The Coastal Packet

Sunday, May 24

Maine to lose beach monitoring funds

Working Waterfront - According to a 2014 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Maine ranked 27 on a list of 30 coastal states for water quality at beaches. The results were based on monitoring during the previous summer for bacterial levels, pH levels and other factors.

In Maine, no state agency is mandated to sample or test beach water to make sure it's safe for swimming. Towns and state parks aren’t required to monitor or post their beaches. The state's only beach water-quality monitoring program is Maine Healthy Beaches, a voluntary program in which towns and state parks may choose to participate. Local staff and trained volunteers collect water samples which are sent to a professional lab for analysis. The program is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, managed by the Department of Environmental Protection and coordinated by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Keri Kaczor, coordinator for Maine Healthy Beaches, sounded the alarm recently, noting that the current presidential budget has zeroed out funding for beach monitoring programs nationwide. Without the EPA funds, she said, Maine's program will no longer exist.

Friday, May 22

Referendum to protect Portland's views get legal approval

Portland city attorneys say a citizens group's proposal for a referendum to protect scenic waterfront views in the city is suitable for a citywide vote.

What employers like about Maine

The presence of a healthy labor market made up of skilled and educated workers was the most important consideration of 21 employers who created jobs in Maine during the past year... Next to finding the right workers, access to high-speed Internet service and being close to customers were tied for second in a ranking of concerns and values for these job creators.
Southern Maine’s population grew from 2010 to 2014, the latest Census Bureau figures show, while northern Maine’s continued to shrink....  Maine’s population grew 0.2 percent to 1,330,089, a net gain of 2,728 residents... Among Maine’s 16 counties, only three – Cumberland, York and Waldo – saw population increases during the four-year period

House sales up in April

1,032 existing single-family homes were sold [in Maine] last month, up 1.7 percent over April 2014. The median sale price for those homes rose 5.3 percent from a year earlier to $178,000.

Thursday, May 21

Wednesday, May 20

Down East Notes

WCSH - Only seven states ranked higher than Maine for poor road conditions; eight ranked worse for having structurally deficient bridges. TRIP, a national non-profit transportation research group, conducted the research into the road conditions of all 50 states... The report found 26 percent of Maine's rural roads have pavement that is in poor condition. Fifteen percent of the state's rural bridges are structurally deficient.

Press Herald - Former speaker of the Maine House Glenn Cummings will be the next president of the University of Southern Maine, officials announced after the incoming president said he couldn’t take the job because of upheaval at his current university.... Harvey Kesselman, who was supposed to take office at USM on July 1, said  that he would remain as acting president at Stockton University in New Jersey. That school’s president resigned in April after New York financier Donald Trump blocked the school’s plan to open a campus in a shuttered casino on the boardwalk that the university had purchased for $18 million.

Sun Journal - The Maine Office of the Attorney General released figures that showed 208 people died in Maine last year from drug overdoses, up 18 percent over 2013. It made 2014 the deadliest year on record for drug deaths.

America Blog - Nestle is in the final stages of a deal that would allow them to purchase Oregon’s public water supplies from the Columbia River Gorge. Similar to Chris Christie’s recent fast-tracking of WIPA (a deal which allows NJ municipalities to sell their public water supplies to international corporations without public consent), the deal with Nestle is another water privatization plan that is bad for consumers and communities. The proposal would allow the food conglomerate to extract over 118 million gallons of publicly owned water from the Columbia River Gorge on an annual basis, and then sell it for exponential profits. Nestle’s target — Oxbow Springs — is a public water supply that is currently being used to water an endangered salmon hatchery.

Bangor Daily News - A bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, would allow physician-assisted suicide in Maine but only with a range of caveats, including that the patient has to take lethal drugs by his or her own hand. Katz’s bill, which is modeled after a law in Vermont, would apply to adults who are terminally ill and who have a limited life expectancy and includes legal protections for physicians, health care facilities and insurance companies. 

