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Hope OKs up to $500 for lawyer opinion

Discussion continues about July election, potential changes to ordinances for marijuana business
By Daniel Dunkle | Jan 28, 2021
Source: Screenshot Hope Select Board members meet via Zoom Jan. 26.

Hope — The Hope Select Board approved spending up to $500 for an attorney’s advice on whether the town can examine tally sheets from the sealed election ballot box for the July 14, 2020, town meeting votes.

Questions were raised in August about why the total number of votes cast (yes, no and blank) for the town meeting items on the ballot varied from question to question. The town meeting voting had to be done at the polls last year because a traditional town meeting was not safe during the pandemic.

Town Administrator Samantha Mank has said previously that some of the blank ballots may not have been counted, throwing those totals off.

Questions about the vote counts were raised by former town bookkeeper and current town Planning Board Chair Langley Willauer just days after he was fired by Mank in August.

The ballots and the tally sheets from that election are sealed in a box, which can only be opened under specific circumstances under state law. Town Attorney Bill Kelly has told the Select Board it would require research and likely cost thousands to obtain a court order to open the box.

On Jan. 26, Chair Sarah Ann Smith said she had talked to attorney Kristin Collins of PretiFlaherty, who had been recommended by the Maine Municipal Association as an attorney with expertise in election law, along with Kelly.

Smith said Collins had paralegals on her staff who might be able to do some of the legal research at a lower rate.

Select Board Vice Chair Brian Powers made the motion during the Jan. 26 meeting to spend up to $500 for legal advice on the matter.

He said this should bring finality to the election quandary. “Whatever advice they give us, this ends it,” he said. "We’re running into a year later. This is peace of mind only. …I’m done with this.”

He and Smith stressed that looking at the tally sheets would be to provide information only. It will not change the outcome of the election. Those results have been finalized.

During discussion of the motion, Select Board member Bruce Haffner said he disagreed, arguing that under the state law, a town like Hope that has no charter is virtually unregulated when it comes to dealing with the ballot box unless it is for a recount.

Smith said every attorney so far has said they cannot look at the ballots without a court order. She said Haffner is not an attorney.

Haffner proposed amending the amount to up to $1,000. This amendment failed for lack of a second.

The board then voted 4-0 to approve up to $500. Select Board member Thomas Ingraham was sick and not at the meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, resident Paul Smith (Chair Sarah Ann Smith’s husband) asked if Haffner had written his apology letter to Town Administrator Samantha Mank. Haffner has been asked to write the letter concerning a recorded phone call in which he said he was going to “take down” town officials, including Mank.

Haffner said he had asked to be able to read the report submitted to the town by Portland attorney Maria Fox. Fox had been hired to look into a personnel matter concerning Mank, and Chair Smith has said in previous meetings the report exonerated Mank concerning claims made by Willauer.

Haffner said he was not allowed to read the report, and he will not write the apology letter unless he can read it.

Paul Smith said Haffner is arrogant and intransigent and that this would not go well for him in the recall vote. Residents will decide whether to recall Haffner and budget committee member Elinor Goldberg in June.

In other business

The Select Board held a closed-door meeting for Mank’s annual performance evaluation Jan. 26.

In her report to the board back in open session, Mank said she expects to have candidates for the new town bookkeeper and town clerk to bring to the board for confirmation soon, possibly in February. She said three people have expressed interest in serving as the town’s Code Enforcement Officer and Licensed Plumbing Inspector.

Currently Mank fills the Town Administrator and Code Enforcement Officer/Plumbing Inspector positions, but the Select Board is considering creating new separate positions for code officer/plumbing inspector. Chair Sarah Ann Smith said Hope is the only town in Maine that does not separate those positions.

Mank also reported out that she has been working with William Leppanen, whose attorney has written a letter to the town expressing concerns about Leppanen’s property on Lermond Pond being placed in Resource Protection. Mank said Leppanen had seemed pleased with this discussion.

The Select Board voted to renew the liquor license for Pushaw's Trading Post.

It is also updating the town’s General Assistance rates in accordance with statewide changes.

Smith and Powers said the school district needs to get signatures approving payments to the school to the Select Board in a more timely fashion.

Smith said this has been an issue for the majority of the past three and a half years.

“It needs to be solved or one of these days folks are not going to get their paychecks on time,” she said.

Powers said state law requires the school board to approve releasing the funds to pay the teachers.

They discussed possibly meeting with the superintendent.

In yet more other business, Smith said there have been discussions with Rockport and Camden about the feasibility of a multi-town ambulance service down the line. A presentation on that may be brought before the Select Board in February. Smith said she appreciated the work Camden and Rockport were doing to bring this information to the town.

Marijuana ordinance discussion

The board discussed again the proposal from Seth Haskins to change town ordinances to allow his current medical marijuana cultivation business to change to recreational. Haskins and those he has been working with including Ari Meil have been researching other local town ordinances to help formulate the specifics of the proposal. They do not plan to have a store in Hope. It would mostly be changing the terminology from medical to recreational on the existing cultivation operation.

Meil had provided information to the Hope board on ordinances dealing with marijuana businesses in neighboring towns, including Camden.

Powers said that since Camden and Hope shared attorney Bill Kelly, he would like Kelly’s take on the Camden ordinance.

Smith suggested asking Camden town officials first.

Smith said there may be opportunities for business growth for the town that would generate tax revenues and there may be other products to consider down the line including CBD oil. She said that as long as the town is looking at this, it might make sense to look at a slightly bigger picture.

Meil had also provided some proposed language for changes to the local ordinances including the Land Use Ordinance. The Select Board said this would have to be looked at by the Planning Board at some point and it would be a good idea for the group proposing this to attend an upcoming Planning Board meeting.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Paul Smith | Jan 29, 2021 13:15

A little context might be useful here.  At the January 12 Select Board meeting, I asked whether Mr. Haffner had written a letter of apology to the Town Administrator, a request noted in the December 8 Select Board meeting in which the Board issued statements regarding the Fox report (https://hopemaine.org/vertical/Sites/%7B67218D83-801A-4BE2-816F-7F3C6B6A7FFF%7D/uploads/SB_Minutes_12.8.20.pdf).

 

Mr. Haffner said something to the effect that it must have slipped his mind but that he would get right on it.  Two weeks down the road at the January 26 Select Board meeting I simply followed up to see if Mr. Haffner had done as he said he would.  He had not.

 

Mr. Haffner said that he will not write an apology unless he can read the report.  This is disingenuous because every single time under every single guise that he has raised this issue, he has been told clearly and consistently that as a matter of Maine State law he may not be privy to confidential personnel documents, i.e. the Fox report.

 

As a point of clarification, the article states that “Chair Smith has said in previous meetings that the report exonerated Mank concerning claims made by Willauer.”  The Chair is accurately reflecting the view of the Select Board, not just herself, that “The Select Board review panel is satisfied, after consideration of a perfect storm of circumstances, that while mistakes were made by a several people, including the Town Administrator, there is not cause for disciplining the Town Administrator or any other employee.”



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