Government Spotlight

Tributes, charter appointments (again), a new town manager

| Joanne Cole |

At her first select board meeting in her second week on the job, new town manager Christine Landes witnessed the community’s big heart—tributes to George and Amy Carman of NG Fire and Rescue and to Suzan Hawkins, longtime librarian—and its divisions, with more conflict over the board’s charter commission appointments.  Rounding out a full agenda: a new loader, possible sale of town land to a resident, the old salt and sand structure in the Upper Village, and possible resumption of in-person select board meetings.  

Dedication of the 225th Town Report.  The May 17 meeting began with a moving dedication of the town’s 225th Annual Report to George and Amy Carman, read by Deputy Chief Mary Rich.  Her voice breaking with emotion, Rich described the late George Carman as deeply dedicated through years of service to NG Fire Rescue, and never complaining despite extraordinary health challenges.  “His love for the job still resonates in the halls of the fire station,” she said.  Amy, who has been president of the auxiliary and serves in many other roles, is “an unsung hero,” Rich said, and “helps keep the department moving forward.”  Amy Carman was on Zoom to hear the tributes.  George “would be so proud,” she said.    

Recognition for librarian Suzan Hawkins.  The board also formally recognized Suzan Hawkins’s four decades of service as librarian.  Board chair Karen Gilles read a tribute by library trustee Tim Terranova that praised Hawkins’s dedication to the community and her devotion to every patron “as part of her library family,” especially the youngest ones, and across multiple generations.  Hawkins was on hand and expressed her appreciation.

Budget update.  In her first manager’s update, Landes shared an encouraging snapshot of current town revenues and expenditures.  “We’re in good shape,” Landes said, pointing to higher-than-expected state revenue-sharing, already up 15% beyond what was budgeted with more to come before the books close, and expenditures generally tracking below estimates. 

Looking ahead, Landes saw more to cheer.  Governor Mills’s 2022-23 budget includes increases to meet long-deferred promises of 55% in state aid for local education and 5% in revenue-sharing for municipalities, she said.  The two payouts from Augusta reduce communities’ reliance on property taxes.

Board’s charter commission appointments.  The mood of the meeting shifted as the board turned to revisit charter commission appointments.  Member Peter Bragdon had argued that the board’s April appointment of Don Libby, Steve Libby and Linda Chase on a 2-1 vote with Linda Chase abstaining was legally ineffective, needing three votes in favor to pass.

Other board members–and the town attorney—apparently agreed.  Back onto the agenda came the charter appointments.  Member Tammy Donovan immediately proposed the same slate: Don Libby, Steve Libby, Linda Chase.  Donovan appeared to want a re-vote, while Bragdon appeared to want the board to consider and discuss all the candidates who had applied for appointment.  He asked why the board hadn’t reached out to candidates to attend, as he’d requested, to hear their qualifications and ask them questions. 

Donovan responded by citing potential unfairness to the three appointees, as it’s now too late for them to get on the ballot.  “Because we made an invalid vote, those people automatically get in?  Because we messed up?” an incredulous Bragdon asked.  “Because of the technicality,” Donovan said, “here we are, bringing it back tonight.”

Bragdon pressed fellow members about ignoring his request to bring candidates in.  He said he knew “it was done” when he received no response to his email.  “I already knew coming into the meeting, what it was going to be,” he said.  He described coming to every meeting, wondering “what was done behind the scenes.”  Donovan pushed back. “It’s not a ‘behind the scenes,’ thing, it’s not a down and dirty,” she said. 

Donovan made a fresh motion to appoint Don Libby, Steve Libby, and Linda Chase.  Gilles called first on Bragdon, who voted no.  Gilles next announced her own yes vote, and then called on Linda Chase.  Chase voted yes.  Bragdon interjected, “How can that be?  How can you ethically vote?”  He continued, “You should not vote for yourself and put yourself on the charter commission.”  “You can,” said Gilles. 

“When you put yourself into a contested position, you should absolutely not be voting for yourself,” Bragdon shot back, citing ethics policy and the MMA manual for town officials.  “When you’re the deciding vote, which you are in this situation, you should not be voting.”  No one responded.  Voting resumed, with Donovan voting yes.  This time around, the slate had three affirmative votes.  The board moved on.

Loader bids and award.  In the April 13 special ballot, voters approved $125,000 for a new loader for the transfer station.  However, only three of six bids opened on Monday evening came in on-budget, public works director Ted Shane explained, and each of the three either represented a smaller machine or reduced warranty protection. 

Shane recommended purchasing a Cat 910, seven hundred pounds below the 19,000-lb requested weight but with the desired extended warranties and available in September.  It would be substantially bigger than the unit it will replace, he said.  Peter Bragdon was concerned that other bidders were not given the opportunity to bid a smaller unit.  For the sake of delivery speed and finality, the board approved purchase of the 910 by a vote of 3-1 (Bragdon opposed).

Salt and sand shed.  Town manager Landes reported that the town of Lisbon is interested in acquiring the old salt and sand shed in the Upper Village.  She explained that salt/sand sheds are costly to build or even simply reassemble, as Lisbon proposes to do.  Accordingly, she suggested investigating whether New Gloucester can get something from Lisbon beyond its taking the structure off New Gloucester’s hands.  Landes will report back.

Possible private sale of town land.  Resident Richard McCann had sent the board an inquiry about purchasing two town-owned parcels, Map 13 Lots 10 and 12, some 64 acres, with a goal of preservation for recreation and wildlife, for $25,000.  McCann is an abutter and also an uncle of Linda Chase, who said she would recuse herself from deliberations but was familiar with the property from past select board discussions.    

Town manager Landes had done preliminary research showing the parcels are landlocked, abut the turnpike, and were deeded by the Turnpike Authority in 1988.  Although called “the town forest,” the land is swampy, Chase said, not under a forest management plan, and accessible via a very wet right-of-way from the Auburn side. 

Landes noted that the parcels have assessed valuations of $76,500 and $38,100, relevant when considering the town’s best interests.   The board directed Landes to undertake more research into the land’s value and the town’s options.  Earlier, residents Carl Wilcox, Joe Davis, and Brian Shedlarski had reminded the board during public comment that town-owned property is typically auctioned to the highest bidder.

Return to in-person meetings.  The board discussed whether and when to resume in-person meetings as Covid indoor gathering restrictions begin to ease.  Donovan moved to resume select board meetings in person in June “if that’s possible.”  Manager Landes noted that municipalities are awaiting explicit direction from Augusta about gatherings, mask requirements, distancing, signage and more in public buildings.  

With guidance coming, the board deferred action until their next meeting, in June, when they also hope to have a live-stream option up and running.  That would let residents follow meetings online but likely without the direct participation that Zoom provides. 

To watch the full May 17 select board meeting, click here. For the May 17 agenda and supporting documents, click here.