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Petition prompts combative correspondence

By Christine Simmonds | Feb 03, 2020
Photo by: Christine Simmonds Union town office

Union — The expected dismissal of a petition regarding a sidewalk project in Union has led to a strongly worded email exchange between town officials and a school board member.

Pritchard and Catherine Meyer presented the town with a petition to vote on a proposed sidewalk project as a warrant item at the annual town meeting.

The petition had a confirmed 180 Union voter signatures, which meets the requirements of 10% of registered voters from the last gubernatorial election for the item to be placed on the warrant.

At the selectmen's meeting Jan. 21, Town Manager Jay Feyler presented a letter from the town attorney stating that the petition was not valid because it was circulated by the Meyers, who are not registered voters in Maine.

Erik Amundsen, a resident and member of the school board, sent an email to selectmen Jan. 27 to “express… concern regarding how the warrant article was handled.”

According to Amundsen’s email, Feyler “should have informed the Meyers of the need to have a registered voter sign… regardless of his opinion on the matter, or the law.”

Amundsen also said he hoped “we all have a higher standard than the law” and will remember “is it legal or is it the right thing to do”?

Feyler responded with an email Jan. 27 saying he interpreted Amundsen’s email as a request to ignore the law. “Mr. Amundsen may act regardless of the law but we do not!” Feyler wrote.

Feyler also said that town employees cannot give legal advice regarding petitions. To do so would be “irresponsible” and the employees in question could be held liable for any errors.

Feyler then said he interpreted Amundsen’s email as “to say we should do something illegal.”

Board Chairman Greg Grotton also responded to Amundsen’s email Jan. 27 that he thinks Amundsen “violated (his) oath of office both at the town level and on the School Board for advocating you/we break the law!”

Feyler next emailed a letter to Amundsen Jan. 28 regarding his “tendency to request the (Board of Selectmen) or myself skirt state laws and town policies.”

Feyler called Amundsen’s email a “grave violation” as a member of the RSU 40 School Board and the Union Budget Committee.

Feyler then said he was offering Amundsen “the opportunity to rectify the situation and self-report (his) violations” before he went public with them.

On Jan. 29, Amundsen sent an email to board member John Shepard saying that Feyler’s letter was “twisting my words to seem like I wanted the (board) to go beyond the law. Not so.”

Amundsen also said that Feyler’s letter questioned his right to free speech.

Amundsen’s email again asked why Feyler did not tell the Meyers about the law regarding the petition for a warrant, and said “the SOB should know the correct answers.”

Amundsen’s email frequently referred to the Board of Selectmen as “the BOS.” Amundsen said the SOB comment was a spelling error on his part, and he was “surprised no one said something” about it.

Feyler responded to Amundsen Jan. 29 in another email. He wrote that “nobody is questioning your right to free speech” but “as an elected official you have other obligations and responsibilities.”

Feyler’s email also stated he was “not sure how (Amundsen’s) words were twisted” and he thinks “it is pretty clear (Amundsen was) asking other elected officials to disregard the law.”

Feyler also explained that the policy for town employees to not give legal advice to people is something predating his time as town manager, and “is used by the majority of municipalities across the state.”

Feyler said “there are literally dozens of nuances regarding petitions… and attorneys strongly advise municipalities not to give any guidance on petitions.”

Amundsen said of his emails that he was voicing his opinion, and “in no way… asking them to break the law.” He said it was disconcerting to be accused of things he did not do.

Feyler said it is his ethical job when he feels an elected official has “crossed the line… to report that to the board they are on.” He also said that Amundsen “has sworn to uphold State and Federal laws and advocating that others break them is quite serious.”

It is possible for the board to put the sidewalk project as a warrant article at the town meeting without the petition, and according to Feyler they “have pretty much agreed to” though he said it may be difficult without many specifics regarding the project.

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Comments (4)
Posted by: Steven D Bryant | Feb 05, 2020 14:07

EMAIL,  EMAIL,  HEMAIL, SHEMAIL.  Don't local people just sit down together and and discuss their views and opinions anymore?? Sad to to think that "love thy neighbor" is just a verbal expression and not an action.



Posted by: Bill Packard | Feb 03, 2020 18:20

The Town Office called me and said that if my dog wasn't registered by Jan. 31, the State law said I would have to pay a penalty.  Hope they don't get in trouble for that.  I appreciated the reminder.

 



Posted by: Ann Donaldson | Feb 03, 2020 16:14

I think there is a difference between instructions and legal advise.  I think the Town Office should be able to tell a prospective petitioner that they must be a registered voter to circulate a petition.  In an effort to educate myself I researched Maine Municipal Statutes and found that the statute which describes a "Warrant Article Petition" does not specify that the individual circulating the petition be a registered Maine voter, whereas the statute for a petition for "Recall of Municipal Officers"  clearly states that the individual circulating the petition must be a registered Maine voter.



Posted by: Catherine L Meyer | Feb 03, 2020 15:50

You don't need specifics from the Maine DOT.  The meter is running with the DOT their services are not for free.

The desire of the taxpayers has always been hold a public meeting FIRST  so the voters can make a decision on the project and monies to be spent.  The town gave the lead to the Maine DOT prior to consulting with the taxpayers.  The town committed approximately $102,704.00 plus 20 years of maintenance cost in the Municipal/State  Agreement  which was signed on  June 28, 2019 by the Town Manager. 

The Municipal/State agreement also states "When applicable, if Municipality withdraws its financial support for the Project, leading Maine DOT to terminate the Project,  the Municipality shall reimburse Maine DOT fully for all Project costs incurred in reliance on the Municipality's financial obligations outlined herein."Page 3 of 6 Item J Municipality's Responsibility.

 

 



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