As more towns opt to express concerns about a proposed LPG tank in Searsport by way of sending letters, Camden's letter stands out — and not in a particularly good way. Last week, select board members voted to send a letter to Searsport and directed Town Manager Patricia Finnigan to draft it, citing safety as well as concerns regarding the impact on Penobscot Bay as a whole. A copy of the letter provided to The Camden Herald is signed by only Select Board Chairman Martin Cates — which, in our opinion, sends the wrong message.
Each town that sent letters to Searsport bore signatures of each elected board member in addition to the town manager — except Camden's. Though the entire select board voted, the letter does not reflect as much. Having just one signature represent the whole board seems to imply less than enthusiastic support behind the letter. Finnigan said it is a normal procedure to have the select board chairman's signature on letters sent on behalf of the entire board; but we think having each member of the select board, as well as the town manager, sign official letters makes the town's position clear and presents a unified front.
The vote last week approving drafting the letter was a close one — 3-2 — but it doesn't matter, the majority voted in favor. While people always can agree to disagree, municipal officials are required, in most cases, to play nice and abide by majority decisions. To have one person sign on behalf of an entire board feels like that one person is speaking as an individual, not as a representative of many.
Having a town manager sign a letter is different, however. A town manager is a representative of the town, more so than a select board chairman, a public face and voice representing citizens.
Aside from the single signature, there is also the matter of poor grammar and editing within the letter. Whose mistakes those might be, we do not know, but it shows a lack of caring and projects to Searsport officials that Camden officials did not take the time or put in the effort to show they are serious about the concerns noted. We are not saying that every single communication should be perfect, nor are we looking at the letter as newspaper staff, but errors are clearly noticeable, particularly in one sentence, which reads: “Some of the questions and concerns which we have and which we hope you will address during your review focus center on three major areas of impact: Safety, the environment, and the region's economy include: These include:”
Newspapers are not immune to mistakes, we know, but we make every effort to read, re-read and check stories thoroughly. When a mistake is made, it is noted with a correction. There is little chance for a correction when sending a letter to another municipality; and careless mistakes such as the ones in Camden's letter are completely avoidable. Camden often promotes its professionalism, education and classiness — this letter is far from that image.
Were it us signing the letter, we would have read it, suggested changes or given it a final read to be sure the message is clear. Stumbling through extraneous words muddies the original intent. We realize municipal paperwork can be overwhelming at times but as an elected official speaking on behalf of oneself and the select board, a communication with another municipality should clearly state a position, accurately reflect concerns and remain professional in tone and composition.