Upset by the comments and images posted on Facebook concerning the town’s involvement with a plan to turn the former Apollo Tannery into a film production site, Select Board member Deb Dodge called the discourse shameful.

Camden asked to give tannery disposition decision to Select Board

At the May 3 meeting of the Select Board, attorney Bill Kelly proposed adding another article to the June town meeting warrant that would authorize the board to dispose of tax-acquired property, including the tannery property. Currently, any proposed sale of the tannery parcel on Washington Street goes to the voters. “As it is apparent that the draft Article 6 is no longer necessary due to the premature termination of the contract for sale of the Apollo Tannery property, and the cancellation of the May 10 Special Town Meeting, I provide options of a replacement article,” wrote Kelly to the Select Board on May 2.

The article, 6A, that will appear on the warrant, following unanimous approval by the board, asks voters whether to authorize the Select Board to dispose of all tax-acquired property in any manner which it deems in the best interest of the town. The article’s explanation reads: “Approval of this article shall serve to negate and override Article 12 of the Nov. 4, 2008 Special Town Meeting, which previously required that any sale of the Apollo Tannery property must be approved by Camden voters by a referendum at a town meeting.”

The article reads: “Shall the town vote to authorize the Select Board to dispose of tax acquired property in any manner in which the Select Board deems in the best interest of the town of Camden, provided however that the Apollo Tannery property as described in Book 3148 Pages 278 and 280, excluding the fee interest in the land burdened by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust Declaration recorded in Book 4093 Page 81, hall be disposed of subject to the requirements of Article 10 of the town warrant from the annual town meeting held on June 10, 2008.”

If the article fails at June town meeting, another article would then be considered: “In the event that the voters fail to approve Article 6A immediately preceding this article, shall the town vote to authorize the select board to dispose of tax acquired property, excluding the former Apollo Tannery property, in any manner which the Select Board deems in the best interest of the Town of Camden.”

At the May 3 Select Board meeting, board chairwoman Karen Grove asked: “Is there a reason why we’re changing this from what we had last year?”

Board member John French said: “It might be time for discussion to see if the town is willing to put it back so the board can dispose of it [the tannery property] because of all the things we just went through. I think it is going to put us in a better position to talk to folks down the road.”

French added that it the proposal deserves discussion on the floor at town meeting.

When Grove suggested that the town recently had the discussion, others said it was time to renew it.

“It has been a while,” said board member Martin Cates.

“It’s been a couple of years,” said board member Deb Dodge. “

“It’s been a while,” said board member Deb Dodge. “It reduces the number of hoops a buyer has to go through and shortens the process. It reduces the risk of politicizing the discussion as opposed to having a pros and cons discussion and it doesn’t become a political football because somebody doesn’t like widget making and somebody does.”

“It forgoes the debacle we just went through,” said Cates.

Dodge said there will remain a public process by which the town will undergo to consider a proposal, and said the discussion on the town meeting floor would be interesting.

The perception by the general public is it still has its finger in the decision making, said Grove.

“I think you’re asking for a lot of push back,” she said. “I think we need to be very careful about this.”

French said, “at least get it out there for discussion on the floor.”

Peter Gross, chairman of CEDAC, said: “The citizens are very well protected according to guidelines approved by the voters. It has to go through site plan review, and other state approval. Isn’t that enough protection?”

“As Camden moves forward on working with the next tannery prospect, and as we debate any issue in the future, I hope there is something that all of Camden can come together and agree on,” she read from a prepared statement, at the beginning of the May 3 regularly scheduled meeting in the Washington Street Conference Room. “There are standards of public discourse in this community. Whether you were for or against the tannery/studio project, no matter how strongly we disagree, deception, ridicule, mockery and obscene comments are not acceptable.”

Dodge referred to Facebook comments and images posted in April concerning the public process by which Camden voters were considering entering into a purchase and sale agreement with B’D’ Turman’d Entertainment LLC and turn the tannery site on Washington Street over to a private company. Camden Town Manager Roberta Smith learned on April 26 that the three men who wanted to develop the site as Camden Film Studios were terminating the project. The company’s primary concerns included the land configuration, and its size in relation to the plans to construct two 18,000-square-foot studios.

The plan, made public in late winter, generated controversy in Camden as citizens sought to understand the ramifications of the development, and how it would be financed. A long and at times acrimonious April 7 public hearing drew heated commentary from the community, town officials and principals of B’D’ Turman’d. Commentaries spilled over into Facebook, and it was that which Dodge targeted on May 3.

“The commentaries posted on Facebook crossed over the line of decency,” she said. “On April 25 an image was posted that showed five sheep in front of the Camden Opera House. Jack Churchill commented, and I quote, ‘The Select Board gather for a group photo after giving the town away.’ A few hours later this is followed by Leonard Lookner’s post, and I quote, ‘After having sex with….’ I won’t name the principal of the studio project. Shame on you Jack Churchill and shame on you Leonard Lookner. And shame on Camden if we do not stand up and say you do not represent us. This is not how we treat each other. This is not who we are.”

Dodge’s statement earned a round of applause from the room of approximately 25 citizens at the meeting.

“It seems like we have an opportunity to see what went right and what went wrong with the process,” said Camden resident Bob Gassett, asking the Select Board if there was any movement toward a broader reflection. Town Manager Smith said the most likely venue would immediately take place in a meeting of the town’s Community Economic Development Advisory Committee, or CEDAC.

Camden business owner Bernice Berger also commented on the Facebook commentary, characterizing what transpired as cyber bullying and a “low blow to those of us who believe in process and wanted to vote.”

She said the remarks were “aimed at our intelligence or lack of.”

Business owner Shane Flynn said the discourse reflected recent trends of the state and the nation, “and it’s not very pleasant.” He urged the community to be fair, honest and open, and use democratic platforms. “Do not hide behind a mask and use pseudonyms,” he said.

Flynn said, “Let us be neighbors and talk in an open, honest way.”

Select Board members also cast support for Dodge.

“I agree with her 100 percent,” said Martin Cates.

“I stand behind everything that has been said in this room,” said John French. “This is not what Camden is about.” He cited May 2 news from Portland of a former National Guard armory there to be transformed into a sound stage. “We could have had all that.”

Chairwoman Karen Grove and board member Morgan Laidlaw also expressed concern about the tannery discourse.

“It stops here, it stops now,” said Grove.

“I am ashamed at what has transpired,” said Laidlaw.

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