The attorneys representing Camden and Thomaston have penned a letter to the Knox County Commissioners claiming the board does not have the sole authority on how to spend the $7.7 million received from the federal government.

The letter from William Kelly and Paul Gibbons accuses the commissioners of violating state law in how they conducted a meeting last week in which representatives of the towns were not allowed to speak about the use of the money. The towns maintain that the Knox County Budget Committee must also act on the spending of the money.

Knox County and several towns have been at odds on how the $7.7 million in federal aid should be spent. The county commissioners have voiced support for spending a large chunk of the money to address the lack of affordable housing. The towns have said the money should be spent for broadband expansion.

Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether has accused the broadband supporters of bullying the commissioners in trying to get their way.

“This letter is sent with the awareness and support of the Managers of Camden, Thomaston, Rockport and Rockland. Other Towns will likely add their support, but at present and due to the press of time, this letter sent prior to communications with other Knox County municipal officials,” Kelly wrote in the letter dated Oct. 18.

“In summary, there is no authority for the three County Commissioners to spend 7.7 million dollars made available through The American Rescue Plan Act (‘ARPA’), without first adhering to the budget approval process mandated by statute and the Knox Charter,” the letter stated.

The lawyers claim that failure to adhere to the laws exposes each county commissioner as well as each county employee who authorizes payments to personal liability for the misappropriation of funds.

The letter maintains “this is particularly true at the present time, as October is the month when the budget review process and public hearings take place.”

“The position taken by the County Commissioners that they may expend 7.7 million dollars as unapproved expenditures is stunning. The affirmative act of the Commissioners to avoid the normal budget process is an act of hubris that is going to create more than discontent among the municipalities in Knox County; is going to create personal legal liability for the Commissioners,” the letter stated.

The letter noted that at the Oct. 12 commissioners’ meeting, Richard Parent, Meriwether and Sharyn Pohlman repeatedly rebuked the efforts to allow representatives and citizens to speak in the public comment portion of the Meeting. There is no authority to prohibit content from being presented in the Public Comment section.

“The express prohibition of allowing Knox County residents from speaking is not just poor judgment, but a violation of the Freedom of Access Act and due process on a constitutional level. That meeting was run like something out of the Antebellum South. The admonition from County Commissioner Dorothy Meriwether to ‘vote us out of office’ is the least of the remedies that the County Municipalities and residents will have for the apparent steadfast desire of all three Commissioners to misappropriate 7.7 million dollars,” the letter stated.

“Additionally, disparagement of a representative of the Midcoast Internet Development Corp. and the Midcoast Coalition of Communities supporting broadband by Dorothy Meriwether, who pointed at him and made the baseless allegation that ‘you and your people’ had personally harassed her, was unacceptable. Elected officials are by definition required to listen and not react on an emotional level. As we know, elected officials are required to have a high tolerance for comment and criticism as part of the political process and are expected to allow debate and discussion without emotional outburst,” the letter stated.

An email was sent Tuesday evening to the commissioners by the newspaper asking for comment on the letter.

County Administrator Andrew Hart said Wednesday, Oct. 20 that the matter has been referred to the county’s legal counsel and the county had no comment. An email was sent early Wednesday afternoon to the county’s attorney Peter Marchesi.