Government Spotlight

From departures to scheduling, new hires and problem properties: select board moves through lengthy agenda

|Debra Smith|

Prior to their meeting on February 1st, the select board met as the New Gloucester Board of Assessors. Assessor’s agent Michael O’Donnell shared the details of an abatement request for a home on Sabbathday Lake and his reasons for denying it. The board, in their role as the town’s assessors, make the final call and approved his recommendation.

The agenda for the select board’s official meeting that followed was jam-packed with items dealing with various topics, from setting a special election date for a vote on recalling board member George Colby to a problem property, the retirement of the code enforcement officer, appointing new new staff and whether or not there will be a town meeting.

Early in the meeting, George Colby read a prepared statement denying that he had done anything wrong and ending with “good night and good bye” before he signed off from Zoom. “Did he just resign?” an unmuted audience member asked. The board moved on to their next agenda item but came back to this question when they got to the item about scheduling a special election to vote on whether or not Colby should be recalled. Since Colby had not submitted a written letter of resignation, nor had he actually said “I resign,” the board decided to schedule the special election on March 31, then cancel it if he submitted an official resignation in the meantime.

Brenda Fox-Howard, the town manager, presented the selected candidate for fire and rescue chief and the new library director. Both were in attendance and both were approved, but there was little in the way of a welcome from the board. The new animal control officer was also approved, but she was unable to attend the meeting. The new fire and rescue chief, Jon Keirnan, comes from Oklahoma and will start February 8th. Mr. Kiernan, who has extensive experience, was one of 8 finalists for the position. Lee Shaw, a Maine resident, is highly qualified as well, and was one of 7 finalists for the library director position.  He will start at the library on February 8th and plans to open for curbside pick-up the following week. The new part time animal control officer is Ellen Forbes of New Gloucester. She is an animal lover who previously worked in this role.

Debra Parks Larivee, the code enforcement officer, had brought forth a problem situation to discuss with the board and ask for guidance about how to proceed. The property which is occupied by several family members has a mobile home and several campers, with garbage, stray animals, old cars and other hazards. For years, she has written violation letters to the property owner and tried to help them get cleaned up. There was a tragic fire on the property, which got fire & rescue involved. “They need the town’s help,” she explained, the owner is willing to accept assistance but is overwhelmed. Larivee had consulted with the town’s attorney who had advised moving from issuing violations to using the statute for dangerous buildings which involves noticing, eviction and foreclosure. After discussion of the situation, the board asked Larivee to look at the dangerous buildings law and bring back information about the process. Bragdon, who noted he’s reluctant to evict and would prefer to get the property cleaned up to be safe and recoup the costs from the owner, asked that there be legal guidance on next steps.

Immediately afterward, the board accepted Larivee’s resignation with regrets. She’s eager to spend time with her grandchildren. The CEO’s job description was next on the agenda, and she affirmed that she had reviewed it, before the board voted to accept it.

Will there be an in-person town meeting this year? Current state Covid guidelines limits gatherings to 100 people. Staff had previously researched locations and the costs of renting tents, and will review this information. Peter Bragdon will put together some ideas about how this could be accomplished, with social distancing. The board has to decide by February 22nd whether there will be a town meeting or a ballot vote on the warrant, as was done last year. They put that date on the calendar to meet and decide how voting will take place.

The very end of the meeting was taken up with a review of a long to do list, which they moved through one item at a time. Foreclosed properties, NIMS training, cable TV staffing and volunteer plan…. Most are “ongoing.”

Watch the meeting video here.