A third option for the council and the Lobster Festival
The collision of the City Council and the Maine Lobster Festival at Monday night's meeting actually serves as a good illustration of where we are, not only as a city, but as a state and nation.
We heard two viewpoints expressed at the meeting, and both sounded pretty valid. For years, the Maine Lobster Festival has not been charged a fee by the city to use Harbor Park and surrounding parks at the public landing each summer.
As festival President Chuck Kruger explained at the meeting, a small vocal group has been complaining about this state of affairs.
Why should this festival get a free ride when others have to pay? Isn't the City Council in the midst of approving a budget, making some tough choices and cuts to keep the municipal tax burden from increasing while knowing full well the school budget is going to hit the taxpayers anyway? Why in the midst of a budget crunch like that, would the city give up more than $14,000 in revenue from the festival for the use of these parks?
Kruger and festival supporters had some answers for those questions: “One year, we paved the public landing,” he said. “We repaired the middle pier. We bought the city of Rockland an ambulance. We helped buy the ladder truck for the fire department. When the Chamber of Commerce, the Owls Head Museum, and other local organizations got together to develop the Gateway Center, we provided major financial support. And it was, not so long ago, the Lobster Festival that came up with the money to create Merrill Park, thus preserving the last water view on Main Street from the South End to the ferry terminal.”
Alice Knight drove home another point that we feel is equally valid. “We are really better known, away from here, as The Maine Lobster Festival city, rather than just plain Rockland.”
Can you really imagine Rockland without the Lobster Festival? It seems more than just a way to earn a few bucks or kill time on a summer day. It is a reflection of who we are, what we do, how we earn our money, our heritage as a community.
So what do we do in the face of two conflicting viewpoints, both with their own rational arguments?
The council was almost unified. Only Eric Hebert voted in support of waiving the fee for the Lobster Festival. He represented many in the community, saying he wears a fleece pull-over with the festival logo... with pride!
The rest cited budgetary concerns, the need for fairness, and Louise MacLellan-Ruf said she was not to be swayed by emotion on this one.
Everyone seemed to miss the option that politicians from our past would have seen right away: compromise!
It's become a bad word in modern politics, hasn't it?
Why not charge the Lobster Festival, but give it a discount? How about a set fee of between $500 and $5,000?
Had the City Council taken this third option, the councilors would likely have woken Tuesday morning to silent phones and nearly empty email in-boxes. Even if they still faced a barrage of complaints, they would, at least, have had quick answers to detractors.
"Why are you giving the lobster festival a free ride?"
"We didn't. We charged them a fee."
"Why are you charging the festival when it does so much for the community?"
"We could have charged a lot more. Here's what it would have cost without the discount."
Sometimes, you cannot compromise. You have to take a stand for what's right. This was not one of those ideological issues that had to be all or nothing, win or lose. This was a situation where everyone could have walked away, not getting exactly what they wanted, but getting what they needed (something Hebert said during another part of the meeting, paraphrasing The Rolling Stones).
The good news is, this doesn't have to be a dead issue. The council could look at this again, maybe with a fresh perspective.
We hope it will.