Sun Journal - Gov. Paul LePage wants to further crack down on drug use by welfare recipients by eliminating food stamps and cash payments to families for recipients with a drug conviction. He also wants to require screenings that could result in drug testing for all participants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

The anti-wind project scandal

Bangor Daily News - Bath shipbuilders will take to the streets Thursday for a “solidarity” rally as Bath Iron Works navigates its way through the company’s largest labor unrest in decades. The action follows a March 24 event where nearly 1,000 members of the International Association of Machinists Union Local marched the length of the shipyard at midday to rally support and to protest a variety of changes proposed by BIW President Fred Harris... As caps on defense spending result in fewer Naval contracts, Harris said the changes, including outsourcing work and cross-training employees, will increase the shipyard’s efficiency and keep the costs of building destroyers competitive.

Wednesday, May 13

Down East Notes

Scottish man finds Maine lobster buoy

Press Herald - With 94 percent of its land private, Maine has a nearly four-century tradition of allowing public use. But landowners, in an influential 2008 survey by the University of Maine’s Jessica Leahy, said the biggest reason to cut off that use is littering and illegal dumping. Nearly 40 percent of the landowners surveyed reported that the public does things on their land that they don’t want, with littering as the top problem and illegal dumping right behind. About 30 percent of private landowners were “actively considering” placing restrictions or prohibiting access in the future to their property, primarily because of problems with littering and illegal dumping, according to the research... “Much of illegal dumping is not from recreation users,” she said. “It’s from local people who are not using their transfer station.”

Pew Trusts A Stateline analysis of states’ employment data shows that while all states have added jobs since their economies hit their nadir during the recession, some have added far fewer than others. Ten states (Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) have seen total employment grow 5 percent or less compared to their lowest points, according to the analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. On average, employment has increased 8 percent among all 50 states and the District of Columbia since each one’s individual nadir.

Maine Public Broadcasting - Seventy-five thin foam mats were laid on the ground outside [Portland] city hall late Tuesday afternoon. Homeless advocates say they represent the 75 people likely to find themselves without a bed for the night, under new city plans to close overflow shelter space at the Preble Street Resource Center.

A poll commissioned by the Portland Green Independent Committee found that 55% of Portland residents  want a $15/hour Living Wage ordinance for the city. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling. “An Ordinance Toward A Living Wage” has been circulating since the beginning of April. It will set a living wage for all Portland workers. Similar ordinances have been passed in other cities across the United States while the state and federal governments procrastinate. The ordinance requires large businesses to pay workers $15/hour by 2017; while businesses having fewer than 500 employees would have until 2019. The Greens have until June 19 to turn-in the requisite 1,500 valid signatures

Tuesday, May 12

Three Portland restaurants ban food reviewer

Press Herald - A longtime local food blogger has been banned from eating at three Portland restaurants because he reviewed one of them after the owners had asked him not to do so.

John Golden, who writes the blog The Golden Dish, on, received an email last week from Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley – who collectively own Hugo’s, Eventide and The Honey Paw – telling him that he is no longer welcome in any of their establishments.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to assure you that we were quite serious when we offered you the choice between dining at our restaurants and writing about them,” it read. “As pleased as we all were that you enjoyed a ‘ten-star’ meal at The Honey Paw, we must remind you that it was your last. Please understand that we are well within our rights to refuse you service, and that the choice to dine or to write was your own.”

Taylor and Wiley said that they are banning Golden from their restaurants because they find him and his writing unprofessional. They said Smith was not available for comment. ( and the Portland Press Herald are both operated by MaineToday Media.)

Golden said he wasn’t surprised to receive the restaurateurs’ email, because they had given him an ultimatum, but he said the decision to ban him is “ridiculous.”

“Smith said to me, ‘We don’t want you to represent us,’ and I said, ‘I don’t represent anyone. That’s not what a critic is,'” said Golden, who has also written for Downeast magazine, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Gourmet, as well as the Maine Sunday Telegram.

