Munjoy Hill group enjoys revival after enduring internal strife

February 24, 2009

The organization plans to expand its programs and resume publishing its monthly newspaper.

By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer [Portland Press Herald]
 February 24, 2009

”]John Patriquin/Staff Photographer;Friday.,February 20, 2009. Will Gorham, president, and Katie Brown, vice-president, of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization are leading an effort to rebuild during its 30th anniversary year seen here outside the office in Portland. [Press Herald Photo]PORTLAND — Thirty years after its founding, the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization is rebounding from internal strife that nearly destroyed the city’s oldest neighborhood group.

The group is retooling its organization, its free monthly newspaper and its Web site to attract and serve a broader range of residents in one of Portland’s most diverse and densely populated districts.

“This is a rebuilding year for us,” said Will Gorham, the group’s president. “We’ve been through a period of upheaval. But we’re addressing our problems and moving forward, one step at a time.”

Upheaval and change are nothing new to Munjoy Hill. Located at the tip of the downtown peninsula, overlooking Casco Bay, it is one of Portland’s oldest neighborhoods. It dominates the East End, which is home to about 4,800 of the city’s 64,000 residents.

Through the centuries, Munjoy Hill has hosted one wave of immigrants after another, most recently from Africa, Asia and Latin America, though its population remains largely white. Traditionally a Democratic stronghold, the neighborhood recently has experienced an infusion of Green Independent party members.

In April, the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization will reassert its community prominence when it resumes publishing the Munjoy Hill Observer, a neighborhood fixture since 1980.

The board recently hired Lisa Penalver, a graphic designer who lives on Peaks Island, to redesign the Observer and involve a broader range of residents in producing stories, columns and photographs. She was chosen from more than 30 applicants. She starts in March.

The board suspended publication of the Observer last summer, shortly after a new slate of officers was elected in June.

The officers shut down the newspaper because some members were concerned about bias in and potential liability of its content, said Katie Brown, vice president. Members were particularly concerned about coverage of issues such as the future use of the former Adams Elementary School and the planned opening of a parole office on Washington Avenue.

“It had become more of a personal newsletter, covering opinions and stories of a select few residents,” said Brown, who has been on the board for three years.


The newspaper’s troubles reflected problems in the neighborhood group overall, Brown said. The situation hit a low point in late 2007. Membership had fallen to about 75 people from a high of about 500 registered residents in the 1990s.

Personal attacks were common at monthly meetings, and conflicts between members often kept projects from getting done, she said. Several of the group’s 15 board members resigned.

“A lot of really good people left the board because they were fed up with the way things were going,” she said.

The ship started to right itself last June, with the election of a new board. A member nominated Gorham, a past president and former city councilor, for the top spot. He was elected without opposition.

“He’s a fairly no-nonsense kind of guy, so things started to improve right away,” Brown said.

At the time, a husband-and-wife pair of volunteers, Heather Curtis and Ed Democracy, had been running the Observer since September 2006. They took over when the former editor, Jim Hanna, resigned after several years on the job.

Curtis was coordinating editor. Democracy was calendar editor, advertising director, circulation chief and a regular columnist. They defend their efforts to keep the newspaper alive after Hanna left.

“We tried to maintain it as a truly community newspaper and not just a publication of the board,” Democracy said. He said the neighborhood group’s personal dynamics could be “vicious” sometimes, especially when board members and others tried to control the content of the newspaper.

Curtis said she published news items from 10 to 20 contributing writers each month and bent over backward to keep coverage balanced.

“If people sent us news, we printed it,” Curtis said. “After a while, dealing with the petty politics got to be overwhelming.”

Curtis and Democracy said they’re glad the board has hired a new editor, and they hope she has better luck navigating the politics of the job.

“I hope the board steps up and gives her the support she needs to do the job well,” Curtis said.

The board has set parameters for themselves and the editor. Before the board advertised the position, a restructuring committee developed a new guiding policy for the newspaper. It stipulates that the Observer will be overseen by a managing committee and must be run by a paid editor rather than volunteers.

“The goal is to have an editor who is accountable to the board and the entire organization,” said Gorham, who joined the neighborhood group in 1983.


Once the Observer is back on track, the directors plan to upgrade the group’s Web site, They hope to add features that provide vital information and help connect various facets of the neighborhood, including families, artists, business owners, immigrants and senior citizens.

Now, the group has a full board of directors and membership is on the rise, with more than 100 registered residents, Gorham said. He recently persuaded Cynthia Fitzgerald, a charter member, to return to the group and head its membership committee.

“My hope is that we attract new productive community members to the organization and welcome back people who have been involved in the past but felt burned by the experience,” Brown said.

Looking ahead, the group plans to augment its role as a neighborhood resource by expanding programs for young people, immigrants and other community members. It has applied for a $27,000 federal grant through the city to hire teens to do yard work and other chores for seniors throughout the neighborhood.

The directors also have started talking about building an addition to the group’s headquarters at 92 Congress St. The Munjoy Hill group is the only one of Portland’s 17 neighborhood associations that owns its headquarters, a single-story building it shares with community police officers and other community groups.

Joe Gray, Portland’s city manager, said he’s glad to see the Munjoy Hill group is on the upswing. He meets monthly with his Neighborhood Advisory Committee, made up of representatives from the various associations, to stay in touch with community issues.

Gray said the membership and activity of neighborhood groups commonly ebb and flow over time. Conflicts among members can lead to frustration and burnout. When that happens, he said, a few dedicated members can keep an organization from falling apart.

