MDI has little time to build a much needed regional middle school

SOMESVILLE, Dec. 1, 2020 – More than a century ago, the concept of “middle school” took an enlightened turn – to focus on a curriculum that was more substantial and physical space more differentiated than that in elementary schools. It recognized the peculiar characteristics of a population with a developing frontal lobe. Plus, the traditional K-8 schools were beginning to become overcrowded and unwieldy to manage.

A leading thought-leader in the late 19th century was none other than Harvard President Charles W. Eliot who helped found the summer community of Northeast Harbor. He, George Dorr and John D. Rockefeller Jr. were later credited with the founding of Acadia National Park.

Eliot was so many things but as an educator, he was a lion. Not only did he create the modern Harvard, he also had profound influence on secondary education. Brittanica.com wrote, “During his presidency Harvard raised its entrance requirements, and other major colleges did likewise. This, in turn, effected a corresponding rise in secondary-school standards.”

Eliot was a driving force behind the concept of a middle school. The first middle school was established in 1909 in Columbus, Ohio. There was a burst of adoption in the Sixties when Grades 6-8, or junior high (7-8, or 7-9) became the norm for most of the United States. To be sure, some districts have moved back to a K-8 system but those were mostly driven by cost considerations during the Great Recession.

So it is a puzzlement that Mount Desert Island remains an outlier which still clings to a K-8 system despite being home to one of the greatest education innovators of American history.

But now MDI faces a major decision. It has a small window of opportunity which may not be there for another 50 years – to create an islandwide middle school similar to the high school which has served MDI communities so well.

The issue is exacerbated by exigent needs. Tremont School has run out of space. Bar Harbor’s Connor Elementary is falling apart. Both are grappling for solutions, any solution, as the situation has been made urgent by the rigorous enforcement of pandemic-related logistics. Only a year ago, Bar Harbor began to discuss the idea of building a new school. That idea has been shelved for now. But if Bar Harbor ever built a new school, there will be no chance to build an islandwide middle school.

I asked Heather Jones, chair of the combined boards, on the status of the middle school proposal. “It comes down to funding,” she said. She cited two factions – some Mount Desert residents and Tremont teachers – who have vocally opposed a single middle school.

But that would go against a straw poll last summer that asked the question, “Are you in favor of the school board continuing planning efforts for a combined, district-wide middle school?” The votes were 1,237 to 598 in favor in Bar Harbor, 439 to 205 in Mount Desert, 158 to 62 in Southwest Harbor and 273 to 199 in Tremont.

The opposing voices in Mount Desert may be small but they have a point. No islandwide school will be viable without the largesse of Mount Desert because the formula for contribution from each town is largely determined by the tax base under which Mount Desert dwarfs everyone else by several factors.

Last year a 16-member committee of teachers, parents, administrators, school board members and others in the community proposed the creation of a Grades 7 to 8 middle school to be a new building located on the campus of MDI High School.

That committee presented its recommendations to the school system board May 13, 2019. Its vision was for “a combined middle school that directly targets the ever-evolving academic, social and emotional needs of its young adolescents.”

Mount Desert Islander veteran reporter Dick Broom wrote that committee member Maria Simpson, who teaches at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor, said, “We believe that a middle school with a unified vision of education could deliver even more challenging, relevant, engaging and hands-on learning. We feel a combined middle school would draw families and students to the area. It could also serve as a model of middle school innovation.”

Middle school committee co-chair Marie Yarborough told the board that, throughout its deliberations, the group kept two guiding principles in mind: “One, keep the students at the center of the conversation and the recommendations; they are our constituents. And two, whatever we recommend has to be a better version of any middle level experience than exists in our district today.”

After the committee’s presentation to the school board, all of the school principals, along with Supt. Marc Gousse and curriculum chief Julie Meltzer, issued this statement: “Administrators felt strongly that a single middle school could support student government and greater student engagement (e.g. green team, civil rights team) and provide equitable programming opportunities prior to high school.” School Supt. Marc Gousse told QSJ a middle school created in his previous job in Westbrook, Maine, had Grades 5 through 8 and that he is open to adding another grade if need be.

The decision by the 16-member did not include Tremont. Members said Tremont representatives and teachers attended the meetings in the beginning of the process and then stopped attending. QSJ made several calls to Heidi Lawson, Chair of Tremont’s school board, but she did not respond.

In Fairfield County, Connecticut, where I lived for 20 years, the town of Wilton, with 18,000 year-round residents, has one high school, one middle school, one Grade 3-6 school and one pre-K to Grade 2 school.

What I admired about Wilton is that by consolidating, they were able to offer luxuries – a pre-K to Grade 2 school, for instance. So imagine Tremont and Southwest Harbor sending their Grade 6 to 8 kids to a new middle school and relieving their current overload. Can we create a Pre-K to Grade 2 program in Tremont and a Grade 3 to 5 (or 6) program in SWH? Those schools are 7 minutes apart by bus.

The middle school kids would receive a better education. Parents would be delighted at the addition of a Pre-K program, and there would be no space crisis.

But the reality is that the The Mount Desert Island Regional School System, with a year-round population of 10,000 has nine schools and too many school boards to count. It reports to 11 bosses, including the state. Only the high school is a truly regional school. The Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS ’91) on MDI, Trenton and the islands south of here was in response to Gov. John Baldacci’s effort in 2007 to consolidate schools to save costs.