“We’re opening ourselves up to criticism,” Taylor said. “There will be people who are going to say, ‘What a bunch of jerks,’ but that’s not necessarily who we are. I’m sure there will be others in the industry who say, ‘Good for you.’ I don’t think we’re alone in thinking John Golden isn’t a particularly professional food writer for this town.”

And apparently it is legal to ban a writer....

Wiley especially disliked something Golden wrote recently about several local restaurants. The piece, posted to The Golden Dish in February, mentioned Hugo’s and Eventide, but what annoyed Wiley most was Golden’s comparison of another restaurant – Ribollita – to a “goiter.”

“Was that necessary?” Wiley asked. “And because he wrote about us, it almost feels like we’re ratifying that statement.”

In that same post, Golden included a photo of Taylor wearing a bright orange knit cap. Golden referred to Taylor as “hat model and chef/co-owner.” Taylor said he found the comment petty and personal.

“Some of what he might regard as folksiness doesn’t come off as, ‘I’m here to review the food,’ ” Wiley said. “There is just more personality injected into his pieces than we think is appropriate.”

Golden said the hat comment was a joke.

Taylor and Wiley said Golden also has made errors in his blog, such as mislabeling dishes in photos.

Saturday, May 9

Down East Notes

Press Herald - Two Icelandic journalists are in Maine recruiting support for an ambitious Web-based magazine that aims to foster a common identity for people who live on the coasts of both sides of the North Atlantic – a 2 million-square-mile area populated by fewer than 9 million people. Maine is identified as the only portion of the United States in this area, which includes the provinces of Atlantic Canada, Baffin Island, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scotland, the coast of Norway and the western coast of Denmark. The impetus for the launch of the publication is climate change. The melting polar ice cap is clearing the way for natural resource extraction and new polar shipping routes that connect Asia with the East Coast and Europe, said Vilborg Einarsdottir, editor in chief of the magazine, called Jewels of the North Atlantic.

Press Herald -   The Maine Senate sustained Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill to extend a pilot project that allowed towns to study ways to control the effects of green crabs on clams. The Republican governor vetoed the bill last week. He said the state should use data gathered in the pilot program rather than “extend this pilot ad infinitum.”... Maine Democrats say the veto and failure to override it are short-sighted because of the damage green crabs can do to the lucrative softshell clam industry.

A proposal to require people to show photo identification in order to vote has been defeated because the House and Senate couldn't agree on the bill.

Thursday, May 7

Down East Notes

Daily Kos - In the last year alone, Maine has kicked 9,000 people off the welfare rolls. Now, Maine legislators have proposed new guidelines that would forbid SNAP beneficiaries from buying "junk foods." The idea is to get people on food stamps to eat healthier, but it is also part of a troubling trend of state legislatures shaming food stamp recipients, like this bill in Missouri that would forbid recipients from buying fish and steak.

As Think Progress notes, the term "junk food" has broad implications:
The legislation LePage supports claims that “the purchase of unhealthy products is antithetical to the purpose of the [food stamps] program.” But the definition of “unhealthy” that the bill uses is quite broad, and would prohibit the purchase of a range of groceries that are not exempt from sales tax under Maine law. That means alcohol, soda, unprescribed dietary supplements, seltzer and bottled water, sweets, “and prepared food.”
The law goes even further than the tax code to prohibit food stamps from being used for bulk purchases of groceries that could be considered “prepared food” if they were bought individually. According to state tax guidelines, that includes packaged deli meats, large jars of spaghetti sauce, and pickles, among other things.

Sale of Portland Press Herald

The new PPH publisher

A man in an animal-skinned sleeping bag on a camping trip in 1888. 

Wednesday, May 6

Police blotter

WJBQ, ME - Police arrested Dwight Nathan Hart of Bingham, Maine on Sunday after he allegedly threatened a woman with a machete as he was trying to steal her lawn chairs.

