Rockport says, not so fast

SAD 28 chairman tells Rockport Select Board member to step off school Building Committee

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 8:30am

    Just before Thanksgiving, Camden-Rockport School Board Chairman Matt Dailey told Rockport that he wants Rockport Select Board representative Owen Casas off the ad hoc school district Building Committee. Formed in September, that committee oversees construction of the new $26 million middle school in Camden, which is where Camden and Rockport grades 5-8 will eventually resettle.

    Rockport, however, has consulted with its attorney, Philip Saucier, of the Portland firm Bernstein Schur. He has said that it is the Select Board that decides who represents its interests in the Building Committee.

    If the CRMS Building Committee is a temporary/ad hoc advisory committee organized and appointed by the School Board, the School Board has the authority over its administration,” he said. “That said, if a seat was created for a representative from the Rockport Select Board, then the SB can decide who will represent its interests on the Building Committee. I do not know how the Building Committee operates (i.e. if there are rules of procedure or bylaws) or if the Committee voted to give authority to the Chair to ‘revoke’ membership for a representative to its Chair, but generally such a decision would be made by a vote of the entire committee.”

    Dailey told McKinley Nov. 22: “Owen has demonstrated that he does not trust the school board's statements, processes and actions. Serving on any committee requires a level of trust in the committee's sponsoring organization, the committee's work and the committee membership. Under these circumstances, I have determined that it is in the best interest of the school board for Owen to no longer serve on the CRMS Building Committee.”

    Dailey said Rockport could nominate a different Select Board member to serve on the Building Committee, which will convene Dec. 4, at 6 p.m. in Camden Town Office Washington Street Conference room for a regularly scheduled meeting.

    But McKinley told Dailey Nov. 27 that Rockport would not be discussing the matter until its Select Board meets Dec. 7; in the interim, Casas remains as Rockport’s representative on the Building Committee.

    “As you recall, when the SAD 28 middle school Building Committee was originally set up, a representative from the Camden Select Board was included as part of the committee, but there was not a spot for a representative from the Rockport Select Board,” wrote McKinley.

    Other officials included in email chain concerning this issue were Town Manager Rick Bates, School Administrative District 28 Superintendent Maria Libby, Building Committee Chairman Will Gartley, as well as Casas.

    “After inquiries were made about this, a spot was created for a representative from the Rockport Select Board,” said McKinley. “Subsequent to that, the Rockport Select Board, in an open meeting, chose Owen Casas to be their representative to the committee. If a change in our representative is to be made, the decision on such a change will be made solely by the Rockport Select Board in a regular meeting with open discussion about the issue. The next Rockport Select Board meeting will occur on Thursday December 7, at 7 p.m. in the Geoffrey C. Parker Community Meeting Room at the Rockport Opera House. In light of your email, I will place an item on the agenda for that meeting to discuss the issue and your concerns. You are welcome to attend that meeting and to express your concerns to the entire board at that time. The board will then discuss the situation and make a decision on whether a change is needed or not.

    “Because the next meeting of the building committee occurs before the next meeting of the Rockport Select Board, Owen Casas will remain the representative of the Rockport Select Board for that meeting.

    ”Please feel free to contact me with any questions about the process. However, please be aware that I cannot make any decisions on this issue myself, the only allowable decisions will be reached by the board as a whole.”

    Dailey’s directive that Casas step down followed a citizen-initiated Freedom of Access Act request submitted Aug. 24 by Rockport resident Maggie Timmerman to Superintendent Libby.

    Timmerman had asked Libby to produce all emails pertaining to the $26 million Camden-Rockport Middle School project, specifically the demolition of the Mary E. Taylor building, “in relation to the new middle school construction project and referendum vote.” 

    Casas’ wife, Marci, had publicly said she supported the FOAA request and joined Timmerman in appealing to both the Camden and Rockport select boards to review the process by which voters were, or were not, aware that the demolition of MET was included in a June referendum asking for voter approval of the new school.  (Read Citizens appeal to Camden, Rockport select boards about school bond process).

    Dailey said Nov. 29 that he wanted Casas off the Building Committee because of his knowledge of the FOAA.

    “The precipitating event was when it was recently revealed that Owen was one of the principals behind the new middle school bond FOAA request,” said Dailey, in a Nov. 29 email to “The initial request was filed in late August. This means that Owen chose to conceal his role in that process from the school board for several months. The board has the expectation, and I hope the Rockport Select Board does as well, that members of the board and the board's subcommittees deal with each other with trust and honesty. Owen clearly failed to meet that expectation.”

    Owen Casas had previously served through last winter on the SAD 28 Building Design Committee, the ad hoc committee that preceded the current ad hoc Building Committee. The Building Design Committee was responsible for moving the new middle school from a concept to a concrete proposal, and while on the committee, Casas voted in favor of the middle school project. Voters ultimately approved the project at the polls at June Town Meeting in both Camden and Rockport.

    “I think the school board itself should be concerned that the chairman is overstepping his authority and attempting to act unilaterally,” said Casas, on Nov. 30.

