Dissolves municipal facilities committee

Thomaston board votes to replace town attorney

By Beth A. Birmingham | Mar 16, 2019
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Thomaston attorney Paul Gibbons, seated center facing camera, listens as the Board of Selectmen read through referendum items to be addressed at a public hearing Oct. 1, 2018.

Thomaston — Selectmen voted March 11 to consider new candidates to replace longstanding town attorney Paul Gibbons.

At the meeting, while discussing the town warrants to be signed, Selectmen Beverly St. Clair and Bill Hahn sought clarification on $8,000 in "legal fees" to be paid.

St. Clair said $5,000 was billed for the preparation of an information meeting held last October to discuss the town offices' move to the former Lura Libby facility, as well as $2,000 to have pictures printed for the presentation.

"Who gave our town attorney this task to do?" St. Clair asked the board. "It doesn't seem to be a wise way to spend the town's money."

Chairman Peter Lammert said he was asked by Standing Municipal Facilities Committee members Joanne Richards and Susan Devlin to do a segment of the presentation, and Richards said she and Devlin met, as members of the committee, with Gibbons during the preparation process, but did not ask him to take pictures.

"In fact, quite a few I took," Richards said.

Hahn said he was unsure whether to sign the warrant, noting the town attorney gets $155 per hour and for him to be paid that while having pictures made would be a problem.

Communications from committee Chairman Zel Bowman-Laberge to the Board of Selectmen indicated that the information meeting was not being put on by the committee, but rather by citizens of the town.

"It's an issue of the integrity of our town attorney," St. Clair said, adding that she liked Gibbons, but the issues she has seen since being elected to the board are huge.

Budget Committee member Patricia Hubbard echoed a statement by St. Clair, saying that thus far, with a tax abatement by Walmart awaiting a decision by the state board, $18,000 has been budgeted for legal fees last year and for the coming year, and already there is a total of $54,000 billed.

"I'm going to move that we consider new options for a town attorney, and that we all come to our next meeting with a name to do that," St. Clair said.

After a second from Hahn, the board's vote of 4-0-1, with Selectman Lee-Ann Upham abstaining, passed.

Second on St. Clair's agenda was a call to dissolve the Standing Municipal Facilities Committee.

When asked for a reason by fellow Selectman Peter McCrea, St. Clair said it was the actions of the town attorney, combined with various emails from the committee. "I feel strongly about it."

Richards said the members of the committee were chosen by the Board of Selectmen.

"Those meetings were contentious, because there were so many people with so many views, and we let everybody talk," she said.

She said if the board had a problem with her involvement with the above-mentioned presentation, she was sorry. "I was asked to do it by Mr. Gibbons."

Hahn said he took issue with some of the information presented and that neither he, nor any of the board, had input. Richards said that was at the suggestion of Gibbons.

Resident Nancy Baker said the entire situation was very irresponsible. "I think you owe the citizens an apology for having misspent our tax dollars," she said to the board. "It creates distrust."

Despite no entity taking responsibility, Hubbard insisted, "Our attorney had to be tasked with what to do, and it looks like Peter Lammert tasked that."

"I can say absolutely not," Lammert responded.

Town Manager Valmore Blastow said he and Lammert met with Gibbons on several occasions, but nothing was disclosed about "tasking" anyone.

St. Clair said the responsibility of a chairman of any committee is to run the committee's meetings, and that person does not work outside the body it represents, nor make decisions on their behalf.

"There is a motion on the table," St. Clair said. "I think we have a responsibility here and we can either take it or leave it."

Upham then seconded the motion to dissolve the committee, and the motion passed by a 2-1-2 vote -- with St. Clair and Hahn in favor, McCrea opposed, and Lammert and Upham abstaining.

A call to Attorney Gibbons' office for comment was not returned at this posting.

The selectmen next meet Monday, March 25, at 7 p.m. in Watts Hall.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

More than a dozen people from various Thomaston boards and committees discuss who should oversee the relocation of the municipal offices to the former Lura Libby school during a workshop Dec. 12. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Select Board Chairman Peter Lammert, standing at right, gives a PowerPoint presentation at the information meeting and public hearing in Thomaston Oct. 1 dealing with the proposed relocation of the municipal offices and upcoming referendum voting. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 17, 2019 18:11

Give them Hell Pete!


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