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The Coastal Packet

The longtime national journal, Progressive Review, has moved its headquarters from Washington DC to Freeport, Maine, where its editor, Sam Smith, has long ties. This is a local edition dealing with Maine news and progressive politics.

8/15/09

Saturday Aug 15

TOWN MEETINGS FADING IN MAINE

Keep Me Current -
Sebago has joined the list of Lakes Region towns debating the future of the annual town meeting, marking the continuation of a small but growing statewide trend as local officials try to get citizens more involved in government. In Sebago, where the town meeting draws 60-80 residents out of around 1,400, selectmen are researching a switch to a referendum-style town meeting, in which residents approve the budget at the ballot box rather than in an open forum, said Chairman Allen Crabtree. It is a conversation that has already occurred this year in Gray, Windham and Raymond. Gray voters will vote on the switch in November.

Around 20 Maine towns have moved to the referendum-style vote from the traditional open town meeting, a piece of New England history that predates Maine's birth as a state, said Starn. . . .

According to Starn and an assortment of town managers who have gone through a switch in town meeting style, a referendum does get more citizens involved. But it also makes it more difficult to explain to the public the matters up for a vote, since not all voters are in the audience as at a town meeting, and a greater burden is put on municipal officials to get information into the hands of residents. . .

In Monmouth, a town of just under 4,000, around 100 residents would typically attend an open town meeting. The referendums bring 500-700 people to the polls, said Town Manager Curt Lunt. . .

Bill Post, town manager in Waldoboro, which voted to switch to a referendum-style town meeting in 2006, switched back to an open meeting in 2007, then reversed again in 2008, has been through the same experience.

"Open town meeting allows for debate and amendments to articles on the floor. Referendum voting does not," said Post. "This can lead to some confusion if an article does not pass because there is no way to know what the voters thoughts are in rejecting any particular question."

THE MAINE STREAM

Bangor Daily News - Matinicus Island lobsterman Vance Bunker told police in July that he shot lobsterman Chris Young in the neck on the town dock while defending his daughter, according to an affidavit filed Thursday in a Knox County court. Bunker said he fired his gun at another man, Weston Ames, who grabbed the barrel of a gun held by Bunker's daughter and then fired at Young. "I didn't have no ... choice. I wasn't gonna let my daughter be shot," Bunker, 68, told Knox County Sheriff's Office Detective Donald Murray just after the shooting. "I shot at Weston cause he grabbed my daughter's gun and Christopher got shot wherever he got shot." . . . Bunker, who was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after the July 20 incident, has been free on $125,000 bail.

Emily Parkhurst, Independent - The Gray Town Council has decided to cut speakers off after three minutes during the public comment section of its meetings after several recent council meetings ran later than 11 p.m. Last Tuesday. . . Some citizens feel like the newly enforced rules are aimed at them. "They're threatened by people who have knowledge," said Fran Monroe. . . Monroe, who was one of the founders of the Gray Taxpayers Association and a past councilor herself, believes that the current council is trying to eliminate all of the opportunities for the public to question its decisions. . . Elsewhere in Maine, the Scarborough Town Council has specific rules regarding the public hearing and public comment section of its meetings. These rules outline the procedure that citizens must use when commenting during council meetings, including a five-minute limit on speakers. . . The rules also specifically prohibit applause or audible expressions of approval or disapproval.

Bowdoin College offered lobster for lunch on Thursday. The dining service decided to serve the meal after learning how difficult times were for Quahog Lobster Coop, the company that's been providing lobster for the school's special events for more than 25 years. The low price of lobster has been taking its toll on Quahog's lobstermen. Staff members also had a chance to buy lobsters to take home for $5 a piece. The school sold more than 200 lobsters that way, too.

UPI - Officials in Otisfield now say residents get to keep the small Maine town's sole mailbox after the U.S. Postal Service had announced it would be removed. The officials said they have struck a deal to allow the town, which does not have a post office, to keep the only mailbox available to residents. . . The decision made last month to remove the box triggered multiple complaints from residents. One woman threatened to chain herself to the mailbox to keep it from being removed. The Postal Service initially said the box averaged only six pieces of mail per day and they had planned to remove it as a cost-cutting measure.

Sun Journal, Paris - Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School will be the site of a National Guard riot control drill to prepare in the event of a panic over distribution of serum to treat the swine flu. The school on Route 26 at the Paris-Norway town line has been designated by state officials as a distribution site for the H1N1 flu vaccine. The drill is to prepare for a worst-case scenario should the serum have to be transported from Augusta and people rush to get it. On Thursday morning, four or five National Guard Humvees will travel from Augusta to Paris with vials of fake serum. The National Guardsmen will take on the roles of panicked citizens and military police and practice what they would do, such as using tear gas, in the case of a riot. . . Plans were developed in April to have vials of serum sent from the federal government to Augusta, Parker said. From Augusta, the supplies will be transported to designated distribution centers. During the April conference, concerns were raised about a possible out-of-control rush on the serum, Parker said. Because of that concern, Gov. John Baldacci and Gen. John Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, agreed that a plan should be devised to quell such a disturbance. . .

Maine Biz - Traffic at Portland International Jetport climbed to a record high in July, surpassing 200,000 passengers for the second time in the airport's history. . . . So far this year, the jetport has served 969,137 passengers, compared to 1,009,676 during the same period in 2008.

Cold Truth - Only one out of ten of the expected bright-red sockeye salmon showed up at Canada's Fraser River to spawn this summer. Some marine biologists attribute the deaths to the growing number of commercial fish farms that governments on both sides of border have allowed to open. More than 10 million sockeye were expected to return to the Fraser, but less than 1 million showed up, according to government fish counters. . .Stan Proboszcz, a fish biologist with "Watershed Watch Salmon Society" [says] that the cause of the sockeye kill-off might be attributed to a marine parasite. Other environmental activists and some academics agree that the 90 percent drop in the Fraser's sockeye population can be blamed mostly on sea lice. These parasites are found in very high concentrations around the sprawling commercial fish farms of Georgia Strait. . . Fish biologists in Maine and in countries bordering the cold waters of the North Atlantic have reported the same problem, that billions of lice can be generated by a single floating salmon farm.

Maine Public Broadcasting - Maine credit unions are reporting an uptick in membership, deposits and loan approvals, signs that they are more popular than ever. At least one analyst believes consumers now view credit unions as a much safer alternative to mutual funds, and a way to earn more interest than many banks can offer. . . . John Murphy, President of the Maine Credit Union League points out that an increase in deposits at credit unions doesn't necessarily mean customers are depositing less at banks or moving their dollars from banks to credit unions. "I think what it indicates is people were moving them from maybe more risky investments, wherever that may be, and putting them into their accounts at local financial institutions." And this year's statistics from Maine banks show that's true. "On the deposit side, we have had surprisingly strong growth," says Chris Pinkham, President of the Maine Association of Community Banks. "For the first six months, looking at 21 of the 29 Maine-based banks, the growth was up 3.8 percent. Now for comparison purposes, in all of 2008 it was only up 4.1 percent, so that's very strong."

The Augusta Insider takes a look at Maine Greens

Maine Public Broadcasting - Northern Maine is in a position to lose its only railroad, as the owners of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway have filed notice that they may have to consider selling or abandoning more than 240 miles of track serving Penobscot and Aroostook counties.

INDICATORS

Maine is one of the top three states for share of population on Medicare


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