Action on secession may be delayed

By TESS NACELEWICZ, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.


CUMBERLAND - Some islanders hope Chebeague Island can become its own town by July 2006.

But the Legislature, which ultimately will decide whether the island can break away from Cumberland, may not even consider the issue until 2007. State Sen. Karl Turner, R-Cumberland, said this week that he is trying to persuade other lawmakers to delay consideration of a bill that would allow the island to secede. Instead of taking it up this January, he wants the bill delayed until a new Legislature starts its work in January 2007.

Islanders are worried that a delay could have a negative impact on the advisory votes on the issue Nov. 8. The ballots of island and mainland residents will be counted separately. Island resident Bob Earnest, who is secretary of the island association that has spearheaded the secession effort, said a legislative decision against considering the bill in 2006 would send a message "that Augusta does not support Chebeague."

However, Turner said the upcoming session of the 122nd Legislature is a short one designed only for bills carried over from the first session and new emergency bills.

"This is not an emergency," said Turner, who also represents Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and North Yarmouth. "Chebeague and Cumberland have been one community for 184 years."

If a majority of islanders favor secession on Election Day, the Town Council will vote on the issue. If the council rejects secession, a mediation process will begin. Whichever way the council votes, the Legislature is the final arbiter.

State Rep. Terrence P. McKenney, a Republican representing Cumberland, Long Island and North Yarmouth, agreed to submit a bill on Chebeague secession to the Legislature this session.

On Thursday, a bipartisan council made up of 10 legislative leaders will vote on which of 508 new bills - including McKenney's - will be introduced in the upcoming session.

Also on the Legislature's plate are 159 bills carried over from the previous session and 72 unfunded bills left on the appropriations table.

If the Legislative Council turns down any new bills, legislators can appeal Nov. 28.

Rep. Glenn Cummings, D-Portland and a member of the Legislative Council, said Tuesday he was weighing information from Turner and islanders before deciding whether to support inclusion of the secession bill this session.

Another council member, Sen. Carol Weston, R-Montville, said she has talked to Turner and plans to vote against including the secession bill because she doesn't consider it "an emergency that can be dealt with in the very best manner in a very short session when we already have a full plate."

However, islanders say the secession process is consuming their time and that of town officials and needs to move forward. Outstanding issues include negotiating how the town and island would split debts and assets, and where island students would attend secondary school.

Chebeague children attend elementary school on the island. Fears that the school might be downsized or closed sparked the secession movement.

Islanders contend that Turner is trying to create a "roadblock" to secession, which he says contradicts state policy by creating a new town and school district when the state is trying to consolidate and regionalize municipal and school services.

Rep. John Richardson, D-Brunswick, is chairman of the Legislative Council and Speaker of the House. He said he will base his decision on precedent - whether other secession bills have been considered in second sessions of the Legislature.

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791-6367 or at: