One week of Portsmouth politics

How did that first week go?

My first goal was to get to the City Council meeting on Wednesday the 7th; however, a friend visiting from the left coast gave me a cold and I didn’t make it. I did, however, make contact with the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers, and will be at their meeting on Wednesday the 21st. Among the items to discuss is a tax cap as has been proposed in other NH cities.

I also sat through the entire City Council meeting yesterday, the 12th. In fact, I was the only one who did. Literally; at the end of the meeting, there were 9 Council members, the City Attorney, the City Manager, the Deputy City Clerk, and me in the room. The press was gone; the city staff who had made presentations were gone; the public who had come to comment, all gone. I wondered why I was getting eye contact and odd expressions from the Councilors; I was in the front of the audience and didn’t realize there was no one else left! I guess anyone else who just wants to watch a meeting watches it on public access.

I highly recommend the experience, though. Aside from actual votes, one can learn a lot from the personalities and comportment of the members; who is grandstanding, who is interested in the issues, who wants government to fix problems and who is reluctant for the City to take a step.

The most interesting item at the meeting, and the one that drew the most members of the public, was a proposed declaration preliminary to an eminent domain action. The City badly needs a new sewer line to alleviate the flooding at Bartlett and Islington. The City Engineer made a very good case that the best and least disruptive way to do this is to go under the parking lot of Papa Wheelie’s bike shop. This involves the city acquiring a small piece of land permanently, temporarily acquiring a larger parcel to do the work, and rendering the business’s parking lot unusable for a month or more. The business owner and his attorney were present; the issue of contention is not the land itself, but compensation (or lack thereof) for the business disruption.

“Eminent domain” has become a dirty phrase the last few years, especially among libertarians, and deservedly so. This was an interesting litmus test, given that there is a compelling public benefit to the action (as opposed to turning the land over to a mall developer) and the property owner isn’t inherently opposed to the project. I was particularly impressed with Councilor Kennedy on this issue; the business owner’s attorney suggested the city had not dealt in good faith, and unable to get a clear narrative of the negotiations from the City Attorney, Kennedy was the sole vote of No on the resolution. Councilor Smith also expressed a reluctance to use the sledgehammer of eminent domain, but voted in favor.

(It is worth noting that the vote was not to take the property. It was a finding of the necessity of the project, which gives the City Manager authority to negotiate with the owner, starts an appraisal process, and is a prerequisite for any eminent domain action. So it was starting down this path, but it should be clear that the Yes votes were not necessarily horrible.)

I also found it interesting that Councilor Spear expressed a concern with selective property tax exemptions. This was in the course of discussion over a minor inflation adjustment to the amount of the deductions.

I was not very impressed with Councilor Dwyer’s comportment at the meeting or at the end of the working meeting preceding it, of which I caught the tail end. She seems very interested in having the City government fix all of the problems for its residents and curing all its social ills; in short, the epitome of the “well-intentioned yet muddleheaded big government” I referred to last week.

So if you’re in Portsmouth and you want to help advance liberty here, drop me a line or post a comment. NH Liberty Alliance bill reviews, the taxpayers association, and ongoing city government monitoring are all in play. Get involved!

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