municipal operations could be halted

Freedom voters considering two select board recall petitions

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 11:00am

FREEDOM — Residents in Freedom will take to the polls June 11 to vote on a pair of recall petitions that could affect the town’s municipal operations. 

Recall petitions were filed for Selectmen Ronald Price and Steve Bennett.  Voting on the recall petitions will take place Tuesday, June 11 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Price is accused of alleged repeated violations of the Select Board Code of Ethics, continued conflict of interest regarding town business decisions and actions and personal and family gain, and abuse of the office of Selectman. 

The petition required 38 signatures and received 51, according to SallyAnn Hadyniak, Secretary to the Freedom Selectmen. 

Bennett is accused of repeated violations of the Select Board Code of Ethics and abuse of the office of Selectman. 

Hadyniak noted the petition required 38 signatures and received 53. 

According to Hadyniak, at least two selectmen must be actively in office at all times for town functions to operate. 

Since Freedom only elects three people to the board at any given time, the town will “basically shut down” until a new election could take place if both Price and Bennett are recalled this summer. 

“Many essential day-to-day town dealings and services would be affected,” Hadyniak stated. “Payroll would not be processed; there would be no bills paid, emergency items purchased, road repair, or even trash pickup.” 

Hadyniak noted nothing can be authorized without at least two selectmen in office. 

Neither Price or Bennett responded for requests for comment, though Selectman Brian Jones did comment on the situation. His comments to PenBayPilot.com, as well as his recently released letter to Freedom voters appears below. 

 

Brian Jones’ comments to PenBayPilot.com:

We’re working on putting policies in place that will allow limited continuity of government, but we’re pretty limited by State statute. If both Selectmen are recalled, with only one Selectman remaining, we’ll only be able to pay the State, the school, and wages and salaries. So, essentially, we’ll shut down all of our municipal services: trash pickup, road work, maintenance of our recreation fields, and so on. That’s not a very pleasant prospect.

At the very least, we cannot schedule an election for replacement Selectmen for 24 days, and it’ll probably take longer than that. So, essentially, the Town’ll be shut down for a month.

I personally think the reasons stated for the recall, alleging ethics violations and abuse of the office, are nonsense. Both were reelected with overwhelming majorities. So why now?

I suspect that the condition of one of our gravel roads this mud season, that had to be shut down to save the road and for the safety of travelers, is the true reason. We’re discussing holding a special Town Meeting before we commit taxes, to see if there’s a will among the citizens to raise and appropriate additional money to rebuild this road, but the impact on taxes would be quite significant, and it would be an unusual departure from our road planning and budgeting process.

 

Brian Jones’ letter to Freedom voters: 

Dear Citizen of Freedom,

I'm writing to you to discuss an uncomfortable and unpleasant development in our local government and politics. When we vote on the school budget at referendum on June 11, we'll also be voting on the question of whether to recall two of our Selectmen, Ron Price and Steve Bennett.

This is a serious matter for the Town, so I'm taking the time to write to you seriously about it.

One of the reasons given for the recall was the perception that the Selectmen in question had somehow violated the "Selectmen's Code of Ethics." While Freedom has no such policy, there are essentially four ethics-related situations that can occur at the level of municipal government which are covered to some degree by various statutes or common law: conflict of interest, incompatibility of office, prohibited appointments or employment, and various provisions regarding bias.

Municipal officials are sworn into public office to serve the interests of the public as a whole, and in the municipal offcial there is vested a public trust. A betrayal of that trust occurs when an official is motivated to action as a result of a self-interest rather than a common interest. I have observed no such conflict of interest in my work with either Steve or Ron.

Similarly, there are certain positions:in municipal government, however, which may not be held simultaneously by certain other officials, and this would also ethical violation. Neither Steve nor Ron hold any positions in the Town except for their roles as Selectmen. 

Finally, one might perceive familial bias, which is covered to some degree in Maine law. You might expect there to exist a temptation for a Selectman to act in favor of an employee who is a family member, for example. I can without reservation state that in Town business in which the Select Board makes decisions affecting relatives, Ron has recused himself. He has participated in no decisions that would affect his relative. None.

In summary, the allegation that Steve and Ron have somehow violated some code of ethics and have used the office to enrich themselves or family members is false. In fact, I think you'd have to look hard and long to find two other people who have invested so much time and energy into the Town's well-being with no thought of personal gain.

The Town of Freedom doesn't have its own ethics policies. But in 1989 the Legislature added a section to 30-A MRSA § 2605 which authorized the municipal officers to adopt, at their discretion, an ethics policy governing the conduct of both elected and appointed officials. To prevent normal disagreements among citizens from being leading falsely to claims of "ethical violations," the Board is working on a policy that will establish such a code of ethics. A policy like this would be best developed with citizen involvement, and we welcome your contribution.

