRA L WHITTIER Oct 27, 2015 21:03
Interesting that Daniel Dunkle's article was considered to be negative and taken out of context. A review of the attached document from the meeting was reported exactly as stated in the document.  City employees were characterized as casual, unprofessional and resistant to change.  Yet, in the City Manager's response it was said that morale was at all time high. Seems to me there is a bit of disconnect here.
POSTED BY: DEBORAH O ATWELL Oct 27, 2015 18:31

Vote for Bill Jillson.  I was at this goal setting meeting too. Mr. Chaousis referred to me, in private, as a deviant. I believe as soon as he rids the city of all deviants he will find the peace and victory of his personal vision for Rockland. That will leave....who? Perhaps you are next? Do you display deviance? Do you disagree with the city manager? Did you like how he fast tracked the power plant deal? Don't say so!  Watch out! the city manager is out to get you, you deviant!  Vote Bill Jillson. A Hundred Cheers for Rockland!



========================================================
POSTED BY: RONALD HUBER Oct 27, 2015 17:21
I must agree with all of the above.One could reasonably say that Mr Chaousis and the city council are the most "threatening" vocal minority.

City officials have even sought to get around Maine's  Freedom of Access law, declaring (1) that not one of them ever keeps written or online notes of their office phone conversations to each other, Nor those to or from contractors, state, and county officials and others  No phone notes of what transpired during conference calls either; and.

(2)  that due to the   city policy letting city officials  use a single smartphone for both government purposes and private purposes, the two sets of calls are so hopelessly muddled  together  that  according to an email from Rockland's city attorney,  the city manager Chaousis has estimated  it will take him at least ten hours  to go through his last two phone bills  and figure out which are from his family and personal friends, and which aren't.  It will also take the city attorney Kevin Beal ten hours to go through HIS  last two  phone bills and Terry Pinto HIS.Ms  Bell likewise will need at least at least ten hours to read her last two phone bills and figure out which are from her family  and friends  and which aren't:
Hence, city attorney Beal wrote , at $15 per hour for each to look at their last two phone bills for ten hours, I'll need to cough up $885.00  - in advance- before they will undertake this arduous task, (which logically shouldn't take more than an hour, max) - with no guaranteed that there will be any records produced at all!

This is not good governance.
===============================================================
POSTED BY: KENDALL MERRIAM Oct 27, 2015 17:11
The city council and city manager can have all the "visions" they wish. What is needed is a mission statement with very specific goals with very specific steps to meet those goals.

The city governments' attitude toward Mr. Dunkle specifically, and the Fourth Estate, in general, continues the defensive posture city government continues to take in the face of any critiques. They do not seem to grasp the civic process and the role of journalists and newspapers.

=========================================================
POSTED BY: HOPE KOCIAN Oct 27, 2015 16:13
"The goal of the three-hour meeting, Bouchard said, was to create a vision statement for the city, setting a vision of what success would look like by June 30, 2018. She said this should be inspiring, achievable but not easy, something that would be a stretch to reach."
Was this goal achieved?

===========================================================
POSTED BY: DAVID E MYSLABODSKI Oct 27, 2015 12:58
Hi there Rockland Residents [aka The Voters] members of the SILENT MAJORITY,

What else can be added to the very long list of what this group of DICTATORS has been imposing on us, The People?

BTW, this was a PUBLIC meeting. Notice the size of the room. Space for only 5 members of the Public. No cameras, no microphone, no OFFICIAL RECORD.

Democracy is dying in Rockland and on November 3, we can begin the process of electing new faces that will work for The People and not being in the pockets of "developers".

HI HI  HO HO ISGANITIS HAS TO GO!!!

===========================================================
POSTED BY: ADAM S ACKOR Oct 27, 2015 11:55
I keep scanning the article for the part where at least one person on the city council speaks up and says "do you think this is appropriate, spending tax payer dollars to publicly state that those opposed to our views are the greatest threat to our city?"...but I don't see that....what I do see is a group who are void of even the most basic knowledge of civics, and frankly the foundations of a thriving democracy.  


I'd take a thousand voices of dissent over one of these pitiful clowns any day.  Their aim is to pander to development while weeding out any city employee who disagrees with them at any time....because of course the city manager is always right?!  Democracy doesn't exist without dissenting voices, and this council is operating now at a level of incompetence that I can rarely recall.  I believe it is time for the vocal minority to become the vocal majority and give this manager a ticket out of town
I believe that the single greatest threat to our city is the city manager

Oct 28, 2015

VSOUP story says: Rockland City leaders list 'vocal minority,' and change-resistant city employees as weaknesses/threats in goal-setting meeting

Rockland Courier Gazette 10/25/15 story by Dan Dunkle  detailing a three hour Rockland city "goal-setting" meeting  of city councilors, the city manager and a facilitator. held in a small room of the  Rockland Public Library. Headline slightly modified for clarity - RH


City leaders list 'vocal minority,'  media, change-resistant city employees as weaknesses/threats in goal-setting meeting.  by Dan Dunkle