Unlike the high school, the member entities of an AOS still have their own individual school boards.

“I want to give a shoutout to Nancy Thurlow,” said Supt. Gousse Monday night in front of the AOS ’91 school board. “She manages 11 budgets and 11 audits.” Gousse is a clever guy and a great operator. Did the board members pick up his signal: 11 budgets! Seriously?

Gousse said in a phone call that the enormous behind-the-scenes effort to keep this hamster wheel running are invisible to parents as they drop off their kids, the school board members, and the kids themselves.

Separate from the middle school consideration is another subcommittee investigating ways to reorganize AOS ’91 to make it more efficient. Gousse said work already has been done to streamline operations such as working off of a single school calendar, setting universal policies, negotiating a single union contract and unifying health insurance. But there’s more to do, such as centralizing hiring to spread the work. “If the Cranberry Isles wanted to hire a 20 percent Spanish teacher, they could never make that happen,” Gousse said. “But if the district had a Spanish teacher, we could share that teacher.”

It would help to see an analysis – a true forensic analysis – on the benefit of consolidating central office costs versus the true “soft” cost of operating a highly constipated system of juggling reports and other demands from so many different entities catering to so few constituents. How many calls does Nancy Thurlow get a month? How big of a support staff does she have? How many of those requests are of substance and how many are frivolous? This is Maine, so I assume the adults in the room are mostly adults and respect each other’s duties. But nonetheless, dear reader, here is a link to the school board page of Alternative Organized Schools 91 and you may decide for yourself whether this is a well-oiled system … http://www.mdirss.org/school-boards/board-members-meetings

Local control is laudible until it’s not.

Principals were hired to be educators. “They weren’t intended to oversee building maintenance,” said Heather Jones.

Tremont Consolidated School is an underachiever as evident by standardized test scores and as reported earlier by QSJ. There is no upside to protecting under-achievement. Tremont kids have benefitted over multiple decades from attending Mount Desert High School, one of the best in the state. The high school is what lawyers would call prima facie evidence that the streamlining of resources and talent can truly lead to exceptional results as MDI high school consistently ranks in the top 10 of Maine’s 161 high schools.

It gives bragging rights to all involved.

Is it time to pull the rip cord on this question of a single middle school? Time is running out.

Boards, committees, services atrophy as volunteerism fades

SOMESVILLE, Nov. 21, 2020 – This week, we heard the lament over inadequate ambulance staffing on the Quietside, the need to recruit a new harbormaster and deputy for Southwest Harbor, the continuing talk of police consolidation spurred on by the challenges of recruiting officers for small towns and the chronic vacancies on town boards and committees.

Two years ago, the Town of Tremont unceremoniously booted the planning board chairman from his perch after he went AWOL. That only exacerbated the problem of finding competent people who would serve on these boards. The town in July reduced the number of planning members to five and the terms to three years from five.

This year Mount Desert filled its vacant spot on the board of selectmen by wooing elementary school teacher Geoff Wood, photo left, to be a write-in candidate. He got 28 votes. He’s is now a selectman.

“I’ve always had an interest in politics, law and policy. And civic duty runs in my family. I plan to live out the rest of my days in this town, so I figured it was time I stepped up and did something for it,” Wood said in an interview with the Islander. “I do have some concerns about the direction that the island communities seem to be going in with regard to commercialism, away from community … I’m very interested in affordable housing, sustainable energy and policies that are not necessarily focused exclusively on the dollar.” 

But spirited citizens like Wood are harder to find.

“It doesn’t get easier,” said Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt. “We have fewer year-round residents who want to serve and they are getting older.” Lunt said he only has one committee, the harbor committee, which he doesn’t have a problem filling.

“Citizen engagement” was one of the top five issues which kept local officials awake at night, according to a survey conducted by software provider Diligent Corporation. https://insights.diligent.com/board-development-local-government/our-survey-shows-the-top-five-issues-that-keep-local-government-officials-awake-at-night

Mount Desert’s Zoning Board of Appeals is such a case study. The ZBA is an important small town institution – to ensure a town’s growth is in keeping with its heritage and history and to check the planning board. Keeping a ZBA thriving is in the public interest, not to mention saving taxpayers enormous legal fees.

Unfortunately, the Mount Desert ZBA has not been able to meet since the summer. It has had a vacancy the selectmen have not been able to fill. The ZBA now only has six active members. It canceled two meetings since late summer because it could not muster the necessary quorum of four members, according to board chair William Ferm. The meeting before that also was canceled because a power outage thwarted meeting by Zoom.

An application to re-build a house in Northeast Harbor approved by the planning board in June has been in front of the ZBA since then with no movement. The approval is being challenged by a neighbor.

Similar to Tremont, the Mount Desert ZBA chair is asking for relief from the current ordinance that requires seven members. In an interview, William Ferm said several times he was willing to work with the town’s land-use zoning ordinance (LUZO) advisory committee to fashion a way forward amenable to all.

Ferm said the selectmen should immediately fill the seventh seat, and, if not, consider changing the quorum from four to three if there are only six members. He also floated the idea of adding two alternates. At a meeting of the LUZO committee Tuesday, members questioned how they could find alternates when the ZBA can’t even fill the seventh seat.

Meanwhile the Lapsley family of Northeast Harbor who had hoped to complete construction of a family compound last summer must wait. Their application is now scheduled for review on Nov. 24 but it’s anyone’s guess whether that will actually happen because two ZBA members already have recused themselves, citing conflicts of interest. That leaves only four members.

