City hall move may have been discussed in closed-door meetingMayor refutes councilor's statements
Rockland — City Council members discussed potentially moving city hall at length during a closed-door meeting in September, according to Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson.
Mayor Will Clayton said her statements to the press are not accurate and constitute a breach of ethics.
Dickerson said in a phone interview Oct. 26 the possible moving of city hall was talked about during an executive session Sept. 9. Dickerson argues the city hall move should not have been discussed because proper notice about the precise nature of the executive session was not given.
The council went into the meeting with City Manager James Smith and Community Development Director John Holden. Dickerson said they first talked about a potential warehouse expansion, which was the stated purpose of the session. Then, while still behind closed doors, Holden went over the possible plans for moving city hall. She said it was an extensive and lengthy discussion.
She would not go into details about the specifics in the discussion because she said the law does prohibit her from revealing too much about what goes on in an executive session. She added that she consulted an attorney before releasing this information to the press.
She said the truth needed to be told because other city officials have since been downplaying the discussions.
She also said her disclosure has nothing to do with whether she thinks it is a good idea to sell the city hall property or move city hall.
Councilor Larry Pritchett said Sept. 24 there was some discussion on the concept of moving city hall when the City Council was recently talking about plans to build a new public works garage on a site near the transfer station off Pleasant Street. However, he also said there were no specifics in the discussions at that time.
Pritchett, who is running for re-election to the council Nov. 5, also fielded questions about the issue during a candidate's debate Oct. 17.
"The city hall story is an odd one because I honestly don't know where it came from," Pritchett said.
At the debate, he went on to say it was discussed during budget talks, televised on cable TV, as a possibility if the city relocated the public works garage. He said if someone wanted to buy the present city hall once it is paid off to redevelop the 15 acres it is on and pay enough to fund a new city hall, he would be willing to consider it.
He said he is not aware of anyone advocating moving city hall. "It was simply an economic development question," he said.
He also said in the debate he does not see city hall going downtown due to lack of an appropriate space and parking.
Pritchett on Oct. 27 referred questions about the issue to the mayor.
Asked about this previously, Clayton said the issue came up during budget discussions this year because the bond used to buy the city hall building will be paid off in the next few years, and the council was looking at long-term plans.
Clayton expressed outrage at Dickerson's statements in an email Oct. 27.
"...I will not disclose any information we discussed that evening during our executive session," he wrote. "That is first because an ES is outside of public consumption. Secondly because Councilor Dickerson's assertion is baseless."
"For a councilor to break the code of ethics and publicly disclose information of an ES is reprehensible," he went on. "To be inaccurate in factual account of that reporting adds to that. The fact that the councilor did not make known their objections to the meeting either during the meeting, immediately afterwards or the proceeding SIX weeks leads to the belief of ulterior motives. For Councilor Dickerson to bring this forward just before an election along with not reaching out to myself as the mayor or city manager really makes you question the motive. ...It is up to the council as a body to decide on whether the meeting was outside its intended purpose. Not for a rogue councilor since the information could be, and is in this case, wrong."
He also raised concerns about the precedent set by revealing information from an executive session.
"Will a resident now worry about coming forward for a very personal discussion including poverty abatement, for fear that their information is leaked?" he asked. "I hope not. But it is something to consider with Councilor Dickerson's breach of ethics."
Dickerson sees problems with leaving it to the council as a whole to decide whether information from a closed meeting should be revisited.
"Suppose there are a majority of councilors who do not want the subject matter that was discussed disclosed," she wrote in an email. "Sure, there is now an agenda item at the council meeting, on TV, and a vote, so at least the public knows about the issue, but, if the majority votes to withhold the information, then none will be forthcoming."
At the September meeting the council voted to "convene in executive session to discuss with the city manager, in his role as economic development director, a possible business warehouse expansion proposal that could potentially include both a new TIF district with related credit enhancement agreement and city-owned land."
State law allows matters of land ownership and economic development to be discussed in closed sessions when the information would prejudice the competitive or bargaining position of the city.
Dickerson argues nothing discussed in the meeting would have affected the city's bargaining position.
City Manager James Smith could not be reached for comment.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 594-4401 ext. 122.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast for 15 years.
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