A resident chided the Camden Select Board at its May 17 meeting for the board’s reaction to recent comments made on Facebook. During the public comment portion of the meeting, George Barnard said he was concerned about board member Deborah Dodge’s response to images that Jack Churchill posted on Facebook, as well as a comment Leonard Lookner made in response.

“The commentaries posted on Facebook crossed over the line of decency,” Dodge said at the May 3 Select Board meeting. “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.”

Barnard said Dodge was “publicly flogging” citizens for exercising their right to speak freely.

“I have a Facebook [account],” said Barnard. “It’s been my understanding that a Facebook account is for me and my select personal group of friends or family. My question is, are the comments I made on Facebook private.”

Board members Morgan Laidlaw and Martin Cates said such comments were not private. Dodge told Barnard his postings were visible to any viewer, unless he had privacy settings in place to limit access to his account.

Chairwoman Karen Grove said the board was reacting to the suggestion that the board was having sex with a potential buyer for the Apollo Tannery site on Washington Street.

“What’s the boundary?” asked Barnard.

“To accuse me or Deborah Dodge of sex with strangers goes beyond the bounds of decency,” said Grove.

Barnard said the comments were made in jest, and that the board was censoring him.

Apollo Tannery process causes meeting strife

Later in the meeting, which lasted four hours, Lookner asked the Select Board to give voters a chance to register their support, or lack of support, for any sale of the former tannery property. He said the property might serve as a permanent home for the Camden Farmer’s Market, a flea market, tour bus parking or some other use, and that keeping the land would preserve it for possible future use for a town building.

Lookner said his call for a vote to “find out what the sentiment of the town is” was a response to a move by the board to ask citizens for authority to sell the property without bringing the sale to a town vote. That Select Board move was made May 3 when the board added two articles to the annual June town meeting warrant.

Lookner said he wanted the decision to be made by balloting, rather than during a public meeting, such as the annual town meeting in June, because “people won’t speak up.”

Grove said she was concerned that presenting a third alternative to Articles 6A and 6B, at the June town meeting, could set up a conflict between approved measures that would negate all of them.

Articles to appear on town meeting warrant

Article 6A of the June 15 town meeting warrant reads as follows.

“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, shall 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 Article 6A is defeated, voters would then consider Article 6B, which reads as follows.

“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.”

Article 6A would allow the board to complete a sale of the property without further approval from voters. Article 6B would only be voted on in the event that 6A failed and would serve to keep in place the annual decision allowing the board to dispose of tax acquired property, with the exception of the former tannery. Passage of Article 6B would keep intact the original measure requiring a town referendum on any sale of the Apollo Tannery property.

Board member John French said the Apollo property was ideal for a light industrial business, because it already had three-phase power, was on a corridor highway and was flat.

“The tannery used to employ 300 people,” said French. “I think the people have spoken once.”

Lookner said he would think differently about introducing his article if voters showed overwhelming support for Article 6A at the June 15 town meeting, but that defeat of 6A would indicate the need for a November vote to determine whether citizens wanted to retain the property. Board members suggested a fall referendum question include a provision that would deal with the instance of a buyer stepping forward in the interim.

Camden town attorney William Kelly said May 18 that passage of Article 6A would immediately give the Select Board the authority to sell the property, subject to redevelopment guidelines and requirements that were passed by voters at the June town meeting in 2008.

“What could occur is that, if a contract was executed a month later, there would be no effect on that contract for the November vote,” said Kelly. If such a contract was made before a referendum vote, “It would be a done deal,” he said.

After that discussion, Lookner asked board members for their patience so he could apologize for remarks he made “in what I perceived as a private conversation with friends on Facebook.”

He said he perceived no prejudice, anti-Semitism or racism in the conversations he participated in on the social networking website.

Assistant fire chief post goes back to committee

The board decided to send a request to add a new classification of career assistant fire chief to the town’s step and grade plan back to the Personnel Board for a second time.

The recommendation from the Personnel Board was that the position be at pay grade level 13, equivalent to that of the Camden Opera House manager, and higher than that of the harbormaster, tax collector and town clerk.

French said he supported the position itself, but felt the pay should be closer to grade 9. His motion to send the proposal back for a different classification carried with Laidlaw, Dodge, Martin Cates and French voting in favor and Grove opposing the measure.

Board approves grant change, new funding request

The board agreed to increase the maximum down payment amount available to purchasers of low- or moderate-income housing at Lupine Terrace from $30,000 to $50,000. Funds for down payment assistance have come to Camden through a Community Development Block Grant.

The board also approved a letter of intent to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, on behalf of Stuart and Marianne Smith, doing business as Old Garage LLC, requesting a Maine’s Future grant to support improvements to the Smiths’ property at 12 Bay View St. While the grant would require a one-to-one match, Camden Development Director Brian Hodges said the Smiths were prepared to meet the state’s allocation of federal funds two-to-one.

If awarded, funds would be used to rehabilitate the building and install an elevator and make other accessibility improvements.

“The end goal of the project would be to reopen Bay View [Street] Cinema,” said Hodges. He said new mobile seating would allow the second floor space to be used for conferences and meetings, and that offices were planned for the street level. A business such as a restaurant or bakery would be the expected tenant on the basement level.

Hodges said work would have to be completed within 12 to 18 months of a grant being awarded and that proposed improvements would enhance the downtown area, rehabilitate a vacant building and attract a younger demographic.

An agenda item to award a bid for replacement of the Public Safety Building’s boiler was tabled because no bids have been received.

The board agreed to renew the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce’s lease of its office at the Public Landing for another 25 years at $1 per year, but asked Town Attorney William Kelly to review and update the lease.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by -mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.

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