ROCKLAND — Members of the City Council and city management created a list of what they see as the city's strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in a meeting Oct. 22 at the Rockland Public Library as part of a goal-setting project.
City officials listed an entrenched and negative vocal minority of residents and resistance to change among city employees as weaknesses and threats during the meeting.
Laurie Bouchard of Bouchard & Associates LLC was hired to facilitate the meeting.
The goal of the three-hour meeting, Bouchard said, was to create a vision statement for the city, setting a vision of what success would look like by June 30, 2018. She said this should be inspiring, achievable but not easy, something that would be a stretch to reach.
Prior to the meeting, city management team members and councilors had created an initial list of the city's strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. In many cases the same or a similar item was listed more than once as the city leaders went through these lists.
Change-resistant city employees
It was stated as a weakness that among the city employees are entrenched staff who are resistant to any type of change to the way things have always been done, including being managed. In addition, Bouchard said, the list included a lack of professionalism among the staff.
"This takes on different forms: staff shouting, being insubordinate, refusing to accept City Council policy decisions, going behind management's back to the council."
When she was talking about the threats on the lists, this was mentioned again as an internal threat.
"There is some up-front cost associated with providing the staff with appropriate direction, tools, training to do their jobs better," the list stated. "If this is not communicated to the public as a long-term investment, they will see it as a waste of money. There are also staff who will be incredibly resistant to change and will need to go through a grieving process associated with doing things differently from how they have always done them."
In addition, it was stated at the meeting that:
"Internal staff have become accustomed to operating in a very casual manner in their interactions with councilors and members of the public. It is likely they will view increased levels of professionalism as restrictive."
City councilors at the meeting felt the employee issues were to be handled at the city manager's level, not by the council. Valli Geiger said she has had nothing but positive experiences working with city employees.
City Manager James Chaousis said city administrators would need support from the council to push for change.
Chaousis did not respond to an email request for documents from the meeting or the amount of money the city paid to Bouchard.
The vocal minority
City officials listed as a threat to the city "a small cadre of people with relentless negativity," and "a vocal, entrenched minority."
It was stated that this small group of local citizens is continually trying to disrupt progress with "fear-mongering that everything is a coverup."
They also expressed concern about members of the public who have very strong opinions and emotions regarding planning and development issues, and who do not care about the underlying policy that is the basis for decision-making.
City officials said it would be "very important to communicate why and how decisions are made," and how they conform to policy.
The press
The lists of weaknesses and threats also included several references to local press, complaining that the city has no outlet to counter bad press, that too many editorials are written by one person, and that the press and the city are not "true partners in bringing forward the concerns of citizens while addressing the positives happening every day."
"There's a national 'gotcha' media, which has filtered into the state and I think is also represented locally," Chaousis said.
Geiger said she has struggled with this. She said she went to a Belfast meeting that was not covered by the press.
"It came before council, they passed it, and a year later they said, 'Nobody even knows we've done this,'" she said. "That would never happen here. Whatever you're doing here is lots of discussion, rabble-rousing."
At the meeting it was suggested that the city would have new communication policies going forward.
"Increasing trust is gradual, and there are likely to be steps backwards for every few steps forward," one of the items on the lists stated. "Will require patience, consistency and constantly overstating the same things."
Rising mil rate
Chaousis argued that the mil rate itself is not the problem. That is just a calculation, he said. The real issue, the council decided, was high property taxes.
"There are 489 municipalities in this state," he said. "The average of the mil rates is about $14.50, but the average town in the state has less than 2,000 population, doesn't have a police department, and is not a city. We have an average mil rate among the 24 cities in the state of Maine."
Councilor Will Clayton pointed out that much of the rising property tax rate is caused by increases in school costs, which the council does not control.
City Hall sale and engineering issues
City Councilor Larry Pritchett's responses to the questions took on the issue of the City Hall building, which the city may sell to be redeveloped as a location for a natural gas power plant.
Pritchett identified the building's weaknesses, saying it is on the edge of town, not easy to walk to, has a high energy intensity index and outdated lighting and building systems. He said the city must decide whether to stay or move, or building challenges may force stranded investments.
Pritchett also argued that the city does not have strong engineering for its projects, pointing to a "lack of solid technical specs," and "not using firms with strong portfolios."
Chaousis agreed, saying the city was working without an engineering budget and had made engineering a low priority.
City leaders also listed and discussed the following:
Strengths
- Quality of place
- Vibrant city including arts, culture, manufacturing, being on the coast
- Unique retail; not too many franchises
- City staff members who have found more ways to do more with less
- Businesses are looking to locate here
- A unique situation where blue- and white-collar, industrial and entrepreneurs as well as retirees live side-by-side year-round.
Weaknesses
- Ad hoc decision-making around development and planning; discussion and decision-making that focuses more on emotions and opinions, as opposed to relating planning and development proposals back to the broader policy framework
- A lack of trust on every measurable axis
- Trouble recruiting personnel
- Declining population
- Entrenched poverty
- Old housing stock with deferred maintenance
- Poor school outcomes
- Old lateral sewer lines
- More than 25 percent of the property is tax-exempt
Threats
- "Redistributing resources is often very emotional, and not something you can expect unanimity around; there is going to have to be a very direct and clear explanation of why certain resources need to be redirected for the good of the community, as opposed to the good of a few stakeholders or even a few areas of the city's operation."
- Increasing mil rate due to status quo of county and RSU.
- A continuing increase in overall poverty level
- A regression of the quality job the police department has done in reducing crime rate and drug influence.
- Civil unrest
- Aging infrastructure
- Families leaving Rockland
- Not enough rental housing
Opportunities
- Improved public communications strategies
- When hard-working staff are given appropriate direction -- tools and training to work more efficiently -- they will provide more service for less money and more taxpayer bang for their buck
- Improving professionalism among staff will improve trust among the public, creating a more customer-service culture
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