Police say the incident started as Mr. Hart backed his pickup truck into the unnamed woman’s yard around 6pm. When he started loading her lawn furniture into his truck, she confronted him with a garden hoe.

Chief Deputy James Ross of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office: "He actually hit the hoe several times.”

Deputy Ross goes on to say that the crazy man actually made contact with the garden tool multiple times.

The woman was able to take her lawn furniture out of the truck, but not before she got his license plate and called the cops.

There were no bad injuries, but the sheriff’s department did say that the woman managed to strike the assailant several times with her hoe.

This dangerous criminal is being held on $500 bail, at the Somerset County Jail.

Bangor ME Police Department - Officer Doug Smith is still trying to locate this gentleman. In this photo he is seen, not breaking any laws. Shortly after the free portrait was captured through high end, digital photography, this man walked out of Walmart with over 800 bucks worth of stolen goods (even when offered at every day low prices).

During their attempts to stop him, things got physical (not the Olivia Newton John kind).

He took off and left with a woman driving a light colored, Dodge product.

 We are willing to engage in conversation to get his side of the story.

I am currently unable get messenger on my mobile device as I am hitting the road trying to find myself....hopefully at Moody's Diner and well beyond. I ask that you contact Officer Doug "Doogie" Smith with a message on our easily accessible tip line at 207-947-7384 ext 6.

If this is, by chance, you in this photo; stop by the station at 240 Main Street in Bangor to speak to a friendly, conversationally adept, patrol officer. Tell us your story. Accept a complimentary 8 x 10 glossy of our featured picture...suitable for framing. Thanks for sharing your time with us today. The men and women of the Bangor Police Department will be here!

Monday, May 4

Where the dirty snow and piles of poo go

Working Waterfront - Melting snow along the coast is revealing a winter's worth of dog poop and trash along our roadsides and sidewalks, and scattered on lawns and municipal parking lots. The litter removal crews are out in force, picking up the big pieces, but where does all the rest of this waste go? Sadly, spring rains wash it to sea.

While pet waste may be the most obvious offender, other matter, like sand, salt, trash, chemicals, brake dust and other debris are carried along. The snowmelt delivers a toxic shock to rivers, streams and ultimately the ocean.

"While freshly fallen snow may look pure," says Cathy Ramsdell, executive director of the Friends of Casco Bay, "it picks up complex, dirty molecules as it falls, and then once it's on the ground, it picks up pollutants from the road as it gets plowed around," she said.
In Portland, "After an intensive rainstorm, you can go up to the Eastern Promenade and see a brown plume where the Presumpscot River dumps rainwater into the bay," Ramsdell says.


Thursday, April 30

Why replacing the income tax with higher sales tax doesn't work

Michael Mazerov, Center on Budget & Policy Priorities - Governors in Maine and Ohio want to shift their states' revenue mix away from income taxes and toward sales taxes by cutting the former and raising the latter, arguing that will boost economic growth. But these proposals would do more harm than good.

In the short run, raising sales taxes would likely hurt in-state businesses by discouraging consumer purchases. And because sales tax revenue tends to grow more slowly than income tax revenue over the long run, relying more on sales taxes would impair a state's ability to finance critical building blocks of a strong economy, like good schools, roads, and health care.

Shifting from income taxes to sales taxes can harm in-state businesses in several ways:
In most cases, the shift will raise overall taxes on low- and middle-income households, leaving them with less to spend locally.

A higher sales tax encourages people to buy more from out-of-state Internet merchants who don't charge sales tax, and to take other steps like eating out less often and washing their own cars.

Regardless of whether the sales tax increase takes the form of a rate increase or broader taxing of services, businesses would make a large share of the purchases -- of computers, shipping supplies, and payroll services, for example -- that would now be taxed more heavily. Those extra costs would at least partly offset the income tax cut that some small business owners would receive.

