Friday, April 7, 2006
Chebeague won freedom by respecting process
It may not serve efficiency and, therefore, could legitimately be opposed, but the successful secession effort by Chebeague Island cannot be faulted on the basis of process.
Islanders began this latest drive to leave the town of Cumberland with some sharp rhetoric and unconcealed anger over the uncertain future of the elementary school on Chebeague. Resentment over rising property values - and an ever-larger contribution to mainland tax coffers - also fueled the drive for independence.
When it came time to actually win its freedom, the organizers on Chebeague did something important: They got serious about negotiating an agreement that worked for the mainland as well as the island.
It's an agreement that doesn't necessarily spell big tax relief for islanders, but it leaves mainlanders in Cumberland and the local school district relatively untouched by secession in financial terms.
That's important. Independence for any community is a matter of concern for all those affected by the change. If the town and school district had not gone along with the secession, it would have been appropriate for the Legislature to reject it.
Sen. Karl Turner, a Republican from Cumberland, makes a good point when he notes that splitting off Chebeague into a new town may harm the overall efficiency of Maine government. Indeed, the change will force the state to pay about $1 million more in local school aid now that there is a new municipality seeking state help.
Those concerns are legitimate, but they do have to be weighed against the very real cultural differences between island and mainland communities. Also, that Chebeague islanders respected the process set out by the Legislature and secured the support of the mainland added weight to their claim for independence.
Similar issues are now arising as residents of Peaks Island, currently a part of the city of Portland, explore independence.
As with Chebeague, the guiding principal should be securing a win-win for both the island and the mainland. If, for example, taxpayers on the mainland would be adversely affected by Peaks leaving the city, that's a legitimate reason for opposition that has to be overcome through negotiations with the city.
In the meantime, Chebeague should celebrate its independence and then set to the hard work of self-government. Independence isn't always a right, but when granted, it carries responsibility.
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