April 24, 2018
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Fight over campaign signs highlights tensions on eve of Bangor arena vote

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Less than an hour after the temporary sign was put up on Dutton Street, in the shadow of the Bangor Auditorium, it went missing.

Ken Wicks and Steve Sleeper, the sign makers and two of the driving forces of opposition against the city’s plans for a new arena and convention center, looked everywhere. Had someone stolen their sign, which warned voters against building a new complex?

They checked the nearby Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce building. No one answered the door, but their bright red sign was visible just inside the door. No attempts were made to hide the sign.

Had officials with the Chamber, one of the major supporters of the arena project, really stolen an opposition sign?

Wicks and Sleeper believed that to be the case and went directly to the Bangor Police Department late Monday to file a report.

On Tuesday, Chamber Executive Director John Porter admitted that he took the sign down Monday and stored it inside the office. He said he even called Wicks shortly after he removed the sign and told him to come retrieve it. Wicks never returned the call.

“I’m not going to chase [Porter],” Wicks later said indignantly.

From Porter’s perspective, the sign was put on city property that is leased to the Chamber and therefore the Chamber has the authority to regulate what can go there. Because the Chamber has been a major supporter of the arena, he didn’t want the public to be confused about a “No Arena” sign immediately adjacent to the Chamber sign.

Wicks, however, argued that Bass Park, where the offices are located, is public property and signs of any kind should be allowed.

After spending more time than she would have liked on Tuesday researching and conferring with legal staff, Bangor City Manager Catherine Conlow concluded that Porter was right.

If the sign were within a right-of-way, meaning close to the road, it would have been on public property. However, because the sign was put on a patch of grass off Dutton Street, near the Chamber’s parking lot, it was considered the Chamber’s property, Conlow said.

Wicks said he still thinks Porter had no right to tamper with the sign and also said he plans to pursue it further because tampering with signs is a misdemeanor offense.

Conlow, however, said she does not expect the police department to pursue charges.

With a citywide referendum vote on the arena project scheduled for Wednesday, May 4, this week’s sign flap offered a distraction from the bigger discussion.

Supporters of the $65 million arena, which would be paid for with Hollywood Slots revenue and tax increment financing district funds, believe the project is vital to Bangor’s economic future.

Critics, who successfully gathered enough signatures to force a referendum vote, say it’s too risky to rely on Hollywood Slots, a gambling facility, to continue providing a constant revenue stream.

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