Government Spotlight

Town meeting, manager, charter commission occupy select board

| Joanne Cole |

Elections, appointments, town meeting, and the resignation of the town manager were topics at a February 22 board of selectmen special meeting. By meeting’s end, it was clear that the board will be revisiting much of that same agenda when they meet on March 1.               

Town manager’s resignation.  On Monday afternoon, town manager Brenda Fox-Howard made her departure official, informing the board of her resignation effective Friday April 2.  At the evening meeting, the board voted to accept Fox-Howard’s resignation with regret.  Fox-Howard was hired in May 2020, succeeding Paul First who served as interim town manager following Carrie Castonguay’s resignation in November 2019.    

In a February 10 letter, Fox-Howard had told the board that she did not plan to renew her contract in mid-May and expressed hope that the extra lead time would help the board secure her replacement.  The board took first steps in that direction on Monday.  Linda Chase will contact the Maine Municipal Association and other firms to check on cost and availability to conduct a manager search, and report back.     

In-person town meeting?  Peter Bragdon urged holding an in-person town meeting this year–or perhaps more accurately, a drive-in town meeting. He proposed Saturday May 8 at the community fairgrounds, with a sound system, FM transmitter, and tents.  Residents could stay in their cars and tune in, he said, or socially distance outdoors, weather permitting; all would vote with colored cards.  If limits on mass gatherings are restrictive, perhaps two groups could form with a barrier separating them, Bragdon suggested.

Other board members expressed concerns: safety, traffic flow, weather, and possible damage to the fairgrounds infield, but above all, the logistics of counting votes accurately and managing any secret ballot.  Would the clerks go “car-to-car-to-car” to check in voters, Linda Chase wondered.  Would the clerks walk around to count the votes? 

There is also a question whether town meeting can be held on a Saturday.  Bragdon acknowledged that voters in 2015 rejected moving town meeting to Saturdays, but he thought that wasn’t prohibitive. Others seemed less sure.    

The board seemed more receptive to the idea of town meeting at the Pineland indoor equestrian arena, a suggestion from resident Steve Hathorne.  Manager Fox-Howard will investigate the Pineland possibility and check on state limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, among other topics.  Chair Karen Gilles will contact legislators Amy Arata and Ned Claxton for current guidance from the governor’s office on town meeting options and protocols.  All will confer again at their March 1 meeting. 

Select board vacancy.  With George Colby’s resignation earlier this month, the board voted that his remaining term (until 2022) be filled in the June 8 election, when two three-year select board seats open with Karen Gilles and Linda Chase completing their terms.  Nomination papers will be available on March 1 and citizens interested in running can begin collecting signatures then, Sharlene Myers told the board.

After divvying up Colby’s committee assignments, Peter Bragdon will now serve as board liaison to the Cable TV Committee, Tammy Donovan will join the Land Management Planning Committee and Linda Chase the Water District. 

Charter commission appointments.  The June election will see six representatives elected to the commission that will develop a town charter.  But discussion on Monday concerned the three members the select board appoints to the charter commission, one of whom may be a municipal officer.  Residents Steve Hathorne and John Salisbury had alerted the board that, under Maine law, the board should have been made its appointments within 30 days after voters approved creating a charter commission – in other words, by December 3.   

Peter Bragdon urged the board to act quickly on the appointments.  “We’re already breaking the rule,” he said.  He wanted the board to follow the process they use for committee appointments, alert residents immediately and invite them to apply, and make the appointments at the board’s March 1 meeting. 

Others wanted guidance from the town attorney first, and then perhaps to make appointments at the March 15 meeting, even though that timing would create uncertainty for any residents who hope to be appointed and avoid having to collect signatures to get onto the ballot.  In the end the board decided any not-appointed disappointed citizens would have enough time to gather needed signatures by the April 9 deadline.

The board will return to charter commission appointments once “Legal” has weighed in. That topic and others will be waiting for the board on March 1. 

To view the February 22 special board of selectmen meeting video, click here. To access the agenda and supporting documents, click here.