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Board votes down food ordinance for now

By Christine Simmonds | Apr 21, 2021
Photo by: Christine Simmonds Union Board of Selectmen meet via Zoom April 20.

Union — The Union Board of Selectmen narrowly voted against a local food ordinance going to the polls at their April 20 meeting, though that decision could change.

The proposed ordinance would allow “direct producer-to-consumer transactions” of locally produced foods without state licensure and inspection.

Resident Gail Hawes wrote in a public comment against the proposed ordinance.

Hawes, who was initially a member of the committee, said she was mainly concerned about the ordinance allowing unsafe food products to reach consumers.

Hawes also said she felt board member Bill Lombardi had a direct conflict of interest, as he expressed a desire to sell products under the ordinance if it should pass. She requested Lombardi abstain from voting on the matter.

Board member Adam Fuller reminded the board and residents in attendance that Lombardi himself voiced concern about a conflict of interest when the committee was first formed.

"We did push him pretty hard to join this committee," Fuller said. "Lombardi, who runs a small farm and a food stand, had more experience with farms and locally produced food than other members of the board."

Lombardi agreed with Fuller. The only reason he was on the committee was because other board members wanted him to join.

Lombardi said the lawyers at Maine Municipal Association told him there was not a conflict of interest for him to vote on the ordinance. “If we put this to the voters, then the voters are making the decision and not me,” Lombardi said.

Board member Martha Johnston-Nash said she was concerned the ordinance would confuse voters. Some wording was conflicting, and some was not related to the ordinance.

“I’d like to have the voters look at this, but I don’t think it’s good,” Johnston-Nash said.

Board Chair John Shepard said he did not feel the ordinance should go before voters until the lawyer finished reviewing it a second time.

Fuller said he was in support of more food safety, not less.

Fuller also said he did some research on the food sovereignty movement, which the ordinance was based on. From his research, the movement was based on the ability of communities to support themselves and grow their own foods.

“I can’t see that being an issue in Union,” Fuller said. He was able to grow his own food in his own garden for many years without problems.

If someone wished to sell food or food products they made, Fuller said that made it a business. Businesses should have to go through the same steps as anyone else.

Fuller said he did not see why Union needed the local food ordinance.

Lombardi said the ordinance would allow people to start a small business and grow it if there was more interest. Getting licensed to sell products as a business was a cumbersome and expensive process.

What the food ordinance was trying to achieve was to lower the bar so smaller businesses had a chance to be a small producer.

As for food safety, Lombardi added, those rules do not keep people as safe as they may think.

Further, the wording for this ordinance was pretty standard. More than 70 other Maine towns already had similar ordinances with similar wording approved by lawyers and voters, without issues or conflicts.

Board member Josh White, who is also a member of the committee, agreed with Lombardi. This ordinance was a stepping stone for people who wanted to start a small business and see if there was a market for their product.

White also said this ordinance would eliminate the black market aspect of food sales currently happening in town.

Committee member Elizabeth Dickerson, who initially proposed the committee to the board, spoke in favor of the ordinance. Dickerson has some goats, and wanted to be able to legally sell cheese to friends and neighbors.

The committee did much due diligence to look at the pros and cons of the ordinance, Dickerson said. They changed the drafts to address concerns of the town lawyer. They listened to suggestions from Hawes and took them to heart.

This ordinance, Dickerson said, was a way to enhance the local micro-economy during these difficult times. People at home with their children could sell food products as a way to make more money.

Fuller said he understood the committee did their due diligence, but he was concerned with the generational farms in Union who have played by the rules for years.

He was also concerned there were no boundaries on how large an operation had to be before the ordinance no longer applied.

Resident and former board member Greg Grotton said there were families who lived in town for hundreds of years and played by the rules for their farms. Now, people were moving to town and wanted to circumvent those rules to sell food products.

Dickerson said she did not want to become a big business. She was perfectly happy selling cheese to her neighbors.

She was never arrested, Dickerson said, and it would be terrible if she now she faced arrest for selling a piece of cheese.

“I want legislation that is the right size for my farm, not a big farm,” Dickerson said.

Lombardi added that this ordinance was a starting point, and if size became an issue the ordinance could be adjusted to accommodate that.

Lombardi and White voted in approval for the ordinance to be added to the warrant.

Fuller and Johnston-Nash voted against it, though both said they appreciated the work done by the committee.

