THOMASTON — Thomaston Select Board Chair Diane Giese sent a letter to The Courier-Gazette on town of Thomaston letterhead Sept. 17 reinforcing a previous email from Town Manager Kara George seeking to limit the newspaper’s information gathering efforts on a potential downtown bypass highway.

The letter arrived at The Courier-Gazette office Sept. 22.

“The Select Board of Thomaston is unhappy with your article about an agenda item that was part of an Executive Session Meeting that you wrote about in the Village Soup. It was inappropriate to go to a Select Board member after you were told by our Town Manager that the information you were seeking was not public and next steps are being discussed. It was, of course, also inappropriate that the Select Board member spoke to you about this work.

“It is important that the protocol of going to our Town Manager, Kara George, for media comments that are not open to the public’s purview be kept as the rule. If there is a meeting that is a closed executive session it is because the Board is discussing issues that are confidential regarding personnel issues or other sensitive work, in accordance with Maine State Statutes for holding executive sessions.

“Our expectation is that this will not be an issue going forward and that you and other media respect our guidelines as the Town has endeavored to be open and hospitable to your at our general meetings. Thank you for your consideration of these fundamentals.”

Attempts were made to reach George for comment on the project Sept. 15. When she was not available, reporters contacted a member of the Select Board instead.

That board member did not reveal any information about the closed-door executive session that occurred Sept. 13.

The Courier-Gazette’s formal Freedom of Access Act request to George for information on the highway project was made Sept. 15 after the interview with the board member.

George’s response, received by email Sept. 17:

“In accordance with Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, MRS Title 1, Sections 400-414, any discussions or materials that were reviewed and discussed in an executive session are confidential. Additionally, I am requesting that any future inquiries for information from Village Soup that is outside of public meetings are streamlined through my office and not individual Select Board members. I did not receive your request until Thursday, as I was out of the office on Wednesday. Then I find out that an article was posted publicly Wednesday afternoon.

“According to FOAA state laws, I have five business days to respond to a request whether it is an official written request, an email or a phone call. I do not intend nor will I ever disclose information that is conducted in an executive session. As such, I respectfully decline your request for an interview at this time. When the Town of Thomaston has information that is public, we will be happy to discuss this further with you at that time.”

George provided the proposal from Dirigo Engineering in response to the request, which she said is the only public document at this time.

“It is our understanding that the Town of Thomaston is interested in evaluating the feasibility of developing an east-west road located to the north of the village area,” Timothy Sawtelle of Dirigo wrote July 15, in a proposal to Pollution Control Superintendent John Fancy. The road should connect with US Route 1 on the west side of Thomaston in the vicinity of the Toll Bridge Road and extend to Old County Road toward Dexter Street.”

In the proposal, the firm outlines what it could do for the town to determine the feasibility of the project including evaluating possible routes in terms of environmental impact.

Part of the process would determine what properties could be affected by the project, though the firm said it would not be involved in the property surveys, valuations or acquisition under the current proposal.

The Select Board voted 4-0 June 28 to authorize George to contract with Dirigo Engineering for a feasibility study for an east-west highway, north of the village, with costs to not exceed $20,000.

The Select Board held two closed-door meetings, which were presumably about this project. The Sept. 13 meeting was with the engineering firm, and the Sept. 20 meeting was with town attorney Paul Gibbons.

Maine Department of Transportation representative Paul Merrill said the town has not contacted MDOT about this project.

The next Select Board meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 6 p.m. in the Municipal Building.

The map for the proposed east/west highway included in the Thomaston Select Board packet June 28.

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