MILLINOCKET -- Determined to come once again against the powers that have controlled this Katahdin area town for the past several years, a group of concerned citizens have organized themselves into an ad hoc organization for the purpose of taking back control of Millinocket politics, and beginning the process of restoring the town's ailing economy.
Ironically, the first step appears to be a move to reduce the town's funding to an organization that some refer to as an economic development corporation, the Millinocket Area Growth & Investment Council.
It has recently been learned that MAGIC was created, not as a true economic development corporation, but as a part of a plan put forth by the Northern Forest Alliance, a coalition of environmental organizations that includes the Maine Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and, at that time, RESTORE: The North Woods.
Since its inception in 2000, MAGIC has concentrated its efforts on building alliances with these same environmental organizations, and including others, such as The Nature Conservancy, on whose board the President of MAGIC sits. Considering its origins, it is no surprise that the focus of the organization has been on eco-tourism and nature-based recreation, both of which directly benefit MAGIC's founder, and town councilman, Matt Polstein, the owner of New England Outdoor Center, and any undisclosed partners he may have. While they talk a lot about supporting locally-owned businesses, nearly all of their supporters - and the people they support - are from somewhere else.
To that end, MAGIC has worked hard to transition the region from a manufacturing and industrial economy to that of a gateway community, the economy of which is based on tourism, recreation, amenities, and trinket selling.
While members of CREED believe that there is room for both tourism and manufacturing, the MAGIC group allows no place for manufacturing or industry.
While MAGIC insists that all matters of economic development be placed under its umbrella of tourism, members of CREED believe that there is a place for both MAGIC and a true economic development team, or individual, interested in developing the economy of the Millinocket area.
While many of those supporting the petition drive to reduce MAGIC's funding from $80,000 to $15,000 in FY06 would prefer that the organization receive no funding, CREED's position is that the town should continue to fund MAGIC at some level, recognizing that the town does receive benefit from its efforts to promote tourism in the area.
Members of CREED do not believe that MAGIC should be permitted to continue to hold the power it currently holds over the area's economy, however. With four members of the town council voting as a bloc on every issue of importance to MAGIC, the NGO holds complete control over the politics and the economy of the town; and this, say members of CREED, has contributed heavily to the current state of Millinocket's economy.
To this end, members of CREED are supporting the petition drive to reduce the funding that MAGIC receives from the town of Millinocket.
For many, this is not a new effort. Last fall, after a great deal of maneuvering and obstruction from the town's attorney, and the MAGIC Bloc on the council, two petition drives finally led to a local question being placed on the November ballot, in which voters overwhelmingly determined to cap MAGIC's funding at $25,000.
Nevertheless, the MAGIC Bloc on the council decided only a few months later, in a familiar 4:3 vote, to give the non-governmental organization another $50,000 in taxpayer funds, and to take it from the FY05 budget, ignoring the decision of the voters.
Many of those who were involved in the original petition drives have joined with others to form CREED, and to continue the effort this year. As they did last year, the MAGIC Bloc on the council voted to reject the first petition submitted, citing a technicality, yet refusing to permit attorneys for the Maine Municipal Association to review the appropriateness of the petition effort, and this despite the fact that there would have been no cost to the town for the MMA's legal advice on this matter.
A second petition was taken out on Friday, and already we are told that Councilor Matt Polstein, a founding member of MAGIC who continues to hold a seat on the organization's executive board, despite his stated resignation from the organization last summer, is making calls and meeting with people, seeking a way to prevent the current petition from going to the voters.
Members of CREED are asking why MAGIC is so afraid of taking the matter to referendum, especially since MAGIC's supporters and staff are continually referring to critics of the organization as a "small, disgruntled minority."
"If we're such a minority, why are they so afraid of taking it to referendum?" asks Alyce Maragus, who is spearheading the current petition drive. "If people support the work that MAGIC is doing, then they will vote to fund them at the polls. If not, then we shouldn't be using the taxpayer's money to fund an organization that they don't support."
It does seem pretty simple, and the only responses that we have heard from MAGIC staff and supporters has been to say, in effect, that the voters aren't smart enough to know what they're doing at the polling place.
That doesn't say much for our educational system, yet this is precisely what MAGIC has been told by the consultants it has engaged. Quoting from the minutes of MAGIC's October 9, 2002 board meeting:
"The people of Millinocket are like basset hounds. They're a bit slow, but thoughtful. Millinocket area people are very proud and that pride gets in the way of common sense."
This was the conclusion of a public relations firm that MAGIC engaged, and continues to work with. Given this, I would suppose that it might make sense to the people at MAGIC, most of whom are not from here, to do everything they can to keep basset hounds from voting.
I don't accept MAGIC's opinion of the people of Millinocket, but here is something to consider. If you are indeed slow but thoughtful, you have had more than five years now to think about what MAGIC has done for your town, so I'd like you to ask yourself some questions:
Do you envision a future in which your children will be able to live in this town after graduating from high school?
Do you know that an LLC from Massachusetts has been slowly buying up every available commercial property in the town of Millinocket?
Are you better off now than you were in 2000?
Are you as slow as the people at MAGIC think you are, or are you capable of reading a petition and casting a vote without four members of the town council making every decision for you?
I don't care what you think about MAGIC, if you have an ounce of respect for the people you live with, you'll sign the petition to allow the people to vote.
If, as MAGIC would have us believe, the petitioners represent only a small minority of the people in Millinocket, they shouldn't fear a referendum. MAGIC supporters should, in fact, be eager to put the matter to rest.
Anyone interested in signing the petition is encourage to stop by the table which has been set up in the municipal park next to the town office, and which will be staffed from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. through August 7th.
Persons unable or unwilling to stop by are invited to call a member of the petition committee or one of the numbers listed below, and we will send someone by your home to collect your signature.
Members of the committee include:
- Alyce Maragus
- John DiCentes
- Sally Bouchard
- Linda Lax
- Michelle Anderson
Other numbers to call include:
- Ken Anderson: 723-4456
- Walt Corsa: 723-6215
- Annetta Wheaton: 723-8877