“That has been the strength of Portland’s neighborhood groups,” Gray said. “Invariably, a few people step forward and reach out to re-energize the organization with new blood.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Copyright © 2009 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Advertisements Lead Check

December 21, 2008
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Weatherization & Energy for Tenants & Landlords

December 7, 2008

Weatherization  &  Energy

Tenants & Landlords … WE are all in this TOGETHER!

 Tenants & Landlords!  Join together in:

  • * working together on weatherization & energy efficiency
  • * sharing information, sharing resources, & sharing perspectives

 Community Television Network

516 Congress Street, Portland


 DOORS OPEN:              5:00pm

AUDIENCE SEATED:      5:30pm (please arrive early)

TAPING STARTS:          6:00pm (’til 7pm)


  • * Join us for a live-to-tape in-studio discussion
  • * Bring your questions & find out how WE can get through the winter





Co-Sponsored by:

 Portland Tenants Union   &   Greater Portland Housing Association                  



FMI:   Ed Democracy

CELL:  899-9674


Produced by:


common issues for the common good

CDBG Applicants * MANDATORY * Meeting, MON, NOV 24 @ 1:30pm

November 19, 2008


Monday November 24, 2008 Applicant’s Meeting- Mandatory
1:30pm State of Maine

application process

contact us

Priority List
Eligible Areas Map
Funding Cycle Time Table
HCD TF Ten Point Plan
CMPAC Committee
Housing Plan
HCD Grant Applications

In order to receive funds from the City’s block grant program, applicants must demonstrate a given project or program’s conformance with the eligibility requirements mandated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Programs providing an area-wide benefit must be located in one of the City’s eligible census tracts. Programs providing direct-benefit services to recipients, 51% or more of which are Portland residents from households of low to moderate income, may also qualify for funding.

Once program eligibility is established, each program must also be found consistent with local policies and procedures as outlined in the City’s Five-Year 2005-2010 Consolidated Plan. Of particular importance when applicable are the Social Services Priority Needs List and the Physical Improvement Project Review Criteria.

FY 09/10 Funding Cycle Timetable

July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010 CDBG Fiscal Year 2009-2010
Monday November 17, 2008 Application for CDBG Funds is available
Monday November 24, 2008 Applicant’s Meeting- Mandatory
1:30pm State of Maine
Thursday December 18, 2008 3:00 pm Application is DUE, Please submit your final application before 3:00pm Room 312 City Hall
January – March 2009 CDBG Annual Allocation Committee reviews applications
March 2009 CDBG Annual Allocation Committee recommends funding allocations to the City Manager and City Council
April 2009 City Council finalizes CDBG funding allocations
May 15, 2009 Annual Action Plan is submitted to HUD for FY2009-2010
July 1, 2009 Programs and Projects may begin

Please note:

In order to apply, you must attend the mandatory meeting on November 24 at 1:30 pm in the State of Maine Room.

No late submittals will be accepted, deadline is December 18 at 3:00 pm in room 312.

CDBG Request for Funds Application FY2009-2010

CDBG Request for Funds Application (Word Format)
CDBG Request for Funds Application (PDF Format)

For more information about the CDBG Program Priorities please see the CDBG Priority Task Force Report.

Neighbors Network NEWS – October 2008

October 4, 2008

To find a copy of the Neighbors Network NEWS  look for it at over 150 locations throughout Portland or CLICK HERE.

Do you have some news your neighbors can use? 

Please send it in to:   Thanks!

Neighbors Network NEWS - October 2008

Neighbors Network NEWS - October 2008

Neighbors Network NEWS – September 2008

September 5, 2008

To find a copy of the Neighbors Network NEWS  look for it at over 150 locations throughout Portland or CLICK HERE.

Do you have some news your neighbors can use? 

Please send it in to:   Thanks!

Neighbors Network NEWS - September 2008

Neighbors Network NEWS - September 2008

Kennedy Park neighbors meet about public safety

August 29, 2008
Kennedy Park neighbors meet about public safety

Kennedy Park neighbors meet about public safety

August 28, 2008

KENNEDY PARK – A group of people met in the community center at 58 Boyd Street in Kennedy Park.  There were 3 Portland police officers, several Portland Housing Authority officials, three translators (Somali, Arabic, Acholi), 1 City Councilor (Kevin Donoghue-District 1) and  reperesentatives of several local community organizations – The Root Cellar, Casey Family Services, Headstart, East Bayside Neighborhood Organization, – but most were concerned neighbors and parents who want to take back their neighborhood from the violence and chaos that descends on them from other places.

Drugs, kids running wild at all hours – literally, and, most recently, murder.  The residents have had it are organizing to take matters into their own hands.  Far from vigilantes, they are neighbors who know that the solution is neighborhood and neighbors helping neighbors.

Portland Police, though clearly deeply committed, explained their limitations due to short staffing (14 less than last year) and made suggestions on how best to use them as a resource: 

  • * call, call, call (if people do not call then they cannot respond)
  • * provide them with information: names, descriptions, license plates, etc.
  • * talk with them to help them keep the pulse of the neighborhood

Councilor Donahue committed to getting funding for a Community Policing Center at Kennedy Park.

Portland Housing Authority committed to:

  • * space for the Community Policing Center
  • * security cameras
  • * working with residents to develop & implement their ideas

Everyone seemed to feel heard, encouraged by the meeting, and hopeful about continuing this effort into the future.




– By Ed Democracy, Neighbors Network NEWS