    The design of the new school is in the finishing stage, with architects working with the current Building Committee on details. Plans are expected to be submitted to the Camden Planning Board in December for site plan review. 

    Who decides?

    After receiving McKinley’s note late Monday afternoon, Dailey responded that same evening, telling McKinley he would not be attending the Rockport Select Board Meeting, but offered to meet McKinley in private to discuss the issue.

    He told McKinley: “The CRMS Building Committee is a subcommittee of the MSAD 28 School Board. By policy the members to all subcommittees are appointed by me. As a courtesy, the Rockport Select Board was invited to nominate a member to the committee that ultimately I have authority over approving. Owen has demonstrated that he is not acting in good faith with respect to the School Board. I am well within my rights to revoke his membership. He is no longer a member of the committee. The invitation to appoint another Rockport Select Board member still stands.”

    Later that evening, Dailey and Casas began conversing via email about process and policy, and who, ultimately, is responsible for appointing ad hoc committee members.

    “Please provide me with the policy you referred to that allows you to appoint and revoke membership to all committees under the school board,” wrote Casas, at 8:20 p.m. 

    Dailey responded at 8:46 p.m.: “Under the Ad Hoc Committee section: ‘The Board may form Ad Hoc committees for a specific purpose. These ‘taskforce’ committees will serve to investigate a particular idea or need that arises. The Board may ask community members and/or staff to serve on an Ad Hoc committee.’ The implication of the ‘may ask’ is the right to may not ask.’”

    Two minutes later, Casas replied: “Agreed, the board has the right, not the chair. I am more than happy to make my case to the entire board and community at large.”

    “I act for the board,” responded Dailey, “You are welcome to explain why your actions against the school board did not amount to a shameful waste of taxpayer money.”

    At 9:15 p.m., Casas responded: “Matt. I think that ‘I act for the board’ is a pretty bold and concerning statement. In the world that I live in, boards are made up of individuals with their own votes and opinions. Why even have a board if one member makes all the decisions? I look forward to making my case to the board at a public meeting. Please let me know when it will be on the board agenda.”

    In another email, Casas asked Dailey for the charter of the Building Committee, “as I am pretty sure it is either an Ad Hoc or Advisory Committee,” he wrote. “The building committee was never interested to be a Standing Committee that is formed to ‘support the regular work of a school district.’ As such, and according to your policy, the board, not the chair, is named in the policy. Different than a standing committee. 

    “Also and just as an aside, I think your attempt to revoke my membership looks very poor. I thought the point of a well run committee was to have diverse opinions respectfully debate their differences. Actually I think that is an aspect of this committee you and others have touted from time to time. To forcefully revoke membership because the individual has, in my opinion and the opinion of others, legitimate concerns around how the bond was passed seems to fall along the lines of stacking the deck with like minded folks.... not the diversity you portend to espouse. 
    “Lastly, please note that I will be attending the meeting regardless of my standing.”
    Dailey responded: “You have veered very far from the ‘diverse opinions’ domain. You have acted with hostility toward the school board, the district administration and the district's legal representation.”
    The next day, Tuesday, Nov. 28, McKinley wrote to both the Rockport town attorney and Town Manager Bates, saying: “Just to be clear, my ONLY interest in this situation is the rights and role of the Select Board in appointing a member to the committee.
    “It is my contention that if a there is a position on any group or committee for a representative of the Rockport Select Board to serve, then it is up to the Rockport Select Board to choose that representative by a vote of the board. Groups or committees do not get to choose who they would like for their representative, and by extension they also cannot exclude particular Select Board members from consideration, absent a conflict of interest or other disqualifying situation.

    “It very well could end up that a case is made to the board that Owen is not the best choice to serve on this particular committee at this time, but I contend that such a decision is reserved to the Select Board.

    “Maybe there are provisions in the School Board's bylaws, rules, or policies, or in state statute that make my assumptions wrong. In that case I will stand corrected.

    “I hope, for many reasons, that this can be resolved quickly. None of us (the town, and particularly the school board) need to spend huge amounts of time and resources on this.”

    Bates had asked Attorney Saucier that morning whether it made sense for the town attorney to contact the school board attorney, William Stockmeyer, of Drummond Woodsum, also based in Portland, 
    and see if you two can figure out who's authority this is and if the board chair has the authority to revoke membership, without a meeting of the entire school board? It might work better than having this back and forth dialogue and cheaper than having a court decide.

    “This all will quickly lead to the question of whether or not a meeting about this can be held in executive session? As I am sure they will want to use that option but where it does not involve a public employee, I am not sure they can legally use that option.”

    On Nov. 28, later in the day, Dailey wrote to Rockport Chairman McKinley: “The next regular meeting of the MSAD 28 School Board will be on December 20. The agenda for that meeting will include an approval of the updated CRMS Building Committee membership. If a new member of the Rockport Select Board is willing to serve on the committee, then I would appreciate it if you could let me know who it is by the 20th.”

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