Shepard voted no, as the lawyer did not finish looking over the latest draft. He said he would reconsider his vote at the next meeting once the lawyer finished reviewing the document.

This would still leave time for the ordinance to be added to the ballot for the June Town Meeting.

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Comments (11)
Posted by: Gregory S Grotton | Apr 27, 2021 09:24

And your running to be a state rep in 2022....wow

 



Posted by: Elizabeth Dickerson | Apr 26, 2021 13:52

As to Greg Grotton's point about conflict of interest: Yes, I am aware of Maine Statute. The reason that Bill Lombardi doesn't have a conflict of interest is because the question would be decided by the voters of the town of Union, not specifically by the select board. The select board is voting to put an item on the agenda that the townspeople would then vote on. The quoted portion of Maine Statute you supply doesn't pertain to this situation because warrant items are a town-wide vote.



Posted by: Gregory S Grotton | Apr 24, 2021 09:25

Ms Dickerson...just for grins thought you might like to revisit the laws.

§2604

Title 30-A: MUNICIPALITIES AND COUNTIES

Part 2: MUNICIPALITIES

Subpart 3: MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS

Chapter 123: MUNICIPAL OFFICIALS

Subchapter 1: GENERAL PROVISIONS

§2606

§2605. Conflicts of interest

Certain proceedings of municipalities, counties and quasi-municipal corporations and their officials are voidable and actionable according to the following provisions.   [PL 1987, c. 737, Pt. A, §2 (NEW); PL 1987, c. 737, Pt. C, §106 (NEW); PL 1989, c. 6 (AMD); PL 1989, c. 9, §2 (AMD); PL 1989, c. 104, Pt. C, §§8, 10 (AMD).]

1.  Voting. The vote of a body is voidable when any official in an official position votes on any question in which that official has a direct or an indirect pecuniary interest.

[PL 1987, c. 737, Pt. A, §2 (NEW); PL 1987, c. 737, Pt. C, §106 (NEW); PL 1989, c. 6 (AMD); PL 1989, c. 9, §2 (AMD); PL 1989, c. 104, Pt. C, §§8, 10 (AMD).]



Posted by: GAIL HAWES | Apr 23, 2021 22:05

Lizzie, if you are feeling the need to diminish my opinion due to extenuating circumstances, it falls flat on my ears. Previous article on this topic in the paper have clearly quoted me as initially being on the committee, and my reasons for not being able to attend all of them. I sent you all an email stating that my shoulder surgery was more involved than I thought and I communicated with with town officials, that I was unable to be a recording secretary. You readily said no worries, you would take notes. Yes, I thanked you for adding in the label requirement, should this pass, however, I repeatedly said at board meetings there was no attempt to poll the people who might be affected by this. Two selectboard members are on that committee. I applied to be on that committee because I have concerns, and it was clear from meeting one, those concerns were not going to be addressed. I was seen as someone to overcome, not someone to listen to and be heard as a voice of reason, albeit the opposing viewpoint. Personal attacks on me still don't answer my questions. Publicly asking my questions is the way to get them answered... or not. Silence speaks volumes.



Posted by: Elizabeth Dickerson | Apr 23, 2021 21:51

For the record, Gail Hawes was appointed to our Local Food Ordinance committee by the select board. We the committee then voted her to be our secretary. She attended one and a half meetings. She hasn’t functioned as our secretary, but when she has attended, we have taken her suggestions and added them to the ordinance. At our last meeting, Gail voted with us to add labeling to the ordinance, which was her suggestion. We have had five meetings so far. My goal has been that if we disagree with each other about a particular point, we should discuss it as a committee and seek a solution as a committee. The work has been thorough and continues to move forward in good faith.



