ROCKLAND, Maine — Rockland city councilors defended themselves strongly Monday night from criticism from a former councilor who claimed they were arrogant, incompetent and had done nothing to save the former Lincoln Street Center for Arts and Education from closing, resulting in the loss of a private school.
Former Councilor Joseph Steinberger issued his criticism of the council as he made what he acknowledged would likely be a futile attempt to persuade councilors to allow a group he is part of an opportunity to inspect the former MacDougal School as a possible home to replace the Lincoln Street Center.
In the end, Mayor Brian Harden ruled the item on the council’s Monday night agenda sponsored by Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson — to allow Steinberger’s group, The Old School, to go through the city-owned building — as out of order. Harden noted that the City Council had twice previously this summer rejected the same proposal.
But the ruling did not occur until near the end of the meeting. At the public comment session of the meeting at the beginning, Steinberger issued a lengthy critique of councilors. He listed his accomplishments during his 30 years in Rockland and said he wanted to “emphasize his despair over the extreme incompetence and arrogance which has become a majority on this city council.
“In all my 30 years here, I have never known a time when our city was so badly governed,” Steinberger said.
He claimed the council stood by and did nothing when the Lincoln Street Center closed. And, he continued, the council did nothing when the independent Watershed School, which had leased space in the Lincoln Street Center, looked for alternative space and ended up announcing it was moving to Camden.
“We had wanted to keep them in Rockland by housing them at the North School [now known as the MacDougal School], but the council has made this impossible. Now the Watershed School is moving to Camden, a great loss for our city. The blame must rest squarely on this City Council,” Steinberger said.
He said the future of the city rests with its ability to attract the middle class residents who can support Rockland’s development as a successful and vibrant city.
“Without them, we have tax rates among the highest in Maine, failing schools, and a bleak future,” he said. “Rockland’s median family income is half that of Camden, a prescription for failure. This city council does not understand this basic equation.”
Steinberger said the city needs to vote out these councilors.
Councilors responded when the issue of the MacDougal School came up.
Harden said it was absurd to blame the city for the departure of the Watershed School. He said city staff worked with school officials to try to find space for them in Rockland but that the lack of time was the biggest obstacle. He noted that the directors of the Lincoln Street Center gave its tenants very little notice before the closure in June.
Harden said if Steinberger thinks the council was this bad, he should take out nomination papers and run for office himself.
Harden’s seat on the council is up for election this year. He has taken out papers to seek another term. Limerock Inn co-owner Frank Isganitis has also taken out papers for the seat.
Steinberger said Monday he has no plans yet to run for the council this year but that he would wait to see who the candidates are. Steinberger served one term, from 1998 to 2001.
Councilor Eric Hebert said he was disheartened by Steinberger’s criticism, saying he would chalk it up to the former councilor’s disappointment that he was not able to save the old school building.
Councilor William Clayton said some of Steinberger’s comments were outright lies. He said all the people on the council serve the community because they love Rockland and they should not be subjected to such statements.
Councilor Larry Pritchett said the former MacDougal School had no value left in it.
Councilor Dickerson defended the community’s school system, saying it was not a failing system as Steinberger claimed. Dickerson works as a computer teacher in the school district.