“We are close to the bone,” Ferm said. “We’re at critical mass at this stage.”

The status quo is not a neutral stance. In this case the appellants, William and Marjorie Grace, would like nothing better than for construction not to start. In a phone interview, their lawyer seemed perfectly content with the chronic delays.

Perhaps it’s time to activate the seasonal residents. The virtual attendance of board and committee members during the pandemic worked flawlessly. Is there a hybrid model to allow snowbirds to sit on boards and committees like that which worked so well with year-round residents? It’s also not a bad idea to get seasonal residents more interested in the workings of their town for which they pay copious taxes.

Covid update: reassuring hospital doctor, CEO walk QSJ back from the edge during pandemic fears

BAR HARBOR, Nov. 20, 2020 – Julius Krevans will pass on an item on his shopping list if he detects that another shopper near him was not properly masked. He also gives wide berth to individuals who are exercising and breathing heavily – as far as 12 feet away. He has favorite restaurants on MDI but he only does takeout.

Krevans is also “Doctor Krevans,” one of the frontline clinicians at Mount Desert Hospital who has seen Covid-19 up close and is learning every day on how best to treat the disease.

He gives MDI an excellent grade for its handling of the pandemic. “We’ve seen very few person-to-person transmissions here.” Compared with similar communities in states like Idaho, Wyoming or eastern Colorado, the rate of Covid on MDI is less by a “factor or 10 to 20,” said Krevans who worked as a rural doctor in Alaska for 20 years before coming to Maine. MDI also has had zero cases of in-hospital transmissions.

He attributes the low rate to the willingness of the citizenry to effect communal behavior in everyone’s interest. MDI has not reported a new case in almost a week, after a surge of cases in the first half of November.

In total there have been only 31 positive tests on MDI since March, six of whom were visitors from out of the county. At least 17 of the 25 Hancock County positive tests were of MDI residents. There was one admission to MDI Hospital and two patients transferred to other hospitals, one of whom who died. As of this writing, this may be the first week without a positive test in a month.

When asked about the current drug regimen to combat Covid, Krevans said, “The best drug is great nursing.” Nurses in rural hospitals must be the “Jack and Jills of all trades.” From proper application of oxygen to ensuring how patients lie in bed. – “You’d be surprised at how important that is,” Krevans said.

The subject of testing drew a different reaction from Krevans. “It’s our biggest challenge.”

“Starting with the place – where you test – to the person who gives the test, to what supplies are used, to even what part of the nose you swab,” Krevans described an unwieldy array of possibilities which sow confusion and possible mistakes.

The hospital possesses two of its own rapid testing machines but its supply kits are limited. Krevans is waiting for the promised delivery of 50 kits a week to stabilize rapid testing. The hospital is also awaiting shipments of antibody drugs which, he said, have proven to be the most promising drug treatment.

Christina “Chrissi” Maguire <br>CFO/COO

It was reassuring after talking Krevans and hospital CEO Chrissi Maguire this week about the state of the pandemic on the island.

With education and programs such as the Covid-19 task force testing of 200 frontline workers and the high school testing program underway, Maguire is confident MDI will turn the corner. “We’re in excellent shape,” she said.

But Krevans emphasized that it takes only one careless person to ignite a spread such as the breakout at the Kidspeace facility in Ellsworth which issued the following statement Wednesday:

“KidsPeace is happy to report no new cases of COVID-19 associated with the KidsPeace Graham Lake Campus since the last update. The total number of individuals that have tested positive is still at 26 (15 youth and 11 staff members) and 82 negative tests. We are exceptionally pleased to report that 12 of the 15 kids who tested positive are now officially recovered. Similarly, 5 of the 11 staff who tested positive have also recovered and have returned to work.” As of the last report Nov. 15, Ellsworth had by far the highest rate of positive tests in Hancock County with 43.

Right after Halloween, folks went indoors and could not contain their “aerosolized” behavior, Maguire said. Eating and talking are two extremely aerosolizing activities which were more forgiving in an outdoor environment.

For about two weeks after Halloween there was an unquestionable surge on MDI. “But it seemed to have plateaued for us,” Maguire said. There were specific pockets of a “family unit and another social unit” which contributed greatly to the surge on the island, she said.

Krevans is having the same concerns about Thanksgiving and urged residents to wear masks even when inside with friends and relatives.

Special care needed to be taken in break rooms, cafeterias and other congregate settings where people were likely to be unmasked and emitting fine sprays, Maguire said. She worries about the fatigue of the hospital staff who are performing exhausting work as both care workers and social resources for their patients.

QSJ readers may help by donating to the Covid-19 support fund at the hospital … https://www.mdihospital.org/giving/covid-19-preparedness/

SWH town manager sounds alarm over staffing of ambulance service

SOMESVILLE, Nov. 19, 2020 – Bar Harbor is the only municipality on MDI with a full-time 24/7 professional ambulance service instead of volunteers mixed in with per diem workers such as that serving the communities of Tremont, Southwest Harbor and Mount Desert. The latter is now being questioned as whether it should be the model going forward.

This was the topic of a recent meeting of MDI town managers, so reported Southwest Harbor Town Manager Justin VanDongen to his selectmen board Tuesday night.

“I think something needs to be said to really push the Tremont/Southwest Harbor Ambulance Service into making a change and making sure that they’re going to be here in a year, in five years or ten years or come up with a plan if they don’t plan to be,” VanDongen said.

