The Sound’s 2015 Portsmouth City Council Voter’s Guide: Jim Splaine

Portsmouth Voters Guide
Jim Splaine

Jim Splaine
Age: 68, but rather young in mind and spirit.
Occupation: Certified trainer at an amusement park (York’s Wild Kingdom); writer, consultant.
Years living in Portsmouth: Lifelong resident
Prior public service experience: N.H. State Legislature — House for 24 years, Senate for 6 years, youngest member of Legislature in 1969 at age 21; City Council, total of 14 years, first term in 1970 at age of 22 (youngest member), School Board one term; Chair of the 1987-88 9-member Charter Commission, which rewrote the Charter for the first time in 100 years.

How often do you walk into downtown or use public transportation? What can the city do to encourage more pedestrian traffic and public transit use? Almost every day except when I’m working, I go downtown — for meetings, to shop, attend activities. In fairly decent weather, I ride my motorcycle. I have long advocated for public transportation, and have supported funding for COAST since its inception. I supported the investment in the trolley/shuttle on Market Street Extension into downtown from May to October. Since my first term on the city council in 1970, I have called for restoration of rail passenger service, which is seriously being discussed by Gov. Hassan and legislative leaders for Nashua and Manchester. When I was a pup growing up in Portsmouth’s North End, my family lived directly across from the train station, and we would frequently ride the “Budliners” to Boston.

I worked on the taxi commission during the past year to re-write our city ordinances to allow ride-sharing services such as Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft. Up until mid-September, we had a limit of 28 medallions for taxi cabs. We eliminated that with the new ordinance, and have a simple process for ride-sharing companies to be able to operate, provided they verify insurance liability coverage and that they have a criminal background check process to protect riders. I’m committed to work more on the ordinance so that Uber and other ride-sharers can operate legally, if we find more changes are needed — we need the services that ride-sharers provide in getting people home safely, and having a free and competitive market on a level field with taxi cabs.

My ultimate vision is that we should have an interconnected transportation system that brings together all the communities of the Seacoast, from Ogunquit to Newburyport, the Tri-City area of Dover, Somersworth and Rochester, and Durham and Exeter with Portsmouth. I’d like to join with other communities in exploring that regional concept during the next few years.

How would you address growth and development throughout Portsmouth?
The alternative to growth is stagnation, and we cannot let that happen to Portsmouth. Balance is important, and I want to be sure that we maintain the unique and genuine historic character of our community with quality development that contributes to the sustainability of our employee base and residents. We should, whenever we can, encourage business growth that will pay livable wages, and housing that will be affordable to those who live and work in Portsmouth. I think our planning process, with the boards and commissions we have, can be improved. However, from the processes we have in place, development plans usually become better because of citizens being able to be involved in the process from almost start to finish. Just about every development plan becomes better than it otherwise would have been because of citizen/activist involvement. We should not be afraid of that collaborative spirit of asking the right questions about the impact of growth and development.

I “downsized” about 15 years ago from one home where I had lived for 20 years to what some people would call a “mobile home,” although it’s been here longer than a lot of homes and condos people live in now. It is about 700-square-feet, and has less environmental and energy impact than a lot of other larger homes — and is just fine for one or two people. From that experience, I was among the first to advocate more than a year ago for encouraging “micro-housing” or mini-apartments that would be 300-400-square-feet and would have less impact, yet provide more affordable housing for our younger and older residents. We need that balance. I also have advocated finding ways to allow Airbnb and other short-term rentals in most parts of the city, while providing neighborhood protections — the council is working with our planning board and staff to create the right approach.

What can the city do to restore public confidence in the police department and the police commission?
I think somewhere we have lost our moral compass, and the Webber estate tragedy is indicative of that observation. I made the motion to have the investigation into the police department that resulted in the Roberts panel report, which detailed the paths that created the tragedy, and resulted in the firing of an officer who had committed wrongdoing, as detailed in the report. Almost all officers and support personnel in our police department are excellent public servants, and corrective action/resignations will remedy some of the problem in command leadership.

I think five actions will restore public confidence in the police department: (1) the upcoming Nov. 3rd election, when voters will be able to choose two from among the seven candidates to sit on the police commission; (2) hiring a new chief with the experience to oversee a growing department that is full of excellent personnel, and highlight the strengths of each employee; (3) creating a process of ethics oversight, whether it’s a citywide ethics officer, which I have suggested, or in some other form; (4) putting openness and transparency first and foremost in everything the police commission and police department does — and that goes for all the boards and commissions of city government, including the city council. There seems to be a passion for secrecy, and has been for too long; (5) formally thanking “whistleblower” John Connors, who almost five years ago told his superiors about what he considered wrongdoing, and when they ignored him, he told other people, including local news media, and was slapped with a gag order for his efforts. I thanked him personally at a council meeting last month, and we all should. I’ve called him a Portsmouth “profile in courage,” and I’m pleased that we are long-time friends. The way he has been treated has also shown that we have lost our moral compass. We have to find our way back to it.

How can Portsmouth encourage the development of more affordable and workforce housing?
As I mentioned in another question, I live in a small home of about 700-square-feet. Micro-housing, or mini-apartments, perhaps around 300-400-square-feet, located throughout our city including our downtown, could be more affordable to service-industry employees, and other younger and older residents, than the condos being built in recent years. We need the balance of affordable and workforce housing, and the city can give incentives to developers in the form of density allowances and zoning changes that still reflect the value of our historical nature. I like, for example, and have supported the placement of 15 to 20 micro-apartments connected to the new Deer-Bridge parking center. They would face the North Mill Pond, which gives a beautiful vista of a part of Portsmouth that includes the setting sun in the west — I grew up in that area and I’d often enjoy that view. Plus, they would have the advantage of being affordable, and virtually in the center of downtown. As we continue to become a walking, pedestrian-oriented, bike-friendly community, housing that has less environmental fo