Thomaston Select Board Chair Diane Giese took it upon herself to send us a letter (see front page story) expressing her displeasure over our coverage of the closed-door meeting the town had, concerning a possible east-west road bypassing the downtown.

We do not know if sending this letter was an entirely unilateral decision on her part, or if there was some behind-the-scenes discussion with other town officials via email, phone or in a secret meeting.

If it was unilateral, she needs to be reminded that a member of the Select Board, even the chair, is just one vote out of five, and does not have authority to represent the town in this way. She put it on town letterhead.

If there was a meeting, it should have been posted as a public meeting in accordance with Maine’s Freedom of Access Act.

This important law exists to protect the rights of citizens to know what their government is doing. It dictates that governing boards such as a city council, planning board or Select Board must hold their meetings in public and provide notice to the populace of the time and place of those meetings.

They are only allowed to meet behind closed doors for very specific reasons, and they are not allowed to take votes of any kind in these “executive sessions.”

Giese, in her letter, gets on a bit of a high horse and proceeds from a few flawed arguments. For one thing, Thomaston officials must base their claim to the high ground on the idea that their secret highway executive session was legal in the first place. We question whether it was.

The part of the law they cited in going into this closed-door meeting deals with negotiations. Essentially, it is there to protect the town from disclosing how much it is offering as part of a negotiation to purchase property or services where that would allow others to gain an unfair advantage.

If the town is in the initial early stages of planning this highway as they claim, and there is no completed map of the proposed road or even a completed engineering feasibility study, how exactly can they already be at the point of negotiating purchases of property?

It is possible they hoped to keep the entire discussion behind closed doors by broadly defining the entire project as something that would require land acquisition, but we doubt that would stand up in court.

Perhaps her next letter will offer us insight.

The other incorrect assumption here is that an independent newspaper must follow some proper protocol or rules of engagement when seeking information of public interest. Specifically, both Giese and Town Manager Kara George told us we are not to contact select board members directly to ask questions about the town’s business.

There’s been a bit of a tone here of “How dare you!”

To that we say, “We dare.”

If we believe there is a matter of public interest, we will seek out information however we see fit. We will contact elected officials, government staff, property owners, business people, bystanders on the street. We will review public documents. We took public institutions to court to force them to provide us with public documents, and we have won these cases because we do understand the law.

In addition, Giese’s timeline is not accurate. She suggests we were turned down for information, then sought out the select person, but in fact, we went to Select Board members because George was out of the office the day we were writing this story.

That issue is somewhat moot anyway, since we do not care who George or Giese wants us to talk to.

However, none of this has to be adversarial or contentious. We have had a good relationship with Thomaston in the past, and are used to walking into the Town Office, asking questions and receiving answers that serve the community quite well.

We were, in fact, a bit blindsided by the negative response to our inquiries on this project.

If there was ever a chance of any of this remaining secret, that time has passed. It would be simpler, cleaner and better public relations for the town simply to go public with as much information as it can release (under the actual law and not the recent exceptionally flawed town interpretations of it).

In the meantime, we will continue to investigate. Stay tuned.