That was followed up by selectmen chair Kristin Hutchins who said, “We just can’t find people to do the work.

“Until this spring we had adequate staff … we’ve lost three of our per diem paramedics. November is particularly difficult because some people have gone hunting.”

Multiple times this year there was no ambulance staffing and the Quietside went uncovered, VanDongen said.

The situation in Mount Desert is not as dire because the ambulance service has opted to pay for an extra backup in case the pandemic wreaked havoc with the scheduled shifts. But it too is looking al all options, said ambulance service chief Basil Mahaney, including adopting a Bar Harbor model someday or consolidating with Southwest Harbor and Tremont.

Mahaney pointed out that Bar Harbor has more than three times the call volume than that of Mount Desert. Mahaney, who is a paramedic in Bar Harbor, said it has about 1,000 calls a year compared to 300 for Mount Desert. The volume also means Bar Harbor has a richer revenue source for ambulance payments from users and insurance reimbursement to support a professional staff.

Paramedics from MDI ambulance services with new heart monitors in 2017. From left, Margaret Houghton of the Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service, David Buccello of the Southwest Harbor-Tremont Ambulance Service and Basil Mahaney of the Bar Harbor Fire Department. MDI Islander photo

Mount Desert has had a separate volunteer ambulance service since 1938, a non-profit which is supported mostly by donors. It receives only about $10,000 a year in support from the town plus use of facilities to house the ambulances.

Southwest Harbor and Tremont also has a non-profit service but it gets $72,000 a year from SWH and $50,000 from Tremont which make up about half its revenue.

“What do we need to make sure that the ambulance service is going to be successful in the future? And we need to know the realities of it, VanDongen said. “It just can’t be the general request for money again this year. We really need to take a look at what the investment this community needs to make to provide ambulance service to its residents.

“I think there is frustrations on a lot of fronts as far as staffing, funding, billing,” he continued. There needs to be some changes … “

Hutchins added, “I’m extremely concerned about it … I think it’s appropriate to turn up the heat a bit. If we’re not pushing, I don’t think it’s going to get solved.”

Michelle Kaplan no longer at her job at MDI Hospital

SOMESVILLE, Nov. 19, 2020 – Michelle Kaplan not only lost her race for the 132nd House seat in the Maine legislature, but she also no longer has her job at Mount Desert Island Hospital. Hospital officials confirmed today that Kaplan has submitted her resignation. She posted on Facebook she left for another opportunity.

Kaplan made statewide news when the emergency room physicians assistant went to work after appearing at a Trump rally without a mask and came in contact with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who later was diagnosed with Covid-19.

The following article appeared on The Quietside Journal in late October:

MDI Hospital staffer (GOP candidate) quarantined after mingling without mask at Trump rally

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BRUCE POLIQUIN, DALE CRAFT, JAY ALLEN AND MICHELLE KAPLAN

SOMESVILLE, Oct. 27, 2020 – Michelle Kaplan, an MDI Hospital emergency room physician’s assistant, has begun a 14-day quarantine after a photo appeared on Facebook showing her at the Trump rally Sunday in Levant, Maine, along with several prominent Maine Republicans, includingcandidates in both Congressional Districts. Kaplan is the Republican candidate for the 132rd House seat in Maine.

She was in at least two photos with Dale Craft and Jay Allen who are running against Democrats Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree. One included Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff. Allen is a family physician in Waldoboro.In response to a question from QSJ, Kaplan stated she is “voluntarily self quarantining for 14 days out of an abundance of caution. I will use this time to catch up on some household projects, perhaps produce a painting or two, and make some homage goodies.If I display any symptoms whatsoever I will be sure to get tested.”

She clearly failed to comply with Maine CDC guidelines where she appeared unmasked at the rally. Facebook posters said she worked at least one 12-hour shift at the hospital after the rally.

Kaplan did not answer a QSJ question of whether she worked a shift after the rally and before the quarantine.

An MDI Hospital spokesperson said, “While we cannot discuss individual personnel matters, we can assure you that any employee known to have acted in a manner that does not follow proper health and safety protocols in accordance with our policies and the guidance of the MaineCenter for Disease Control and Prevention will be required, at a minimum, to quarantine for 14 days, receive mandatory education and training, and be subject to disciplinary action.

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“MDI Hospital follows all Maine CDC guidelines for distancing, masking and screening in order to provide a safe environment for patients to receive care and needed services.We take the health of our community very seriously and will take every appropriate action to continue to provide our region with safe, responsible care in accordance with CDC guidelines and our health and safety policies and procedures.” The 132rd seat is held by DemocratNicole Grohoski.

Tuesday night the Bangor Daily News reported that the owner of the orchard which hosted the Trump rally publicly regretted allowing the event to be held saying and that its attendees did not practice good social distancing or mask-wearing in the middle of a pandemic.

Here is the link to the statement https://treworgyorchards.com/potus-visit:

High season for deer collisions; dozens of families benefit from the meat

SOMESVILLE, Nov. 18, 2020 – To snowbird readers of QSJ who are ensconced in their Florida condos, Arizona casitas or California beach houses, there is no venison for you!

That’s because there is very little chance of you hitting a deer with your vehicle.

In Maine, however, there is a one in 91 chance of your vehicle colliding with a deer (or other animals) which was what happened to me two years ago as I drove my rental car away from the Southwest Harbor waste station. The deer actually ran into me.

