By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,634)
Mayor Ethan Strimling was reprimanded last night by fellow city councilors for initiating an exclusive interview with Randy Billings of the “Portland Press Herald” this past Saturday in which Strimling called the proposed sale of a piece of property on the east end of Portland to developer CPB2 LLC, a “bad deal” for the city. However, significant factors that played a role in the price negotiations were excluded from the Billings story. This is a landlocked piece of property – of doubtful value to anyone but CPB2 LLC.
This scolding came following the 8 – 1 passage of the purchase and sales agreement by the city council to the developer for the 12,000 sq. ft. adjacent to the Portland Company, at 58 Fore Street. Mayor Ethan Strimling was the dissenting vote that occurred around 11:15 pm last night.
The purchase and sales agreement called for the city manager to enter into a proposed agreement with CPB2LLC i to provide access through Thames Street and the planned Thames Street extension, to the Portland Company site. The alternative to this access would be from the already congested Fore Street, an option considered to be less desirable for the neighborhood. A road that the city would agree to construct at a cost of $1.2 M would be a public road used by other entities and part of it cannot be built upon. The chances of anyone else being interested in purchasing the roughly 12,000 sq. ft. of land are zilch said city officials. However, these factors and others were not part of the “Portland Press Herald” article referred to above.
During the public comment period, attorneys Barbara Vestal and Ned Chester testified in opposition to the deal. Attorney Peter Murray asked for a delay in the deal. Jay Norris, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization spoke in opposition to the deal as well. Norris said: “This doesn’t pass the smell test. I’m a businessman and business owner…..there is a double standard here. There are all kinds of issues here. Give us time.” Councilors jumped on these requests to delay the matter when they pointed out the sale of the property had been under public discussion since April of this year.
Strimling tried to justify his last minute “lone wolf” press conference with Billings to the council. He said he’d attended several Economic Development Committee meetings and believed that the developer wanted the property bad enough so that the city had leverage over CPB2LLC. The City could squeeze more money out of Jim Brady, the managing partner for CPB2 LLC. The Figurehead Strimling listed numerous projects that would benefit from a larger profit from the sale. That tactic fell on deaf ears.
Out-going city councilor Jon Hinck was particularly strident in his rebuke of the Figurehead’s tactics. He said in part that public meetings have been conducted since April and the public needs to keep track of such meetings if they want to give input to the negotiations. “Why in the paper now?. The City needs the benefit of input early in the process. When I looked at the Portland Press Herald article I thought it was a bad deal as well. But there are other facts available throughout these meetings,” he lectured Strimling. Councilor and attorney Costa scolded Strimling that you “can’t override the agreement at a last meeting. Can’t do it in the public square.” Especially since information from an executive session was leaked when it was intended to remain confidential according to Costa. Councilor Spencer Thibodeau concurred.
Councilor David Brennerman, chair of the Economic Development Committee, said: “This is the first time we’ve had a person try to change the negotiations during the process. We are a council of committees. Come to all of the meetings – not just the first and last.” His Committee voted 3 – 0 to recommend passage of the purchase and sales agreement to the full City Council.
Support for Greg Mitchell, Director, of the Office of Economic Development for the City, was profuse by council members – in contrast to the general comments made by some of the testifiers. Mitchell negotiated the sale and purchase agreement under the supervision of city manager Jon Jennings.
(editor’s note: The “Portland Press Herald” endorsed the Figurehead Strimling for Mayor over incumbent Mayor Michael Brennan in the last election – to the surprise of many.)