Return control to citizens

On June 11, the voters of Lincolnville will be presented with a secret ballot choice to amend our town charter by removing the requirement that we maintain a full time police department.

I’d like to explain some of the reasons for my supporting a 'yes' vote for article 5, which goes as far back as 1999.

Shortly after Betty Johnson was elected as selectman in that year, a secret underground petition was circulated in an effort to remove her from office. Her offense was insisting that the selectmen adhere to the rules of the charter and state laws. The media could find no one to take ownership of the petition, and none of the selectmen admitted to being part of it. Following much press coverage and citizen support for Betty, the petition went away.

It was in June 2001 that the voters at town meeting approved funding for a part-time police department, similar to the coverage the town had for the previous 19 years, rather than for a full-time chief that the majority of the selectmen asked for. Within a week of that vote, the selectmen held an emergency meeting (forgetting to invite the one selectman in opposition) and hired Tom Russell as police chief, with plans to spend the funds appropriated at town meeting in six months rather than one year.

Six months after that June 2001 vote, anonymous postcards and fact sheets (which were actually opinions) were sent by the selectmen to all town residents prior to the November elections. We were told that the new chief would not need benefits and increasing his hours to full-time would not increase taxes. The funding would simply be shuffled from fund balance (taxes that had already been raised) to pay for another six months. The “fact” sheet neglected to say that taxes would be increased every year thereafter. That November a full-time police department was born, against the previous decision of the voters.

During this time our charter has been updated by an elected charter commission. Some of the same selectmen, who had earlier scoffed at our laws became eager charter creators. A requirement for the town to have a full-time police department was added. Why did the voters approved a revised charter? There were eight lengthy articles on that ballot and it’s my guess that most people had as much understanding of what they were approving as read their auto insurance policies before mailing in the premium check.

As an aside, interestingly the selectmen opted against having an ethics board as part of the new charter, as the charter commission had suggested.

Since 2002, we have employed three chiefs, the police department budget has risen from $24,000 in 2001 to a proposed budget of $123,000, which was reduced at last town meeting. The benefits went from “none needed,” to full health and dental. There has been a revolving door of deputies, as many as seven at one time, including the sergeant who received a secret payment in April 2003 and left with a “Seal of Silence.”

Years of secret meetings, an office staff whose duties include doing paperwork for the police department and endless secret executive sessions. Why are so many selectmen who are adamantly against a charter change a few years back in favor of it today? Only they and a select few have been behind closed door executive sessions, and know the truth behind many rumors that the rest of us hear.

It was never all of the selectmen involved in manipulating our democracy, but always a majority. The voters did eventually take steps to return our town to a semblance of order by refusing to reelect the people whose actions we could not condone any longer.

I hope that the voters all understand that we do not now, nor have we ever had a 24-7 Lincolnville Police Department. We are protected by Waldo County Sheriff’s Office and they are here for our protection at all times, including night and weekends. We have a stellar fire department which has proven time and again without any doubt that they are here for us in full force whenever an emergency or need arises.

A 'yes' vote on article 5 would return control to the citizens by allowing us the freedom to decide on the form of police coverage we choose to have rather to be bound to the rigid wording as it now stands.

Tracy Colby