Businesses also would likely pay higher property taxes. Few recent tax-shift proposals would raise sales taxes enough to fully pay for the income tax cuts. As a result, states very likely would have to cut funding for schools and other services that local governments provide. This could force cities, towns, and counties to raise property taxes for businesses and homeowners, which generally fund education, to try to make up the difference.

These tax-shift proposals could prove even more economically damaging in the long run. Cuts in critical services are almost inevitable because sales tax revenues don't keep pace with economic growth as income tax revenues do. One reason is that sales taxes generally don't apply to many of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, like health care and many Internet-related services. Also, a growing share of the benefits of economic growth is going to wealthy people, who spend a much smaller share of their income on in-state products and services than less-affluent people do.

States with insufficient long-run revenue growth will have trouble investing in public goods that businesses need to create good jobs -- an educated workforce, well-maintained roads, and effective police and fire protection.

Partially offsetting income tax cuts with sales tax increases is less fiscally irresponsible than simply cutting income taxes, as Kansas and a few other states have done in recent years. But both policies are based on the same false premise: that state taxes have a major effect on job creation and economic growth. Instead of looking for a magic tax-policy change that will spark an economic boom, policymakers should invest in the economy by providing high-quality education, health care, public safety, and transportation as cost effectively as possible. That's the best recipe for healthy economic growth.

Wednesday, April 29

Down East Notes

Press Herald - A poll conducted last week about possible candidates in Portland’s upcoming mayoral race shows a political analyst and director of a local nonprofit with the edge over the incumbent, Michael Brennan. Ethan Strimling leads by 8 points in a hypothetical, head-to-head match-up against Brennan, the city’s first popularly elected mayor in nearly a century.

Press Herald Casco Bay is healthy, but water quality near coastal areas and estuaries is rapidly degrading because of man-made pollution, according to a study released Tuesday by the Friends of Casco Bay... The most pressing problem is the acidification of mud flats and coastal waters, a process that has led to reduced stocks of clams, mussels and other sea life, threatening the balance of a treasured resource, the report said. “Overall the bay is good, but there are challenges,” said Cathy Ramsdell, executive director of the Friends of Casco Bay. “About 60 percent of the sites we study were only fair or poor in quality.” ... The worst conditions are found closest to shore or in the mouths of the various rivers that empty into the bay. Those spots include Peabbles Cove in Cape Elizabeth, the Upper Fore River in Portland, the Cousins River in Yarmouth, the Harraseeket River in Freeport and the New Meadows River near West Bath.

Bangor Daily News - Mid-coast businessman Reade Brower has reached a deal to purchase MaineToday Media, the newspaper group that owns the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel. A memo sent to MaineToday Media staff late Tuesday confirmed financier S. Donald Sussman, husband of Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, agreed to sell the paper. He paid $3.3 million for a 75 percent stake in the company in March 2012 and, according to the memo, invested $13 million in the newspaper group since that purchase.

The statement said Chris Miles, former publisher of The Times Record in Brunswick and current partner with Brower in the Brunswick-based Alliance Press, also will be a partner in the deal... Brower, a Camden resident, also owns The Free Press and The Courier-Gazette in Rockland, The Camden Herald and The Republican Journal in Belfast.

Ozone status by county

Monday, April 27

Down East Notes

Governor LePage has submitted a bill, LD 1313, that would overturn the current requirement that Maine citizens vote on any proposal to build a new nuclear reactor in the state. The bill, intended to encourage construction of "small modular reactors," would apply to any reactor of 500 MW or less. Fukushima Unit-1 was 439 MW. Small reactors are not automatically safe reactors. Indeed, the only safe reactor is the one never built.

Maine Public Broadcasting - A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing legislation aimed at increasing broadband access in the state. The bill would provide more state subsidies to help build broadband access in underserved areas of the state by extending fees to wireless companies that are now charged to wired Internet services. Rep. Sara Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport, is sponsoring the bill. She told a news conference Maine's future depends on broadband. Sen. Garret Mason, a Republican from Lisbon Falls, is the lead co-sponsor of the bill. He says Maine needs true high-speed Internet access to help its schools and universities compete. He says Maine's economic future requires broadband access across the state.

