Government Spotlight

From junk yards and traffic safety to elections and a new town manager search, select board addresses a range of issues

|Debra Smith|

In a wide-ranging agenda at their March 1 meeting, the New Gloucester Board of Selectmen approved a junk yard permit, addressed concerns about the flashing stop signs in the Lower Village, and scheduled a special town meeting in April, among other items. Perhaps most significantly, they decided not to hold a face-to-face town meeting and not to follow state statute on the timing of the appointment of members to the charter commission. Following are some highlights.

Code enforcement
Code enforcement officer Debra Parks Larivee had given the green light to Larry and Vicki Wedge’s junkyard permit, first issued in 2008. She noted there had been no violations and recommended approval of the town’s annual permit. The board approved this, pending correction of details on the permit application, such as being specific about the number of feet from the center of the road (“plenty of feet” is not adequate.)

Also presented by Parks Larivee was an update on the approach to the property on Maple Lane that the attorney had suggested approaching as a “dangerous building.” She explained that entailed a drawn-out eviction process, and recommended working with the owner to clean up the property.  The board concurred.

Traffic safety in the Lower Village
A group of Lower Village neighbors addressed the board about the recently installed flashing stop signs and the need for a more comprehensive approach to planning for traffic safety, following up on their letter to the town manager on February 8th. While they expressed appreciation that the town manager had taken action in response to several accidents over the past several months, they are not happy with the “very, very bright” flashing signs that are constantly flashing into neighbors’ windows and reflecting off buildings. The village has come to be known by some as the “Red Light District.” The group urged the formation of a task force or ad hoc committee to address the complex of issues impacting safety for drivers, pedestrians and others, and to consider the recommendations that a DOT traffic engineer had made to the town. Chair Karen Gilles read a memo from the town manager, who was not in attendance. She noted that the lights on the stop signs on the left side of each corner have been removed and hoods have been ordered for the lights to shield them visually from neighboring homes. The board asked for costs to be determined for the traffic engineer’s recommendations and that the public safety committee be asked to “take a peek” at the concerns.

Ballots, elections and appointments
In order for the contractor to order the culvert (at last year’s price) for Stevens Brook, a vote to approve the funds must be held before May. The board scheduled a special town meeting for this purpose on April 13th. Also on the ballot for that date will be the purchase of a loader for the transfer station, a machine that should have been replaced two years ago and has required significant repairs.

As for the ordinance that imposes term limits on select board members, the town attorney has determined that this ordinance is unenforceable without a town charter. This has been raised several times since it was passed at town meeting a few years ago, and likely will be considered by the charter commission that will begin its work after the regular election in June.  There are six elected seats on the commission, to be voted on by the citizens; and three appointments made by the select board. The board had decided last November to make these appointments after the June election. Peter Bradgon proposed a reconsideration of this, based on new information that the state statute requires the board to appoint those members within 30 days of the vote approving the charter commission. Chair Gilles noted that in an email from attorney Philip Saucier, he noted that the statue does not include any penalties for non-compliance. Vice-chair Linda Chase’s view is that the law is confusing and what the board decided before makes sense, she doesn’t want to rush the process. With no second to Bragdon’s motion, no vote was taken, leaving the November 23 decision standing.

Both Bradgon and Donovan were saddened that town meeting will not be held this year. Bradgon had proposed a drive-in meeting, and Donovan said she looks forward to it, “like Christmas.” But we’ll vote by ballot again this year, due to Covid safety issues.

Norman, Hanson and Detroy will be contracted to manage the new town manager search, based on the prices quoted by three search firms Chase had contacted. Will there be community members on the search committee? To be determined once the position is advertised. It has yet to be determined whether or not an interim manager will be recruited. Brenda Fox-Howard will leave New Gloucester as of April 2nd, after 11 months on the job.

Committee liaisons and resignations
The board approved two committee resignations, with regret, and discussed reactivating the Ad Hoc Marijuana Committee. Introduced by Bradgon, he explained that this committee needs more members (there are three, but only two active) who are interested in updating ordinances, since so much has changed in the past couple of years. Bragdon also would like the liaison to be a voting member, as is the case on many other committees.  He further stated that as a voting member, he could be a committee chair. What is the role of a liaison? Donovan said that she sees her role as listening to the members’ views. Chase explained that a board liaison is not typically committee chair; their role is communication between the committee and board.  The board decided to table this while seeking legal opinion on the voting liaison/ legal implications question, and updating the charge of this committee.  

Budget process
This item was added to the night’s agenda. The board will meet on March 3rd to review concerns from the budget committee about the budget development process and the numbers, which are higher than some are comfortable with.

The budget hearing will take place on Wednesday, March 10th, not the 8th as previously planned.