Other allegations have been made around policy decisions and directions that the Selectmen have taken. A few of the more contentious ones come to mind: the refusal to put the tax-acquired post office for sale by bid and keeping it as a Town asset; the purchase of the Skidgel property; and the recent purchase of a used excavator for the public works department. It's pretty difficult to hold the Selectmen ultimately responsible for any of those decisions. While all three of us studied the issues, discussed matters among ourselves and with the budget committee, and finally reached consensus about what we thought the best thing in the long run for the Town is, the final say on all of these decisions belongs with you, the voters. These issues of contention are properly disagreements among our fellow citizens, not a disagreement with the Selectmen.

None of these actions were taken in the dark of night without inviting every single citizen to participate, have their say, and cast their vote. As you know, all budget matters are fully vetted by the budget committee, a process that takes many months. And budget articles on the warrant of a Town Meeting are as clear and transparent as possible. No one's trying to hide anything. If anything, the Selectmen would welcome more analysis and input by citizens.

I must admit that it's discouraging and disappointing to read through the names of the 60 or so citizens that signed the recall petitions only to realize that less then 20 of them have even attended a town meeting in which these and other important decisions were made. You know, it's easy to place blame and lay criticism after the fact. But it's not fair to those who are doing the work and showing up and casting their votes.

Some people are concerned with the state of some of the roads this mud season, and I can assure you, all of the Selectmen share that concern. That said, there's nothing unethical about having a road plan that's fiscally conservative. And there's certainly no blame to Selectman for the unusual weather this spring.

These issues of contention are properly disagreements among our fellow citizens, not ethics violations of certain Selectmen.

The Selectmen's mid-year report details what will happen if two Selectmen are recalled, so I won't go into details here. But it would be wise to think the consequences through. Having two Selectmen recalled will essentially shut down the Town for a month. Can we realistically expect our employees to remain loyal and wait until this is resolved? Can we rely that our elected Clerk and Treasurer will stay on board? Can we be certain the remaining Selectman will continue in the face of such governmental chaos and dysfunction?

Please remember, Ron was re-elected less than two months ago, receiving around 2/3 of the vote. Were these issues of concern then? Or did they just appear after the election? Steve was reelected a little over a year ago without opposition. Were there concerns present then? And finally, if these Selectmen are indeed recalled, who will step up and run for the office? Sadly, we see quite a bit of who and What we don't seem to like, but we see very little of who and What we do like.

As I mentioned, this is a serious matter for the Town, and it's also a serious matter for the
Selectmen who are being recalled. We can disagree on policy, and as Selectmen we often do. That's part of living in a community. And as humans, everyone, your Selectmen included, makes mistakes. But we all try to make the best decisions with the best available knowledge at the time.

However, the questioning of one's motives and integrity is bad form and has no place in local governance. It's hurtful, and it does nothing to solve problems. Having worked with Ron and Steve for the past two years, I can say that their motives to serve on the Select Board are only to serve the Town. There are no ulterior motives, no angling for personal gain or special favors, no hidden agendas. And they are both of men of integrity with whom I'm proud to work with for the benefit of the Town.

Please make sure you vote on June 11, and please vote "no" on the questions that seek to recall Ron Price and Steve Bennett.

With regards,
Brian Jones
Selectman, Town of Freedom

 

Mid-Year Report, Recall Election Section:

The Clerk has certified petitions calling for the recall of two Selectmen, Ron Price and Steve Bennett, in accordance with the Town's Ordinance for Recall of Selectmen. This matter will be voted on at a June 11 referendum vote at the same time as we consider the school budget.

If only one Selectman is recalled, Town business will continue as normal until a replacement is selected by the voters. If both are recalled, things become a little complex, and voters should know the consequences and the procedures that the Town will have to follow.

In anticipation of this recall the Selectmen have adopted a Disbursement Policy that allows one Selectman and the Treasurer to approve the following payments: payments to the State, payments to the School, and the payment of wages and salaries. Under State law, no other payments may be made by the Town. Since there is no legal allowance for any other payments, residents can expect no utilities to be paid, no fuel to be purchased, no material for road work, and no vendors that serve the town to be paid, for example. In other words, the Town would experience a partial shutdown. We can expect all road work and trash pickup, for example, to cease until the vacancies that arise from the recall are filled.

An election can be held 24 days from the date of the certification of the recall vote. Ten days are allotted for interested citizens to gather petition signatures to be on the ballot, and an additional 14 days before an election can be held. Depending on the practicalities of preparing ballots, advertising and posting, and other administrative details, this may take a few more days than that.

In a nutshell, if one of the Selectmen is recalled, the Town will continue until the vacancy is filled. If both are recalled, the Town will experience a near total shutdown for close to a month. 


Reach George Harvey at: sports@penbaypilot.com