This is high season for collisions because bucks are “in rut” and seeking a mate. According to State Farm, Maine ranks second only to Rhode Island in New England as having the best chance of a collision and is considered a high risk state. For deer MDI is actually a pretty good deal. There is no danger of being shot because hunting is forbidden. And the habitats are fecund and food is abundant.

DATA ON DEER COLLISIONS IN MAINE

Venison is my favorite red meat but it’s very difficult to procure. QSJ residents more resourceful than I have figured out an easy way to get deer meat. They are on a rotating list of claimants at MDI police departments. Police first offer the dead deer to the driver and then refer to the list of folks willing to come to the scene.

For the less adventuresome, here are State Farm’s recommendations to avoid a collision:

1. The most important thing you can do during rut is slow down, keep your eyes peeled on both sides of the roadway and be prepared to come to a complete stop if necessary. Deer don’t stop, look and listen before they dart into the roadway. Deer-crossing signs warn of where they’re most likely to cross, but you can’t count on that, especially during rut.

2. You don’t want to blind oncoming motorists, but you should use your high beams when possible to increase your chances of seeing animals in the ditches. Flicking on your high beams might cause animals to scurry away, but it’s not a sure thing. Your headlights might actually temporarily blind or confuse them, and they might dart in front of you.

3. Know all you can about deer lifestyles and when they’re most active: around mealtime. Deer crashes usually occur an hour after sunset but also are common around sunrise, according to published research, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down at other times.

4. Know that when you see one deer, you’re likely to see another. They travel in herds, often in single file.

5. Don’t veer to avoid deer. No good will come from that. Most car-deer crash deaths and injuries occur when motorists swerve to miss the deer. Instead, brake firmly, hold on to the steering wheel and stay in your lane as you bring the vehicle to a controlled stop.

Also, because it makes sense, make sure you’re wearing your seat belt. If you do hit a deer, it will decrease the chances you will be injured.

Susan Collins can wield great power in the Senate – but will she?

SOMESVILLE, Nov. 13, 2020 – Edmund Muskie died in 1996, the same year Susan Collins was elected to the United States Senate where Muskie served 21 years before becoming secretary of state under Jimmy Carter. He was among Maine’s pantheon of high octane leaders – George Mitchell, William Cohen and, of course, Margaret Chase Smith, who died in 1995 at Age 97.

Cohen was the first Republican senator to vote for impeaching Richard Nixon. Mitchell was majority leader when the Clean Air Act was re-authroized in 1990 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed.

William Cohen in 2014

Smith was the first woman to hold seats in both houses of Congress. She famously called out Joe McCarthy at much personal risk in a 15-minute speech on June 1, 1950 known as the “Declaration of Conscience,” in which she denounced “the reckless abandon in which unproved charges have been hurled from this side of the aisle.”

MARGARET CHASE SMITH AT THE `1972 REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

 She said McCarthyism had “debased” the Senate to “the level of a forum of hate and character assassination.” She defended every American’s “right to criticize … right to hold unpopular beliefs … right to protest; the right of independent thought.”

“I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny—fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear.”

Today, there are only four senators with more seniority in the Senate than Susan Collins. They are Chuck Grassley, Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby and Jim Inhofe. Not only does Susan Collins own substantial seniority, she could play an outsized role as part of a small moderate bloc of the Senate.

David Brooks of the New York Times suggested this in an interview with Mitt Romney in which he floated the idea of just such a bloc, which presumably would include Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

” … deal-making and moderate senators could form bipartisan gangs around specific issues and try to force McConnell’s hand. Re-elected senators like Susan Collins have potentially immense power in a closely divided body,” Brooks wrote.

Romney told Brooks of areas where bipartisan approval was possible: fix prescription drug pricing and end surprise medical billing; an immigration measure that helps the Dreamers and includes E-Verify; an expanded child tax credit; green energy measures. Others include an infrastructure bank, shoring up American supply chains so we’re not so dependent on China, expanding non-college career pathways, industrial policy to benefit the Midwestern manufacturing base.

A moderate GOP bloc could ensure these succeed over the recalcitrance of a majority leader who is not interested in governing, Brooks wrote.

Other national media outlets are baying at the moon as well. “Collins’s GOP colleagues see Democrats’ failed campaign in Maine as giving her even more juice than before,” Politico wrote. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/13/susan-collins-senate-influence-436426

And the Washington Post: “Biden’s agenda may rest on centrist Republicans — and the return of a bygone Senate era.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/biden-senate-mcconnell-republicans/2020/11/13/52517962-2370-11eb-952e-0c475972cfc0_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_todays_headlines&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_headlines

This week Susan Collins flashed signs of independence once familiar to Mainers when she said on Thursday the White House should give intelligence briefings to incoming Biden immediately. This was after she joined a handful of Republicans in congratulating Joe Biden. She also publicly has been agitating for a new stimulus bill to be passed before the end of the year.

Shortly after her win on Nov. 3, Collins received a congratulatory call from an old friend, Joe Biden. The two won overwhelming support from the Maine electorate made possible by split votes in huge numbers. It set up an interesting dynamic where both now own tremendous equity in Maine which may allow them to work together and lessens the risk for Collins.

Collins said she believes Biden should generally get his Cabinet confirmed, even as President Donald Trump refuses to concede, because she gives “great latitude to presidents in choosing their Cabinets.”