Posted by: GAIL HAWES | Apr 23, 2021 17:42

I hope there is not a push to do a petition. This ordinance is not complete and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. To say it can be addressed later if there are issues says by itself this is not well-written or thorough enough. I object to this ordinance for several reasons. First, I feel the townspeople were not appropriately polled to determine what impact this would have on them  good, bad or in between. I do understand wanting to let the voters decide, but only when the voters have ALL the information with a thoroughly examined topic - both pros and cons.  In my comments to the board I said I felt sending this to the voters now was still premature, because there was no attempt to look at the cons, nor asking people already in the business (legally and licensed) how this would affect them and their product, or consumer confidence. Second,  SAFETY is a huge concern. I don't really have a problem with low risk items, such as jams, high acidity preserves (pickles), or baked goods that don't need refrigeration. But I do have a problem with other products such has canning vegetables, cheeses and other products that have be made from rapidly cooled milk (meat products are excluded due to Fed and state laws). The laws we already have in place are not some conspiracy to keep the little guy from selling leaving control with big business. They are to protect the consumer from buying something that can make them seriously ill, or worse.  Third, this ordinance has absolutely no limits on the size of operation written in it. A business could be opening up on the common, like a bakery or homemade ice cream or cheese with absolutely no checks and balances of inspection. Having worked with all manner of food vendors at a local event, I am also worried about the unscrupulous producer who has already proven to circumvent rules at every chance they can. This just opens the door to throwing all caution to the wind for those less meticulous. Fourth, this is not a "neighbor to neighbor" ordinance as it is being touted. Anyone can produce and sell within town to anyone who happens along, residents and tourists alike. The laws we have in Maine and the US for food are in place for very good reasons. Listeriosis, botulism, salmonella, E.coli 0157, etc., are true risks. Heavy metal contaminants of water sources used to produce can also be a risk. Old farms are notorious for lead pipes and many wells contain high levels of arsenic. Fifth, many small scale farmers have managed to follow these rules and are proud to present a safe product to consumers. Every single one I spoke with said why can't everybody follow the rules. The inspection process is also very educational, and some found they had issues they had NO idea to even look for. They were glad for the help going through the process. So far, no rational argument has been presented for the NEED for such a free-for-all ordinance, other than a couple people wanting to make a buck from their product without having to get an inspection and a license unlike those who took the time and effort.  It's time to put that poll out in town, but not to "educate" people on why this is good, but to truly ask what they feel is right for Union, and maybe the committee could use a little education on why this might be BAD for town. I'd rather see an impartial committee made of people who have no vested interest, and see a real pros and cons effort, as it SHOULD be for any town exploratory committee. But  carte blanche for anyone in town to do and sell what they want without a thorough examination of the potential ramifications is just plain foolhardy.



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Apr 23, 2021 16:55

Just because a lawyer sees no legal conflict doesn't mean the appearance isn't there. If the legal opinion eases one's conscience then it is finished business.



Posted by: Gregory S Grotton | Apr 23, 2021 13:47

To the two of you Ms. Dickerson and Mr. Lombardi two of the people that will benefit from this ordinance. I never said there was a conflict of interest in Mr. Lombardi's being on the committee I said that "I" felt it was a conflict to be a voting member of the committee then "again" voting as a Selectman. Question are you the lawyer that was consulted? Now for Mr. Lombardi, I have never said that people not born in Union don't contribute to the town that just you feeling better...it's crazy. I've got a lot of friends that have moved here that contribute greatly to this town and the state. Many getting out and even  volunteering or on their own done a great things to help make this town better. BUT, I have also seen many many people move here from else where and then try to change things the way they want them, from wanting to remove an airport because they bought a house next to one...how about move a 100 year old cement plant that employ a lot of people because they bought a house next to it...now we have farmers that have obeyed the law in obtaining licenses to sell their product since these safety methods first started now "some" as "I" see it have maybe retired (congratulations) or just want a hobby so let's change the requirements to heck with those being honest and "SAFE" about selling food products. And now starting a petition drive to get citizens to sign for this when due to this virus a true public meeting can not be held to get the public the reasons why licensing is required, they will only get your version...oh well.



Posted by: William Lombardi | Apr 23, 2021 13:06

Mr. Grotton, I've always found it helpful to check the facts before making an accusation regarding anyone's motives.  To suggest, as you have, that people not born in Union don't contribute positively would say that the town hasn't benefited from from their actions or tax dollars? Instead of creating battles with people "from away", how about we create an atmosphere where people are welcome and work together for a thriving community.



Posted by: Elizabeth Dickerson | Apr 23, 2021 11:57

Mr Grotton, you may “feel” that it is a conflict of interest for Mr.Lombardi to be on the committee, but you are not an attorney. The attorneys were consulted and there is no conflict.



Posted by: Gregory S Grotton | Apr 21, 2021 16:23

I also feel it is a conflict of interest for Mr. Lombardi to vote on this issue (as I recall he wasn't pushed to hard to be on this committee, and looking at the picture in a recent article featuring Mr. Lombardi he already has his food stand build and by the road) anyway to make matters worst he's the one that made the motion to approve the ordinance.



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