Portland Press Herald - The Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine says that 5.3 percent of Maine’s workers work from home, about 1 percentage point higher than the national average. That compares with the 4.3 percent of workers who were home-based in 2000. But about half of those people are self-employed, workers who are not, by definition, working remotely for someone else.

Christopher Burns, Bangor Daily News - Maine police departments, from Wells to Van Buren, have received $13.1 million worth of military equipment through the [federal] 1033 program, including rifles, armored vehicles and snowshoes. Three Maine universities also received surplus equipment, joining nearly 130 university police departments across the country, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education, including one Florida university that was given a grenade launcher. Three University of Maine System campuses received surplus equipment, though none received a grenade launcher. What they did receive were semi-automatic M-16 rifles: three for the University of Maine in Orono, valued at $360; seven for the University of Maine at Farmington, valued at $840; and four for the University of Southern Maine, valued at $1,996, according to a database of surplus equipment compiled by The Marshall Project.

The Portland city council has set new rules for sidewalk seating. Which is fair enough, but does anyone know what the government has tell restaurant owners that the permitted outdoor dining period is from April 1 to November 15. Can't they figure that our for themselves?

Friday, April 24

LePage wants to take candy from a baby. . . if it's poor enough

Laura Clawson, Daily Kos - Maine Gov. Paul LePage is the latest to push for harsher limits on what foods people can buy with food stamps. Because it's not enough that people have tiny food budgets and periodic humiliation in the grocery checkout line, we need laws that stigmatize people's eating habits, too.

"Multiple Red Bulls in one purchase, Rock Star energy drinks, 1-pound bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and 3 gallons of Hershey's Ice Cream in one purchase," Bethany Hamm, an official with the state Department of Health and Human Services, said during a hearing on Thursday, MPBN News reported.

"We have all seen these types of purchases occur -- and it's unacceptable," Hamm said.

... An obstacle to imposing SNAP dietary restrictions is that federal law doesn't give states the ability to change what food stamps can buy. That's why the Maine legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Roger Katz (R), would seek a waiver from federal rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP.

The USDA has turned down several such requests from other states in recent years, so what we're looking at in Maine is yet another attempt to trash poor people in the news for its own sake, not to make actual changes

Tuesday, April 21

Down East Notes

Maine's unemployment lowest in 7 years

Workng Waterfront - If asked to name the most ethnically diverse towns in Maine few people would list Milbridge, a community in Washington County where 6 percent of the population and 24 percent of the elementary school students are Hispanic or Latino... Milbridge, a small town of about 1,300 residents situated on the mouth of the Narraguagus River and famous for its blueberries... From 2000 to 2010 its population increased over 7 percent.

Bangor Daily News -  Food and Water Watch and Fryeburg resident Bruce Taylor have asked Maine’s top court to toss out state regulators’ approval of a controversial 25-year deal between Poland Spring owner Nestle Waters and local Fryeburg Water Co.The group has asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to consider specific parts of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s decision but also the unusual process by which the case was decided.

Gov. Paul LePage is promoting a bill to thwart municipal officials in two of Maine’s largest communities from raising the minimum wage for employers within their city limits. . .
LePage’s two-sentence, 40-word bill simply reads: “The State intends to occupy and preempt the entire field of legislation concerning the regulation of the minimum wage. Any existing or future order, ordinance, rule or regulation of any political subdivision of the state is void.”

Colin Woodard, Portland Press Herald - In a further escalation of tensions between the state of Maine and its four federally recognized Indian tribes, Gov. Paul LePage has revoked his own 2011 executive order aiming to promote cooperation between the parties. he move, announced to the tribes by email Saturday morning, came in the form of a fresh executive order in which the governor says efforts to improve relations with the tribes “have proved to be unproductive because the state of Maine’s interests have not been respected.” Tribal leaders said the practical effect of rescinding the order will be limited, as it had gone largely unimplemented, but that the symbolic significance is damaging and counterproductive, particularly at a time of rising tribal-state tensions over fisheries, domestic violence jurisdiction and child welfare.

