Meet them where they are at

By Reade Brower | May 23, 2014

“One day work is hard, and one day it is easy; but if I waited for inspiration I am afraid I should have nothing. The miner does not sit at the top of the shaft waiting for coal to come bubbling up to the surface. One must go deep down, and work out every vein carefully.”

--- Arthur Sullivan, composer (1842-1900)


Last week when the Rockland City Council voted to charge the Lobster Festival $14,250 rent … I did a double-take. While no one, not even the Lobster Festival, is suggesting they get a “free ride,” this decision is perplexing and defies the “Common Sense” principles on several fronts.

The premise of “fairness” is cited as the crux of the matter. Considering the facts and the history of the Lobster Festival, and what they have done for the Midcoast, should also be central in any discussion that centers on being fair.

The Lobster Festival’s list of gifts to the city include paving the lot at a cost of $30,000 and buying Merrill Park and donating it back to the city. The irony is that part of the $14,250 rent comes from the Lobster Festival using Merrill Park. How is that fair?

Remember, the common sense definition of “fair” is giving people what they need. By going from $0 rent for 67 years to $14,250 in one swipe of the pen, it does not meet them in the middle, give them what they need, or give them consideration for what they’ve done. More importantly, it doesn’t recognize what they continue to do for the city and for the non-profits around the mid-coast.

The Lobster Festival creates millions of dollars of business for local retailers and restaurants and has been a big contributor to putting Rockland “on the map.”

I wonder what would happen if Camden or Belfast were to woo the Lobster Festival committee to move to their city? I understand that is unlikely and I don’t think it is even on the drawing board for the committee. No one is suggesting it or drawing lines in the sand. Rather, I’m just saying; “what if?”

The editorial last week in the Courier-Gazette makes the great point that compromise is the best solution and I agree. There are more ways to “skin a cat” than a dictatorial decision that basically says “pay or else” with no financial acknowledgement of what the Festival does for this community, or what it means to our region and reputation.

What to do? I like to be a “solution guy” so here’s my take:

- Create a special plan for nonprofits and differentiate based on that status.

- Feel free to be creative.

- Grandfather the Lobster Festival; they have been here and done things no other organization has or will do for Rockland.

- Create a rental plan that has the first day or two at full rate, then extra days at half price or reduced rates. The Lobster Festival uses more days than the rest but the clean up costs and the maintenance fees are not strictly variable costs. Cover the fixed cost in the start-up and then create a variable rate that gives incentive to those running longer than one-day events.

- Do a “step-up” plan so that you don’t go from zero to $14,000-plus in the blink of an eye. Just because the city is feeling extra strapped this year, don’t go looking for money all in one lump sum. Take on an approach that is sustaining and fair.

- Meet them where they are at. Negotiate, compromise, and find a solution that works for both the city and the Festival. Taking a strict “our way or the highway” vote may not be the best approach.

“Meet them where they are at” is an axiom that has served me well. A wise mentor imparted this wisdom to me and this teaching method works in parenting and many other arenas. If you keep your expectations in line with where a person is coming from, rather than expecting that they see things “your way,” it helps you find the common ground. By reducing expectations, we allow ourselves to find the best level of “win-win” and it allows for compromise, the key to diffusing most issues and challenges.

Renting Merrill Park back to the Lobster Festival, who bought it and then donated it to the city of Rockland is the ultimate slap in the face.

I have to agree with Lobster Festival President Chuck Kruger and Vice President John Jeffers when they point out the specific “give backs” to our community that have occurred over the years. In addition to it having a major impact to our economic base and a feather in our cap for our reputation, the facts speak for themselves.

“One year, we paved the public landing,” Kruger told the council. “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 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.”

Festival Vice President John Jeffers added that the festival gives to area scholarships and recently made a contribution to the school lunch program at Rockland District Middle School.

And there are more contributions every year, many more.

I hope this is not a dead issue and that both sides retreat into a small room and don’t come out until they find the “win-win”.

Turn the page. Peace out, Reade


Reade Brower can be reached at:

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