War on Drugs comes to Belfast as councilors debate safe zones

Posted Oct. 16, 2012, at 10:11 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Belfast City Hall was an unusual site Tuesday night for a skirmish in the country’s War on Drugs, as city councilors hotly debated whether to declare city parks drug-free zones.

“I’m not in support of this,” Councilor Mike Hurley said during the regular City Council meeting. “I have two nephews in federal penitentiary now [for drug-related convictions]. The War on Drugs is a complete failure. It’s turned into a giant machine tearing up people and families. This is an idea that has run amuck — that we’re going to solve our drug problem by putting people in jail.”

Councilors were discussing the “Drug-Free Safe Zone” designation, which came from legislation passed in 2005 that would increase penalties associated with dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of such a zone.

Chief Mike McFadden requested that eight parks in the city be approved as “Safe Zones,” including the Belfast Skate Park, Belfast City Park and Belfast Common. In the end, the council tabled the matter until Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker could explain some of the details of the designation.

But before that, the councilors did not mince words about their thoughts on drug safe zone designations.

Councilor Marina Delune said that while she would like to see the city’s parks become drug-free areas, she didn’t support the 1,000-foot extension of those zones.

“I don’t have a problem with people using marijuana for personal use, but other drugs like cocaine and meth are more serious,” she said. “I don’t go to Belfast City Park at night because I am afraid. I do believe it’s a place where drugs are being dealt.”

Another councilor, Roger Lee, used succinct language to describe what he thinks about the 1,000-foot safety zone.

“I think 1,000 feet is nuts,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the way to solve the drug problem by any measure.”

But Councilor Nancy Hamilton said she agreed with the designation.

“I support it. I lived across from City Park. I would see cars go down, spend a short amount of time and come back,” she said. “It is to create a safe zone.”

In other business, councilors appointed Joseph Davis as the city’s next animal control officer. Longtime official Steve Boguen stepped down from the job in July, and the Belfast Police Department has been acting as the de facto animal control officer since that time.

Davis is a Belfast resident who has worked part time for the Belfast Fire Department for the past seven years, according to McFadden.

“This guy is one of our minutemen. We call him, he’s there,” McFadden said. “I think Joe will do a great job for us.”

Councilors also heard an update about the city’s RSU 20 withdrawal committee. Councilor Eric Sanders is on that committee and said it has joined with several other towns to explore leaving the school district.

He said they have identified more than $1 million in potential savings if Belfast leaves RSU 20, although not everyone they’ve talked to is in favor of the move.

“There’s skepticism, there’s denial, there’s anger,” he said. “But the committee is focused, and moving forward in a good way.”

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