CAMDEN and THOMASTON — The Camden Select Board will consider this evening at a regularly scheduled meeting the possibility of sending a strong letter to the Knox County Commissioners, rebuking them for their current process of distributing $7.7 million from the American Rescue Plan and dedicated to Knox County, as well as warning them that their conduct at an Oct. 12 meeting was a violation of the Freedom of Access Act, and “and procedural October 18, 2021 due process on a constitutional level.”
Read about that meeting here: Tense moments, accusations of bullying at Knox County Commissioners meeting
“....The Towns of Camden and Thomaston hereby demand a written response from the County Commissioners with cited legal authority for their position that the federal funds in question may be expended completely outside the mandatory statutory and Charter requirements,” wrote Camden’s attorney William Kelley.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the French Conference Room
The letter was address to the Knox County Commissioners, and Andrew Hart, Knox County Administrator. The subject line was: Knox County Process for American Rescue Plan Act Spending Requirements. It follows:
Knox County Commissioners
c/o Andrew Hart, County Administrator 62 Union Street
Rockland, Maine 04841
RE: Knox County Process for American Rescue Plan Act Spending Requirements
Dear Mr. Hart:
This letter is sent in my capacity as the Attorney for the Town of Camden, in conjunction with Attorney Paul Gibbons, representing Thomaston, who joins in this letter.
This letter is sent with the awareness and support of the Managers of Camden, Thomaston, Rockport and Rockland.
Other Towns will likely add their support, but at present and due to the press of time, this letter sent prior to communications with other Knox County municipal officials. In summary, there is no authority for the three County Commissioners too spend 7.7 million dollars made available through The American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”), without first adhering to the budget approval process mandated by statute and the Knox Charter.
Funds expended by the County Commissioners without adherence to “Tax Assessment And Budget Process” mandated by 30-A MRS § 751 et seq. expose each County Commissioner, as well as each County employee who authorizes payments, to personal liability for the misappropriation of funds.
This is particularly true at the present time, as October is the month when the budget review process and public hearings take place. Additionally, Article V of the Knox County Charter requires the Budget Committee to approve the budget; the position taken by the County Commissioners that they may expend 7.7 million dollars as unapproved expenditures is stunning. The affirmative act of the Commissioners to avoid the normal budget process is an act of hubris that is going to create more than discontent among the municipalities in Knox County; it is going to create personal legal liability for the Commissioners.
An example of the posture taken by the Commissioner was present during the County Commissioners’ Meeting of October 12, 2021, Richard Parent, Dorothy Meriwether and Sharyn Pohlman repeatedly rebuked the efforts to allow representatives and citizens to speak in the “Public Comment” portion of the Meeting.
There is no authority to prohibit content from being presented in the Public Comment section. The express prohibition of allowing Knox County residents from speaking is not just poor judgment, but a violation of the Freedom of Access Act and procedural process on a constitutional level.
That meeting was run like something out of the Antebellum South. The admonition from County Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether to “vote us out of office” is the least of the remedies that the County Municipalities and residents will have for the apparent steadfast desire of all three Commissioners to misappropriate 7.7 million dollars.
Additionally, disparagement of a representative of the Midcoast Internet Development Corp. and the Midcoast Coalition of Communities supporting broadband by Dorothy Meriwether, who pointed at him and made the baseless allegation that “you and your people” had personally harassed her, was unacceptable. Elected officials are by definition required to listen and not react on an emotional level. As we know, elected officials are required to have a high tolerance for comment and criticism as part of the political process and are expected to allow debate and discussion without emotional outburst.
The Commissioner have repeatedly stated that they alone are the “deciders” as to how the ARPA funds are spent. I understand this edict was presented to the Knox Budget Committee as well. My guess is that the Commissioners may believe that they have authority under a rarely used statutory provision that discusses unanticipated federal funds. This is not the case. The funds in question were the subject of great debate at the U.S. Congressional level during 2020, ARPA was enacted through the Congressional budget reconciliation process, on February 5, 2021 the House and Senate adopted S. Con. Res. 5 for fiscal year 2021, and ARPA was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. There is no case law or other support in Maine law for anyone to rationally conclude two or three County Commissioners have un-checked authority to expend 7.7 million dollars -- carte blanche.
To be clear, the Towns of Camden and Thomaston hereby demand a written response from the County Commissioners with cited legal authority for their position that the federal funds in question may be expended completely outside the mandatory statutory and Charter requirements. This present demand is consistent with the County Commissioners own statements that there is “no rush to spend” these funds, and to recognize that the Commissioners must allow the ongoing budget approval process to include consideration of these well-anticipated federal funds on both the political and legal levels.
Thank you for your consideration.
KELLY & ASSOCIATES, LLC
____________________________ William S. Kelly