Presque Isle residents oppose ordinances on flags, camping

1 month ago

Several Presque Isle residents objected Thursday to proposed rules that would set limits on loitering, camping and displaying flags on city property.

About 10 people attended a public hearing before the Presque Isle City Council on two draft ordinances. Additional hearings will take place Wednesday, July 10, before the council’s July meeting.

The first ordinance deals with camping, and the second addresses guidelines for proclamations, keys to the city, flag displays and ceremonies. The city proposed the ordinances in June. Some at the hearing said they give the wrong impression, could be illegal and are just plain mean.

“You can’t penalize people for being homeless, and that’s what this ordinance will do, and you will get sued,” said resident Jeff Ashby. “The perception people are going to have of Presque Isle is that you’re mean, awful people.”

As drafted, the ordinance says no one can set up camp or temporary housing on public property without the consent of Presque Isle officials. The document refers to unsheltered people and says a team exists to help meet their needs and preserve conditions in public spaces.

“The Coordinated Response Team, made up of law enforcement and local service agencies, supports an interagency collaboration to ensure unsheltered constituents receive shelter, substance use treatment, and other services to support their stabilization and preserve the accessibility and safety of public spaces for all by ensuring sanitary conditions,” the draft states.

Other residents disagreed with the references to people experiencing homelessness, including a woman who is currently at the Sister Mary O’Donnell Shelter for the Homeless in Presque Isle.

Lacey Saucier said she found herself doing a lot of research after hearing about the proposed rule, because it made her angry.

“I think, again, criminalizing homelessness is not good. It’s not a human thing to do,” she said. “We should be targeting drug use, especially near children. Living in a tent doesn’t make a person unsafe.”

Meg Hegemann wondered where the idea came from for a rule designed to prohibit unsheltered people from having free and fair access to public places. The document is Draconian and dramatic, and besides, Presque Isle already has an ordinance that addresses camping, she said.

That ordinance, Chapter 40: Conduct in Public Parks, Recreation Areas and Facilities, states no one is to set up any structures for overnight camping, or leave any equipment or vehicles in parks after hours that could be used for camping. Sanitation and littering are also addressed.

Councilors in May denied a request to fly the pride flag over city hall, saying city hall should be welcoming to everyone. The decision drew objections from some. 

In general, the proposed proclamation and flag ordinance would limit proclamations to federal holidays. Flag displays would follow U.S. and Maine guidelines and the national, state and POW/MIA flats would be included. People would apply to the city to have a flag included, and exceptions could be addressed. 

Resident and disabled veteran Renee Wells said earlier this month, the American flag was replaced by the pride flag on Riverside Park’s pole. She suggested the U.S. flag should fly above other banners.

“I served my country for every single citizen. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they believe in,” she said. “We should be flying our country’s flag there above all else, and then we can have these heritage flags, these requested flags, as secondary flags, but it should not be risen above our American flag.”

Second hearings on both ordinances will take place on Wednesday, July 10, at 6 p.m. during the council’s regular meeting.