News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 28, 2017
Town, academy officials seek cooperation of landlords

Town-gown meeting

At a town-gown meeting September 20, officials spoke about ways to reduce “nuisance” activity. From left, Castine’s parking enforcement officer and harbormaster Scott Vogell, Maine Maritime Academy Director of Campus Safety Peter Stewart and Castine Town Manager Jimmy Goodson.

Photo by Sharon Bray Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Sharon Bray

Increased reports of Maine Maritime Academy students involved in incidents of drunk driving, speeding on town streets, and other actions are raising worries and fear among Castine residents.

Townspeople added their voices to discussion with municipal officials and academy representatives at a regularly scheduled “town-gown” meeting September 20, two days after related talks at a Board of Selectmen’s meeting.

“We are acutely aware of the problem we create by bringing 900 post-teens into a retirement community,” said MMA President Bill Brennan, adding, “We look to everyone for help.” Academy officers are not community police and do not have jurisdiction beyond campus boundaries.

Marc Pelletier, who lives on Main Street, and Tony Politano, a resident of Water Street, spoke at length and offered opinions for solutions to the problems. Politano also has written letters to the editors of local newspapers.

Pelletier compared his current life to his past “in a small college town of Boston” in the middle of the city. Main and Water streets, he said, “have the same problems I saw in Boston—student speeding, running stop signs…lack of respect for the community…basically, a lot of testosterone.”

A major difference noted by several people at the meeting is that MMA campus security officers do not have the power to act outside the academy’s property boundaries. MMA Dean and Vice President for Student Affairs Liz True agreed with Pelletier that, in greater Boston, many campus police legally “have jurisdiction across complete boundaries of the city.”

Peter Stewart, MMA’s director of campus safety, is a retired state trooper and sheriff’s deputy. He said he is willing to talk to anyone who calls about student behavior issues.

MMA students are not the only people in Castine who drive fast, have big trucks, and who rent houses, noted Brennan, adding, “this is not about crime but about nuisance.”

Politano disagreed. “It has gone beyond nuisance.” He described “a criminal act against me” for which a student was arrested and charged with operating under the influence and leaving the scene after he allegedly backed his truck into Politano’s vehicle. Politano said he lives across Water Street from a house rented to academy students.

These incidents, said Politano, “are having legal and economic impact on the town.” To help people feel safer in town, he said, Castine should hire its own police constable. “We cannot place unrealistic expectation on the sheriff and state police.”

Town Manager Jimmy Goodson said Castine is trying to increase local police presence by paying for extra Hancock County Sheriff time, the cost being shared with MMA.

“We are only getting about half” of what the town raised funds for, said Goodson, “because it is not available.”

The sheriff’s office reports staff shortages and only charges the town for services actually provided.

Karen Motycka, town finance officer, said it is possible “to reallocate funds to pay for other police service,” maybe state police.

Brennan noted “a long history of these issues” and attempts to reduce them. He said he has a news clipping from the 1800s that describes student misbehavior at Castine Normal School, a teacher training college from 1867 to 1942.

Many town-gown meetings over the past eight years of his tenure have included talk focused on parking at student rental houses. In 2013, Brennan told selectmen (as reported in the Castine Patriot in January that year), “college towns nationwide have rules for their students who live off-campus,” but “the academy has no ability to make ordinances.”

The town, Brennan said, should “look at the landlord population.” He said he has called “more than one landlord” and told them they should call police.

True said that the academy holds educational sessions for students who live off-campus. Students are required to list their living addresses but not names of landlords. Students, she said, have not reported being asked for references prior to rental contracts or agreements. MMA could not actually provide the references but could guide students in that process.

Brennan encouraged the town to take action dealing with “landlords who rent to students” and are making a lot of money “with no contribution back to the town” from their profits.

A year ago, said Goodson, the town created an ad hoc committee that called for “rental registration” with the town. “So far it is self-regulated.”

A proposed life safety ordinance requiring all rental property to be inspected is with the town attorney, said Goodson, adding that he “would like to bring it to the next town meeting.”

True reiterated that the academy cannot release any information about specific students, including disciplinary action taken in response to town complaints.

A very small percentage of MMA students causes problems in town, Motycka stated, and listed several positive student contributions, from volunteering for fire and rescue work to mentoring local youngsters.