Sunday, April 19

Maine small town politics

From our overstocked archives
Sam Smith, 2003 - I was in Maine when the lead story on the Portland radio station reported that "John Cole crossed over last night at his Brunswick home." Mainers put their own cast on death. After my brother-in-law died, my sister was told without any disrespect by a friend, "I heard Chad won't be coming down to breakfast any more." And the morning our mother died at Maine Medical, the doctor gave us a full report and then added matter of factly, "Basically she's shuttin' down."

John Cole shut down and crossed over after an extraordinary life that included commercial fishing, serving as a tail-gunner in World War II, and, in 1968 (along with Peter Cox), starting the Maine Times, a paper not only an alternative to the conventional media but strikingly different from either the underground press at the time or later publications more interested in alternative advertising demographics than alternative news. Said Cole once, "We kind of wanted to raise hell and people's awareness about the fact that, in those days, Maine had no protection against being exploited." The Maine Times treated ideas and issues as news, most importantly introducing people to the numerous facts and problems involved in something most had pretty much taken for granted: the environment.

That Maine today stands as one of the more ecologically conscious portions of the country is due at least in part to the fact that Cole, the editor, and Cox, the publisher, made the environment into news. The Maine Times also inspired younger journalists, including your editor, to keep seeking non-conventional ways to tell the stories around us.

In later years John wrote a weekly column for the Falmouth Forecaster, a lively community paper in southern Maine. Recently John quoted from one of my articles and I felt like the teacher had pinned my paper on the board. His last column appeared the day he died. But it was his penultimate piece about a controversy in the town of Freeport that better gives the flavor of the man.

The town had been in an uproar following the surprise victory of several candidates for council highly critical of the way business was being done. I decided to pay a visit to the town council meeting to get a better feel of the characters and the controversies. I got there ten minutes late and found myself standing with others in the doorway - but the lobbying and discussions in the hall made it impossible to hear the meeting so I left to go watch it on TV. I was still engrossed as midnight approached, in part because among those speaking were residents who had become so incensed by what they saw on cable that they had gotten dressed and driven in the night winter cold just to have their views heard.

I finally surrendered to Morpheus only to learn the next morning from a school board member that, after losing a key vote in their drive to fire the town manager, three of the newly elected councilors had resigned, literally leaving Freeport with no one in charge.

Later that day, I paid a visit to Richard DeGrandpre of R & D Automotive, a former member of the "government in exile" that used to meet at a restaurant for breakfast until it suddenly found itself in power. Rich was the one member of the coup who hadn't quit. He assured me that DVDs of the town meeting would soon be available. I offered him the advice of LBJ: "Just hunker down like a jack rabbit in a dust storm."

Then he gave me a copy of John Cole's next-to-last column, written before the town council disintegrated. It read in part: “Relax folks. In all my forty-something years of being paid to observe and report on municipal government in more than a dozen Maine communities, I have never seen a permanent damage done by the charging bulls in the china shops of their own home towns. But they sure are fun to watch.
“And you folks in Freeport ain't seen nuthin' yet. In an odd paradox, it's Maine's long, cold, dark winters that fuel the fires of municipal rampage. As January closes in and February breaks our hearts, our malice turns inward, conspiracy looms in every dark corner and by town meeting time the hearts of otherwise tepid citizens pulse with winter's accumulated venom. Oh the tumults I have witnessed in the lengthening days of March in Maine.

“And then it all dribbles away. By June, all is forgotten and mostly forgiven as late sunsets tell every merchant, school child, every harassed mother that the wonders of summer are upon us. Light spills its bright wine into every evening, harbors throb with the sound of marine engines and all of us are much too busy to worry about where our town manager sits.”
It's just too bad John never covered Congress or the White House.