The Courier-Gazette editorial

A third option for the council and the Lobster Festival

By The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board | May 15, 2014

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.

Comments (8)
Posted by: Darcie Crabtree | May 17, 2014 22:36

Has anyone mentioned that the festival does pay for the city's cost of services.What is at stake is the city making a profit. The public landing goes through a total makeover in the 2 weeks before  august ie. mulch,raking,mowing,pot holes filled , painting and all aspects of safety are completed by volunteers.directors and sea goddesses. Take a look and see the before and after all done with pride, for free. There are other events that have used /borrowed the electrical,plumbing, and equipment that the festival has installed or upgraded ,at no cost to the city.    roger rowling

Posted by: Jim Gamage | May 17, 2014 17:16

Oh, and 1 more thing.  Get your own village soup account, especially if you 2 are going to argue  and point fingers with each other on here.

Posted by: Jim Gamage | May 16, 2014 21:27

I learned in MLA how important a cup of coffee and a meeting can be.

Why as City Councilor and as Festival President would you negotiate and place blame in the 'comments' section here on village soup?  Maybe show some professionalism and respect and have a cup of coffee to sort out differences, not here.

Posted by: Maine Lobster Festival | May 16, 2014 18:27

As Festival President, I can say that I agree with nearly everything above.  The Festival would be glad to discuss a compromise in fees charged for 2014 and into the future.  The only thing above that is not correct is that Mayor Pritchett has never contacted me or other officers to discuss fees.  No one has ever declined to meet with him.  We are ready whenever he is.  I have suggested that Rockland could adopt a fee structure like Camden and many other municipalities, whereby local non-profits pay a lower rental fee for use of City property than for-profit entities.  And I like Bill Packard’s suggestion of a multi-year agreement.  --Chuck

Posted by: David E Myslabodski | May 16, 2014 17:37

To: The Courier-Gazette Editorial Board

Sorry Sam, but no cigar! Your analysis of this issue not only is slanted but it could have been written by Fox News Corporation [Fair & Balanced, you know]. I would like to see your position if next time we Citizens of Rockland go to City Hall and ask for a compromise when asked to pay taxes, fees or a fine.

While businesses inside the festival make load of money, the rest of town is dead. We Citizens of Rockland put up with traffic, noise, parking etc. etc and we take it with stride as part of our "Summer in Maine" experience. As a whole, the City [not the businesses] ends up with a deficit due to all the wear-and-tear due to the festivals.

We Citizens of Rockland do not want to go back to the old plantation days when our welfare was decided by a "kind benefactor." You use city services, you pay. Period!

Posted by: AL Hooper | May 16, 2014 15:37

Well from a point of view from a home owner in Owls Head and lives mostly in San Diego CA when I talk about where I live in Maine most people say oh isn't that close to where the Lobster festival is. where you can get great Lobster.  Again like what was stated in other messages if you put a value on what it would of cost Rockland to put all the things in mentioned where would they have gotten the funds to do it.?

Posted by: PJ Walter | May 16, 2014 11:44

POSTED BY FRANK ISGANITIS - I respectfully disagree with you on this one.  Please refer to the video embedded in the PenBay Pilot Article by Chris Wolf whereby I specifically referenced Tim Carroll's earlier comment, "The Festival is Rockland, and Rockland is the Festival."  You can hear me say, "We are a partnership, and I would love to see a compromise born out of this partnership."  What people need to know is that the Council was asked only to waive the fees.  We said no in the majority.  Mayor Pritchett has asked repeatedly and been declined a meeting with The Festival to discuss this matter in an effort to achieve a compromise.


Posted by: Bill Packard | May 15, 2014 22:32

It would make sense to me for the council and the festival to agree to a several year contract where the city will waive the fee in exchange for a donation of at least double (or whatever is agreed upon) the normal rental fee.  Sadly it sounds more like a we don't see the value to the city from the festival position.

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