Rhetoric heats up in council race

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | Sep 15, 2016

We have not even reached the deadline for turning in nomination papers to run for City Council, but at least in terms of public opinion, the race has begun.

We received 29 comments on a story about former Councilor and Mayor Brian Harden taking out his papers to run for council. Several of these were from incumbent City Councilor Larry Pritchett, who has also taken out nomination papers to seek re-election.

Harden has been relatively quiet since he was defeated at the polls in 2012 by former mayor Frank Isganitis. He left city politics after 12 years on the council.

Some of the comments were predictable. Reference was made to the notorious City Council meeting in which Harden threw his hat at City Councilor Lizzie Dickerson and she responded by dumping his can of soda, which was mostly empty at the time. The two did not get along during their time on council, but it was an isolated moment that should not be the entirety of Harden's legacy in local politics. We would also argue it takes two to tango.

In the comments online, Harden said:

"I worked all of my 12 years on the council to help keep taxes as low as possible and 7 out of my 12 years on the council we passed budgets that LOWERED the city tax rate."

Pritchett shot back, saying: "In contrast to what is claimed in this comment thread, the City Council increased the amount of money raised from property taxes to fund city government for nine out of the twelve years that Brian Harden served on City Council including at least three of the four years Brian served as mayor."

He went on to say, "Brian Harden's tenure on council was also notable for almost no investment in the city's streets, sidewalks, sewer lines or other public infrastructure. So, if a resident likes pot holes in streets, crumbling sidewalks and sewer backups in basements combined with property tax increases, Brain Harden makes a good candidate for council."

Harden said he was talking about the property tax rate and that the numbers Pritchett provided were "apples to oranges."

Harden also questioned Pritchett on his negativity in the comments, and then raised questions about the past year of turmoil in City Hall during Pritchett's tenure.

"I will not target employees like the city attorney and try to force him out so Rockland can pay much more to hire out-of-town lawyers at a huge per hour rate that do not know anything about our community," Harden wrote. "I will not try to destroy our wonderful Rockland Public Library by taking away over 25 percent of its budget and forcing it to close on Sundays when working Rockland people want to use it. I will not bring in consultants for almost $20,000 to search for a city manager and then not do the basic background check needed for that level of employment."

It was a lengthy exchange in the comments section on our story on Harden, which can be found at knox.villagesoup.com/p/former-mayor-longtime-councilor-seeks-city-seat/1568657.

We have four potential candidates running for two City Council seats: Pritchett, Harden, former Harbormaster Ed Glaser and Judith Lawson.

We will be working to provide as much information as we can on these candidates as the election approaches, but it may also be worthwhile keeping an eye on the comments section. It is not uncommon for our local public officials to comment on stories.

Some of these comments made by the candidates themselves provide insight into their character and their positions on the issues.

This may be a sign of a lively local election season.

The crosswalk to nowhere

Is anyone else confused about why Rockport and the Maine Department of Transportation are building a crosswalk across Route 1 from the Market Basket to an empty field?

In a time of plenty, it might be argued it is a worthwhile project to increase walkability. However, in recent years when communities have asked for help from the state to improve crumbling infrastructure, the answer has been that there is not enough money and the road is not on the list of priorities.

For example, DOT might have chipped in a bit more of the cost of the repairs to Old County Road in Rockland if it had its priorities straight. When that was being discussed at City Hall, the state was pleading poverty.

We understand that the state and local governments have limited resources and that's why they need to be very judicious in setting priorities.

In addition, we hope serious consideration has been given to the safety aspect of such a project. If the idea is to connect the elementary and high school on Route 90 to the village area, is one of the busiest intersections in the Midcoast the best place for our children to be crossing?

Some items that come from smaller town committees might need to be vetted to make sure they are not pet projects, rather than needed infrastructure improvements.

We look forward to more public discussion on this project.

Our student writers are back

Summer is over (sorry to say), and our student writers from University College at Rockland are back.

Check out our student pages in the B section and help encourage the next generation of journalists. For more information about our student pages or to get your school involved, contact News Director Daniel Dunkle at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or call 594-4401 ext. 122.

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