Biden “and I have a long-standing relationship that goes back many years and we worked on issues together in the Senate as well as when he was vice president,” Collins said this week. “It doesn’t mean that if he appoints someone who is way out of the mainstream, that I wouldn’t oppose them.”

All the post election comments augur well for a return to the Susan Collins with a bipartisan sensibility.

It harkens back to a time when she and Olympia Snowe were tabbed “The Sisters” in how they voted in unison as a small bloc of moderates from Maine.

OLYMPIA SNOW AND SUSAN COLLINS SMILE FOR THE CAMERAS

But the media, as is its wont, overly dramatized that narrative. In truth Collins and Snowe couldn’t stand each other, as so well articulated by the Washington Post back when its Style section did such in-depth features: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/maine-senators-may-not-like-each-other-much-but-they-share-love-of-state-job/2011/05/03/AFGwpn0F_story.html

The lesson is that you don’t have to be friends to be politically like-minded.

“Colleagues in both parties are now in awe of how much sway Collins has after handily winning a race in which she was largely outspent and didn’t lead a single public poll down the stretch,” Politico reported. “Whenever something contentious comes up in the Senate, one of the first questions will be: What does Collins think?”

“She’s sort of like Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who labored for Collins’ vote for six years as party whip. “You’re going to have to work for it to persuade her.”

Collins said at least eight Democratic senators have come calling since she won. And the first call was at 7:30 a.m. after Election Day from aisle-crossing supporter Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who asked her: “What can we do next? How can we work together?”

“These were by and large my friends. It wasn’t Chuck Schumer calling me, let’s put it that way,” Collins said. “Some of them told me frankly that they’d been instructed by Chuck to not co-sponsor my bills, not work with me to advance legislation. Now, some of them followed that instruction from him but some did not.”

“What she went through and the way they lined up against her? I think that fully empowers her in the way she beat it back,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.).

The simple fact that Biden and Collins spoke recently shows how different her relationship is with the president-elect than it is with the current president. Collins works with top White House officials but rarely speaks to Trump.

But it remains to be seen how much fuel is still left in the tank for this heretofore independently leaning war horse. Politicians tend to become more risk averse not more. While Margaret Chase Smith voted against two of Richard Nixon’s Supreme Court nominations, she also publicly supported the Vietnam War.

It will take a lot for liberals to overlook Susan Collins’s ignominy – voting for Brett Kavanaugh, removal of the individual mandate which dealt the Affordable Care Act a big blow and against impeaching Donald Trump.

But if she can get the Senate back to a semblance of bipartisanship, all will be forgiven.

Hearth&Harbor shows off oven, opening with takeout Nov. 11

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Nov. 7, 2020 – It’s not exactly the most propitious time of the year to open a new restaurant on the Quietside but the owners of Hearth&Harbor next to the library at 336 Main Street are willing to give it a go after working behind veiled windows covered by newspapers since summer.

QSJ was dubious last summer when they promised they would open in 2020 but apparently they will.

Starting Nov. 11, they will offer takeout and work their way eventually to indoor dining. The restaurant will be open year-round, the owners said, joining Sips as the two year-round establishments. Drydock Cafe’s last day is today Nov. 7. Rogue Cafe has been opening three nights in previous winters but have not announced its intentions this year.

Nonetheless, H&H will be a welcome oasis in the barren winter of MDI. Even in Bar Harbor, the offerings are sparse and unpredictable. One good ice storm could drive an owner to hibernate in Florida.

Hearth&Harbor sent me its menu which is posted here. If the clam pie is anything remotely close to Pepe’s in New Haven I shall be ordering it on a weekly basis.

The centerpiece of H&H is a beautiful pizza oven made with special tiles which were fired with silt from the Rhone Valley in France.

Pizzas will be 12 inches and start around $12 apiece.

Two restaurants on MDI have popularized this concept – Blaze and Sweet Pea Cafe.

Collins drinks in reservoir of goodwill, largesse in rural Maine

Incumbent Republican Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to supporters during an Election Night gathering, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Bangor, Maine.
SUSAN COLLINS VICTORIOUS ON ELECTION NIGHT

SOMESVILLE, Nov. 6, 2020 – At least we can be grateful we didn’t have a tortured week of Ranked Choice vote counting.

JOE BIDEN WINS IN TOWNS MARKED IN BLUE

In Van Buren, Maine, they probably already have forgotten there was an election four days ago, as hardened residents in the town bordering Canada go about the business of preparing for the onset of winter before they can see signs of thawing in June.

On Tuesday, citizens of Van Buren in the very north central part of Aroostook County gave Joe Biden a 471-415 victory and then split the ticket to give Susan Collins a resounding 520-322 win.

A five-hour drive due south on I-95, the Town of Tremont on Mount Desert island voted 590-422 for Joe Biden and 489-467 for Susan Collins, the only town on heavily Democratic MDI to do so.

Across Maine and especially the vast rural northern part of Maine where Susan Collins cut her teeth as a young political aide and then worked her way up the food chain to be elected to the Senate in 1996, people are loyal to people who remind them of themselves, to conduct business according to their provincial ethos. The flip side is their mistrust of folks “from away” – a polite and quaint aphorism tinged with geographic chauvinism. In this case, it bore serious consequences.

This silent code is revered in the rural sector of the “two Maines” where household income is significantly lower than that of the southern and more dense region. And where formal education is lower. Colin Woodard, the renowned Portland Press Herald journalist, compared rural Maine to that of Kentucky.

