Hiding behind the Town LawyerHiding behind the Town Lawyer
Also in this issue:
Selectmen say No to taping of public meetings
"Employee Parking Only" signs come down
Letter to the Editor:
Low Income Housing -
The saga continues
In the last issue:
Selectmen Refuse to Follow Zoning Ordinance
Appeals Board Rules on Permit Fee
The selectmen continue to use taxpayer dollars against the townspeople. The new mantra at town hall is "Take us to court".
All stories by Dick Jarrett
In a scenario that is becoming all too common, the selectmen are again using taxpayer dollars to hire the town lawyer to work, not for the good of the town, but to advance the personal agenda of the selectmen themselves. In the latest assault on the rights of the town citizens, the selectmen are attempting to blind the eye of the camera, which for the past four months, has provided an insight to the town citizens on just how our local government works. Please see the story below where the selectmen claim that they have consulted the town's legal counsel and can now ban the taping of public meetings by the citizens of Limington. What about this taping of the public process? The selectmen's directive is "Not without a court order." In other words, they would like to require the citizens to go out and spend money to ensure the basic rights of the citizens while the selectmen use taxpayer money to hire the town attorney in an attempt to suppress those rights.
One Limington citizen recently summed up the situation succinctly. The resident was objecting (on camera) that he and his family were no longer allowed to use the Moy-Mo-Day-O beach and he was going to file a complaint. After Selectwoman Kathy Maddocks empathically stated that she was not afraid of the media and that she was not afraid of attorneys either, the citizen retorted, "Because it is not your money you're playing with!"
Indeed, this is the problem. Time and time again the citizens of Limington have to pay twice: First to force the town officials to work for the public interest and a second time when their own tax dollars are used to pay the town lawyer to fight for the whims of the selectmen. For example, earlier this year the selectmen enlisted the aid of the town lawyer to allow them to ignore the townspeople's desire to spend $600 on water quality testing. The selectmen went as far as requiring a second vote on this question at a special town meeting where the voters again made their views clear. And recently the selectmen seemingly instructed the planning board that they had to overturn a previous Planning Board vote, based on, you guessed it, advice from the town lawyer. That case is now apparently headed for court where the citizens will have to pay a third time. Just last month the selectmen solicited the paid advice of the town lawyer to see if they could somehow derail the two citizen-led petitions. The town lawyer stated that the selectmen could hold a special town meeting to vote on the questions rather than simply voting at the general election in November. So now the taxpayers not only have to pay for the lawyer, they have to pay for a special election where fewer people will get a chance to vote! And finally in this most recent incident against the citizens, the selectmen want control what people can see at the public meetings and when they can see it.
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Selectmen "Just Say No" to taping of public meetings
If the selectmen get their way, cable viewers may be forced to watch reruns of Gilligan's Island rather than the Limington public meetings.
Earlier this month at the October 5th meeting, the selectmen unanimously voted that the practice of video taping the weekly selectmen's meetings should be discontinued. While the selectmen may have authority over the use of the town camera that was purchased by the voters out of the cable franchise fees, most of the public town meetings are taped with private equipment at private expense. In apparent disregard for the Maine Public Right to Know Law which states in part that "all persons shall be entitled to attend public proceedings and to make written, taped or filmed records of the proceedings ...", the selectmen wish to return to the good old days where the public is blissfully unaware of the goings on at town hall and complaints are heard only by the select three. Frequent viewers of the taped meetings know that many people are very happy to make their complaints heard on camera because they know that it is much more difficult for the selectmen to ignore their concerns when half of the townspeople have just seen the selectmen say that they will take care of it. This is not to say that all complaints are made public. Because the camera operators are sensitive to the needs of the townspeople, the camera is shut off if a person wishes to confer privately with the selectmen. And due to the strategic placement of the camera, viewers are unaware of the identity of individuals who cross the selectmen's office to meet privately with a selectman in the assistance office. But for the most part, the camera helps to ensure that the public's business takes place in public.
In regards to the taping, Selectman Herbert Ramsdell stated that each meeting is going out on the air and everyone is just laughing at it. He continued, "I don't like to make myself look foolish like that". Part of the reason that people are laughing is that they see how much town business is transacted off camera. Many times the viewers just see empty desks while the selectmen are off taking care of town business out of the sight of the camera. And viewers realize just how many times the selectmen enter into executive session to discuss topics such as the Limington Rescue Department. There are legitimate reasons such as employment issues that do require an executive session. However because of the many secret meetings, a lot of people are still unaware that the selectmen are orchestrating the change from a volunteer rescue service to a paid provider squad.
Just how paranoid are the selectmen? Well the next week at the October 12th meeting, rather than allowing the meeting to be taped, the selectmen abruptly adjourned the meeting moments after it started. Astute viewers may have noticed that the recorded time on the tape showed that the meeting ended at 6:34, less than two minutes after the camera arrived. However, the official minutes of the meeting indicate that the meeting started at 6:30 and lasted until 6:55, a full twenty-five minutes. Maybe the selectmen were meeting in a different time-zone. Although the door was promptly locked after the camera left, several people were admitted selectively into the inner sanctum after the meeting had officially ended. Maybe this is why they are called "selectmen".
