It was inevitable, really, that the new owners of a suite of downtown Portland properties resurrected by the Libra Foundation would decline to continue the laudable philanthropic experiment known as the Portland Public Market. A money-loser since Day One, the cramped, idiosyncratic indoor bazaar will always stand for the proposition that a venue's worth is measured by more than its bottom line.
Created in 1998 with a six-million-dollar investment from the Libra Foundation and philanthropist Elizabeth Noyce, the market was intended to be an economic-development vehicle for the city's Bayside neighborhood.But its future had been in doubt since Libra announced in February that it was putting its Portland portfolio on the market as it shifted its focus to rural Maine. The Public Market was included in the offer of seven properties comprising more than 724,000 square feet of space and one thousand parking spots.
In late May the foundation revealed it had found a prospective buyer who, understandably, did not want to maintain an economically underperforming asset. This will sadden those who valued the market, which hosted a succession of merchants and artisans who couldn't afford space elsewhere.
But the Public Market, as it turns out, incubated a nucleus of food purveyors who now intend to open a similar shared-space operation on Monument Square, where another public-minded enterprise, the Farmer's Market, holds forth once a week. In a small but not insignificant way, then, the spirit of the Portland Public Market will live on.Lewiston Sun JournalThe Freedom to blog
We're happy to report that a lawsuit against a blogger in Maine by a New York ad agency has been dropped. It never should have been brought in the first place.
Blogger Lance Dutson had the audacity to criticize the contract work being done for Maine's Office of Tourism by ad agency Warren Kremer Paino (WKP). Dutson argued in his blog that the agency is using part of its $3.3-million contract with the state to direct Web-users away from sites run by local chambers of commerce and businesses.
Worse, Dutson had the nerve to point out a mistake in one of the firm's early advertisements that directed people interested in visiting Maine to call a number that actually connected them with a phone sex line. Honest mistake, apparently, but a mistake nonetheless.
WKP and bureaucrats in the state Tourism Office responded with all the good humor of playground bullies. E-mails were sent to Dutson's Web-business clients, anonymous messages were left on his phone voice mail, and he received threatening letters from lawyers. Finally, he was hit with the multimillion-dollar suit from WKP.
This is what's known in free-speech circles as a SLAPP suit, or a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, in which a corporation or developer files suit to scare off critics and discourage public debate. According to the public law site nolo.com
, many states have "anti-SLAPP suit" statutes that protect citizens' rights to free speech and to petition the government.
In Maine, the right to criticize government is as widely practiced, accepted, and cherished as the right to bear arms. The suit against Dutson was not only repugnant, it also backfired.
Most people had never heard of Dutson before the dust-up with WKP. And we seriously doubt that more than one in a thousand Mainers even knew he had a beef with the company. Now, however, WKP has earned itself, and by association the state's Tourism Office, negative publicity in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and countless other newspapers through Associated Press accounts of the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the reaction in the blogosphere has been swift and angry. Hundreds of bloggers have taken up Dutson's cause, and the Media Bloggers Association had promised to defend him in court.
Fortunately, it won't need to. Republican lawmakers in Augusta put pressure on the commissioner of Economic and Community Development, Jack Cashman, who wisely urged the New York firm to "end this thing" because it was becoming "a distraction to the tourism campaign."
Indeed.Kennebec Journal, AugustaTABOR's Rebirth
The November ballot just got a lot more interesting. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled recently that TABOR, or the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, could move ahead to a statewide vote. The decision comes as a welcome move to the bill's advocates, and a major headache to its opponents.
While it's not even clear if the initiative proposed by conservative activist Mary Adams is constitutional — the state attorney general says it's not — what is clear is that a referendum on the so-called TABOR initiative will raise the temperature of a potentially tepid election season this summer and fall. More importantly, it will no longer allow politicians to duck an inescapable reality: Maine citizens feel overburdened by taxes and want to do something about it. If politicians won't do it in Augusta, then they'll do it themselves.
Within moments of the Supreme Court's decision, House Speaker John Richardson issued a statement calling TABOR a "meat ax" approach to tax reform. The governor said it was "bad for Maine." Meanwhile, Adams, in her trademark grandmotherly way — which belies her considerably honed political skill — sounded like she was sitting in her rocking chair, knitting, as she crowed, "I think it's the most wonderful news for taxpayers I can imagine."
TABOR, which limits annual spending increases for local and state governments to the inflation rate plus increases in population, may or may not be a good idea for Maine. Reports from Colorado, which spawned the first TABOR-like initiatives, are mixed — some say the state's spending on public education plummeted, health-care coverage contracted, and cities and towns claimed their budgets were mortally wounded by the measure. On the other side, the Colorado bill's proponents say it accomplished the impossible when it cut government spending and led to an economic boom.
We don't believe comprehensive tax reform should come at the price of our common welfare. And we understand that in the last few years, with a closely divided legislature, making tax reform happen at all would have taken a monumental effort. It seems that neither the governor, this legislature, nor its leaders were up to that effort.
Instead, we have gotten piecemeal tax reform, in the form of measures passed by this lobby or that interest group. And that's how we have ended up with a tax code so complex — yet still burdensome — that it seems like it's held together with paper clips and string.
Thus we have TABOR before us. When you don't have leadership and do have a legislature in thrall to special interests, that's a situation ripe for citizens of any stripe to cut through the pandering and say, "This is what we must do."
It may not be the right thing, but it is, in its own way, a refreshingly clear statement of purpose — something we rarely get in the political realm. It will force us to ask who we are as a state, what we value, where we are going, and how we will get there. In the end, that will be a good thing.Portland Press Herald A Win for a River
When Governor John Baldacci appointed David Littell to take the helm of an environmental agency tarnished by allegations of horse-trading with polluters, Littell promised things would be done differently. Recently the Department of Environmental Protection released revised discharge permits for two paper mills on the sadly abused Androscoggin River. The draft permits cut unreasonably lenient compliance schedules that allowed the mills to delay needed pollution reductions.
Data submitted by the International Paper mill in Jay and the Rumford Paper Company told state regulators that it shouldn't take ten years for them to meet water-quality standards for phosphorus, total suspended solids, and oxygen levels. In fact, discharge records showed they were meeting two of the three standards already.
Littell arrived at the DEP vowing to restore integrity to the process of regulating polluters. Maine's environment is the better for it.