TOWNS IN RED WON BY SUSAN COLLINS

Collins grew up in Caribou, a half hour from Van Buren. Every town within 45 minutes of Caribou that voted for Joe Biden also voted for Collins – Madawaska, Wallagras, St. Francis, Madawaska Lake Township, Westmanland, Rogue Bluffs and Seboeis Plantation. Even typing those names made QSJ aware of how huge and fractured Maine is.

Farther south in Penobscot County the same contradiction took shape as another big cluster of Biden supporters split their votes – Old Town (2,365-1,668 for Biden), Bangor (9,452-6,065) and Hampden (2,451-2,265). They went all in for Susan Collins.

And it wasn’t just a small contradiction. Biden overwhelmed Trump in Maine. He got 72,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton, which made

SUSAN COLLINS WON EVERY COUNTY IN 2014

the Susan Collins victory even more dramatic.

Folks forget just how popular Susan Collins was in Maine. In 2014 she won every county, and almost 70 percent of the votes. In Cumberland County, the liberal bastion of Maine, she won 62 percent of the vote. (see chart left)

Until Donald Trump came along to play his brand of “take-no-prisoner” politics, Susan Collins was the darling of both the left and right. In 2015, polling firm Morning Consult found Collins to have, at 78 percent, the highest approval ratings of any Republican senator. .

She got Maine more than its fair share of federal largesse, whether it was in shipbuilding contracts, marine research grants or transportation improvements. And her reputation for constituent service was legendary, with multiple satellite offices to handle social security and disability problems for Maine’s elderly.

No town exemplified the pull of the Susan Collins mystique more than Tremont right here in the Quietside. Tremont has 492 registered Democrats, 320 Republicans and 349 unenrolled voters. It voted for Biden overwhelmingly, 590 to 422. But Susan Collins got 489 Tremonters t versus 467 for Sara Gideon. The fishing village of Bass Harbor received a big share of individual federal grants of up to $250,000 for each lobstermen. Apart from being “from away,” Gideon could only watch from the sidelines as the incumbent and soon-to-be the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee waved her wand and made sure voters could feel the power of a veteran who knew how to wield influence.

One campaign ad touted a $19.6 million grant Collins secured for the Town of Lubec – the northernmost fishing village in DownEast Maine – to erect a safe harbor to protect the lobster boats from being buffeted by the sea. Lubec voted 486-351 for Susan Collins, after giving Biden a 457-406 edge over Trump. There were many more Lubecs to be told in this campaign of attrition. Susan Collins was the Vietcong in this fight, shooting down Sara Gideon’s expensive Hueys with well targeted ads to remind voters of her ground game, and how she was not going to give an inch to those “from away.”

But now that she’s won, what does the future portend?

One has to wonder which is the Susan Collins we’ll see in action under a President Biden – the staunchly independent Senator from Maine who once wrote that Donald Trump is not fit for office or the obsequious party servant who trembled when things mattered? Will this be her chance to restore some luster to her legacy?

One thing for sure, Susan Collins will continue to play a familiar tune for rural Mainers she’s honed for 24 years.

HOW MDI TOWNS VOTED:

Mount Desert

US PresidentVotes
Joseph Biden (D)1,066 ( 72% )
Roque De La Fuente (A)0 ( 0% )
Howard Hawkins (G)17 ( 1% )
Jo Jorgensen (L)24 ( 2% )
Donald Trump (R)381 ( 26% )
US SenateVotes
Susan Collins (R)506 ( 34% )
Sara Gideon (D)887 ( 59% )
Max Linn (I)21 ( 1% )
Lisa Savage (I)86 ( 6% )
US Congress District 2Votes
Dale Crafts (R)359 ( 24% )
Jared Golden (D)1,123 ( 76% )
State Senate District 7Votes
Brian Langley (R)500 ( 34% )
Louis Luchini (D)963 ( 66% )
Legislature District 135Votes
Lynne Williams (D)764 ( 53% )
Timothy Oh (R)461 ( 32% )
Benjamin Meiklejohn (G)211 ( 15% )
Register of ProbateVotes
Juliette Wilbur (R)878
County Commissioner District 3Votes
Paul Paradis (R)779 ( 56% )
Ian Schwartz (D)605 ( 44% )

Southwest Harbor

US PresidentVotes
Joseph Biden (D)728 ( 64% )
Roque De La Fuente (A)1 ( 0% )
Howard Hawkins (G)13 ( 1% )
Jo Jorgensen (L)14 ( 1% )
Donald Trump (R)381 ( 34% )
US SenateVotes
Susan Collins (R)449 ( 40% )
Sara Gideon (D)584 ( 52% )
Max Linn (I)29 ( 3% )
Lisa Savage (I)65 ( 6% )
US Congress District 2Votes
Dale Crafts (R)338 ( 30% )
Jared Golden (D)785 ( 70% )
State Senate District 7Votes
Brian Langley (R)445 ( 40% )
Louis Luchini (D)674 ( 60% )
Legislature District 134Votes
Genevieve McDonald (D)836
Register of ProbateVotes
Juliette Wilbur (R)755
County Commissioner District 3Votes
Paul Paradis (R)585 ( 55% )
Ian Schwartz (D)479 ( 45% )

