Occupy Bangor’s presence in the city’s Peirce Park was a response to the state of our country in which money now equals speech and elections are becoming auctions awarded to the highest bidders. The 24-hour-a-day presence of an encampment in a public space to say “no” to this private hijacking of civic discourse and the political process was an expression of that message.
Bangor’s ordinances prohibit demonstrations in its parks after 10 p.m. They also give the parks and recreation director the discretion to make exceptions, but offer no criteria for how to use that authority. The Bangor City Council’s infrastructure committee acknowledged in the fall that the city therefore had a flawed policy. The committee was in the process of considering ways to clarify its ordinance when the parks director instead called the police to force the dismantling of the encampment.
Meanwhile, the Bangor Public Library, which had no explicit policy regarding a presence on its grounds at night, opted to permit Occupy’s presence until constrained by liability issues to ask Occupy to vacate, which it promptly did. In the face of considerable animosity from many, including some of Bangor’s highest public officials, this decision took considerable courage.
Given this recent history, it is dismaying to read the BDN’s account
of Bangor City Council Chairman and Mayor Cary Weston’s grilling of the library director and board during the library’s request for public funds. ( “Mayor asks library board why it allowed Occupy Bangor to break city’s after-hours park rule,” April 23, BDN)
Of director McDade’s and board member Bragg’s explanation that the library in fact had no policy regarding a nighttime presence on its grounds and thus opted to protect free speech, Mayor Weston is having none of it. He accuses the library of somehow betraying the city’s trust, acting to “cost us time, money, aggravation and lost resources.” The BDN reported Mayor Weston said the library’s decision might affect its funding, based on an “objective decision as to whether we’re spending our taxpayers’ money the right way.”
It concerns me that Mr. Weston seems to be acting as a city father in the most paternalistic sense. He conflates his personal disapproval of the library’s carefully considered and honorable decision to support free speech with what he deems an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars, and then threatens reprisals. Was it really the City of Bangor that was “aggravated,” or was it Mr. Weston? If he is having trouble telling the difference, I’m leery about his “objective decision” as to whether the library merits public funds.
As a Bangor resident for whom Mayor Weston professes concern, I’d like to reassure him that I think my tax dollars are as well spent safeguarding legitimate political expression of whatever stripe as safeguarding a waterfront concert, business convention, Main Street parade or local sporting event. And the roughly 2 percent of my Bangor tax bill that goes to support the Bangor Public Library is money I’m pleased and proud to pay.
I would remind all Bangor residents who feel likewise to realize that Mayor Weston may be directing his threat to cut the library’s funding at Director McDade and the library board, but he is targeting all of us who use and treasure our library. I urge my fellow residents to express their support for the Bangor Public Library, its director, its board and its principled actions.
Dennis Chinoy lives in Bangor.