By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,596)
The City Council voted 8 – 1 this evening to approve the 2016 city budget which transfers the services provided at the India St. Public Health Center to the Portland Community Health Center on Park Avenue. The budget ($236 Million) represented the lowest increase in five years enabling the future of the clinic to be the focus of an emotional and intense campaign to keep it open by its supporters.
Councilor Jon Hinck was the sole councilor to oppose the budget prepared by city manager Jon Jennings and thus the transfer of medical services to “PCHC.”
As promised, District 1 city councilor Belinda Ray offered an amendment that retains the popular needle exchange and the HIV testing programs in tact at the India Street building under another provider until funding runs out. Ray, in whose district the India Street Clinic is located, at first supported Jennings’ proposal to shut down the clinic completely. However, with the support of the city manager, a compromise was reached that all councilors but Hinck could accept.
That acceptance even included Figurehead Mayor Strimling. The Figurehead famously harshly opposed the change and in his offensive rhetoric on April 25th, sparked the inflammatory tone of the entire process.
At the end of the debate, the Figurehead read a carefully prepared statement unlike the impromptu comments made by other councilors summing up his experience. It was an uninspired reading that his newly hired Special Assistant probably wrote. (He watched the delivery from the back of Council Chambers.)
There was an acknowledgement of the Figurehead’s respect for the city manager in his scripted speech- a reference to his criticisms of him last month – that caused a backlash from council members. Councilor David Brennerman said he’d never seen such a campaign as this one. “There is no room for personal attacks on the city manager, and other officials. “Great amounts of misinformation were disbursed.” Councilor Justin Costa made similar comments: “The tener of the public debate has not been helpful in coming to our decision,” he said. “The tener of the conversation has not lived up to our standards. I’t’s been a disappointment.”
At conclusion of the meeting, several supporters of the India Street Clinic stood up and yelled: “Shame on You. Shame on You” at the city council. Police Chief Michael Sauschuck,pursued them into the hallway.