Tremont

US PresidentVotes
Joseph Biden (D)590 ( 57% )
Roque De La Fuente (A)1 ( 0% )
Howard Hawkins (G)11 ( 1% )
Jo Jorgensen (L)19 ( 2% )
Donald Trump (R)422 ( 40% )
US SenateVotes
Susan Collins (R)489 ( 47% )
Sara Gideon (D)467 ( 45% )
Max Linn (I)34 ( 3% )
Lisa Savage (I)54 ( 5% )
US Congress District 2Votes
Dale Crafts (R)387 ( 37% )
Jared Golden (D)647 ( 63% )
State Senate District 7Votes
Brian Langley (R)474 ( 46% )
Louis Luchini (D)547 ( 54% )
Legislature District 134Votes
Genevieve McDonald (D)725
Register of ProbateVotes
Juliette Wilbur (R)694
County Commissioner District 3Votes
Paul Paradis (R)577 ( 58% )
Ian Schwartz (D)412 ( 42% )


Bar Harbor

US PresidentVotes
Joseph Biden (D)2,678 ( 75% )
Roque De La Fuente (A)5 ( 0% )
Howard Hawkins (G)45 ( 1% )
Jo Jorgensen (L)44 ( 1% )
Donald Trump (R)804 ( 22% )
US SenateVotes
Susan Collins (R)1,035 ( 29% )
Sara Gideon (D)2,271 ( 63% )
Max Linn (I)55 ( 2% )
Lisa Savage (I)221 ( 6% )
US Congress District 2Votes
Dale Crafts (R)762 ( 21% )
Jared Golden (D)2,796 ( 79% )
State Senate District 7Votes
Brian Langley (R)1,079 ( 31% )
Louis Luchini (D)2,457 ( 69% )
Legislature District 135Votes
Lynne Williams (D)2,095 ( 62% )
Timothy Oh (R)816 ( 24% )
Benjamin Meiklejohn (G)470 ( 14% )
Register of ProbateVotes
Juliette Wilbur (R)2,118
County Commissioner District 3Votes
Paul Paradis (R)1,865 ( 56% )
Ian Schwartz (D)1,479 ( 44% )

Unreported Tremont burglary shines light on need for consolidation of island police

TREMONT, Nov. 4, 2020 – The weekly police blotter does not weigh the severity of each incident. A burglary might be considered no more serious than a sighting of  someone loitering. That’s why it’s called a blotter. Everything on it is deemed prosaic and monochromatic.

Two house break-ins over two days received scant attention in late October in this the most southeasterly and most rural of the four towns comprising MDI. Only one was even mentioned in the local paper.

QSJ made numerous calls to the Hancock County Sheriff’s department, which provides police services for small towns such as Tremont, to ask about the burglaries. A deputy, referred the call to Lt. Tim Cote who sent the following terse “press release”:

“Incident Report # :20-05051
Synopsis:  On 10/25/2020 a residential burglary was reported in Tremont.  This
investigation is ongoing.
Reporting Officer: Deputy Luke R. Gross

Incident Report # : 20-05021
Synopsis: On 10/23/20 at approximately 1715 hours the Sheriff’s Office received a report of a burglary at a Tremont residence. The case is still under investigation.
Reporting Officer : Deputy Zach Allen. This is all that can be released at this time as it is a very active investigation”
QSJ had better luck with the call desk and was told the burglaries occurred in Seal Cove near Hodgdon’s Seafood and in Bernard near AC Parson’s Landscaping. QSJ made the call in response to a reader’s desire for more information. An officer surmised it was a single perpetrator and that drugs were the motivation.
At first, Lt. Cote said I’d have to drive to Ellsworth to view the press release “because that’s where it is.” He then acceded to emailing the document, such as it was.
I’ll leave it to the resident of Tremont to decide their safety priorities and reaction to such pedestrian enforcement and lackluster reporting. Last October residents voted 2-1 to renew its contract with the county sheriff’s department and reject a competing proposal from Southwest Harbor which would have raised cost of police services by 50 percent. But there were complaints about the status quo, particularly the response time.
Your neighbor may be especially pecuniary but if your house has been broken into and you’ve called the cops, you don’t expect them to take two and a half hours to respond.
But things have changed since. With the recent death of Chief Alan Brown in SWH, island towns have re-opened Brown’s longstanding idea to consolidate police services. SWH selectmen voted 3-2 to pursue discussion. Tremont town manager Chris Saunders said he is open to such talks. Tremont’s current contract with the sheriff’s department runs through December 2023 but has a 30-day out clause.
The issue of police services is much more than streamlining cost. MDI has multiple islandwide agencies and services, but they are helter skelter and uneven in execution. By far the most successful of these is in education, or specifically, Mount Desert Island High School, which was the consolidation in 1968 of Bar Harbor, Pemetic and Mount Desert high schools. After two decades of squabbles and failed votes, the idea finally took hold. Since then, the high school consistently ranks among the best in Maine, and offers athletics, arts, music and cultural programs of high distinction. Moreover, as a mid-sized high school next to Acadia National Park and world renowned Jackson Labs on the island of Mount Desert, the school is able to attract exceptional educators who set high expectations for the student body. MDIHS is the only school in Maine which is 100 percent solar reliant for energy, sparked by a student initiative.
Can a similar approach work for police?
One of the professional hazards of police work is boredom. How many traffic violations and parking tickets can one person mete out before becoming completely jaded by the tedium.
Can an islandwide police job be more challenging and offer better candidates?