The selectmen were ready for the camera at the following meeting on October 19th. They claim to have consulted the town lawyer and declared that his advice was that if an official tape of the meeting was made and a copy of the tapes were made available within seven days at a reasonable duplicating cost, they could forbid the "unofficial" taping of the meetings. That evening they had set the town camera up behind their desks so that the camera recorded the people coming into the room rather than the selectmen at work. Unfortunately, this means that persons coming in for public assistance will be viewed until they reach the assistance office and the public will not have the choice of sitting out of view unless the camera it turned off before they enter the room.
Do the selectmen actually have the right to throw the camera out? Well, Selectwoman Kathy Maddocks said that they had done their homework and that the citizens "obviously" had not. She even cited the Maine Law Court decision, Martin v. Unemployment Insurance Commission, where the Maine Supreme Court ruled that that commission could bar the camera. Selectwoman Maddocks may have done her homework but unfortunately she is getting a failing grade. In the case she cited, the Law Court stated that unemployment hearings are explicitly made confidential by law and that unofficial cameras are not allowed at such meetings since the Right to Know Law does not apply for such hearings. The cited case had absolutely nothing to do with public meetings such as the meetings open to the public at the Limington Municipal Complex. How much did the taxpayers shell out to get this piece of bogus advice? And is this advice really benefiting the average citizen or is it benefiting just the selectmen?
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And Then There Were Three
"Employee Parking Only" signs come down at the Municipal Complex
Many visitors to the new town hall have been miffed to see the six new "Employee Parking Only" signs restricting the prime parking spaces in front of the new building. Having so many reserved spaces seemed strange to those who know that the town has only one full time employee who works there. Reacting to complaints from town citizens, three of the signs have now come down. Selectwoman Kathy Maddocks explained that the signs were originally installed because people kept backing into the columns at the front of the building and causing damage. Since the repairs are paid for by the car owner's insurance, the signs were put there to protect the public from their own driving.
One would wonder why the Planning Board would ever approve such a hazardous parking layout when they publicly reviewed the design in the first place. The answer lies in an examination of the plan submitted to the Planning Board. The plan shows that the board never did approve a road in front of the building. Somehow, the design changed between the time the plan was approved and the parking lot was built. Maybe in order to afford to build this new road, the selectmen had to skimp on something else, like for example air conditioning.
Plan submitted to the Limington Planning Board showing a walkway, not a road, in front of the Municipal Complex.
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Letter to the Editor
Low Income Housing In Limington
The saga continues
Because WMA (Webster Mills Associates) apparently do not like the way the Planning Board is interpreting the town ordinances, it seems they feel they have the right to threaten the town with unconstitutionality and discrimination to convince the Planning Board to interpret the ordinances to be more in favor of WMA. In a recent letter from Matthew Manahan, of Pierce Atwood, sent to Wendy Walker, chairwoman of the Planning Board, it becomes apparent that WMA is determined to convince the Planning Board of this.
The letter states it is a "summarization of the legal issues that have arisen in regard to the Webster Mill Place application". The letter goes on to say it feels the amount of land required for a 20 unit apartment complex is "completely unnecessary, and excessive ... and raises serious concerns about whether Limington is either intentionally or unintentionally zoning out low-income housing.". After a couple of paragraphs of text (in my opinion subtle threats and court decisions) the letter states, "If the Planning Board were to interpret the Ordinance to require 40,000 square feet of lot size for all units after the first one on the property, however (rather than after the first unit in each building), and addressed our concern (discussed below) with regard to the community building, our concerns in this regard would be somewhat alleviated". So while WMA is crying discrimination against low-income housing they seem to be requesting special consideration thus discriminating against any other contractor (past, present and future) who has to follow these same ordinances.
There is wording in this letter calling concerned citizens "opponents" of WMA. The Board and people who attend meetings have concerns about the ordinances being followed and making sure all applications are treated equally. That they are considered "opponents", and inferring that they are "opponents" to low-income people is misleading. To say that Limington is against low-income seems to be a smoke screen in an effort to take the focus off of some real ordinance concerns and to put it on the very volatile subject of discrimination against low-income families. It would appear York-Cumberland Housing and it's hired contractors and engineers would like us to forget this is not the only time they have had problems with town ordinances. What is a real shame is that by trying to skim by the ordinances they donšt like, which are there to protect the citizens, they are also putting the future residents of the project (those they are supposed to be helping) in jeopardy.
The letter ends with an argument about how many lots this subdivision contains. This is an interesting bit of text arguing the difference between 20 or 22 lots (per interpretation by the Board and the town lawyer) and the 3 lots WMA feels it is. What is interesting to me is the last paragraph states, "We understand that there is a concern that treatment of the application as only three lots would result in a review as a minor, rather than a major subdivision. If this is a concern, the PB has authority to require that a minor subdivision comply with all or any of the requirements specified for major subdivisions.". The letter argues for 3 paragraphs about how many lots (a minor or major subdivision), and then "gives" the Planning Board authority to require rules as if it were a major subdivision.
The bottom line is WMA has not, and it seems, does not want to follow the town ordinances like any other contractor would have to do. They apparently want special consideration and are willing to threaten, verbally and in writing, legal action if this is not carried out. They cry discrimination against low income families all the while urging the Board to discriminate against other contractors. They have tried to keep this project from the public and even went so far as to question the "right" of Limington taxpayers to voice their concerns at public meetings. These same taxpayers whose tax monies are funding this project and providing paychecks to all involved.
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