27 October 2006
by Eileen Curry
About 35 people attended a hearing on October 23 regarding two upcoming ballot questions for Perry residents during the November 7 elections. Voters will be asked if they want to enact a recall ordinance and also if they wish to accept funds from Quoddy Bay LNG as reimbursement for the town's legal expenses incurred in connection with Quoddy Bay's proposal to locate a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility in Perry.
Two residents spoke in favor of the recall ordinance, with none speaking in opposition. Nancy Asante said, "Presently, Perry has no ordinance. If passed, this will allow our elected officials to be held accountable for their actions. Regardless of how you feel about any one official, this will discourage any inconsistencies in our municipal government procedures, and I urge you to vote yes." Bill Kendall also spoke in favor of the citizen initiative, saying, "I feel very strongly about this. Every town should have this tool. I think every municipality in the state should have one."
The recall ordinance, if passed, would allow selectmen, upon receipt of a certified petition, to order a recall election by secret ballot. During the discussion and hearing, Town Clerk Janice Scanlon said that the town may have a problem with the validity of the recall procedure. Scanlon read from two different municipal manuals that had some recall ordinance information and procedures. The manuals state that the town may have to produce a charter document in order to enact a recall. "According to the documents, these changes in government can be made by charter only," she said. Selectmen answered concerns about the charter information and agreed to go ahead with the ballot question, to look into whether or not the town has a charter, and, if not, to schedule another special town meeting.
Following the meeting, Selectman David Turner said he made a call to the Maine Municipal Association the next day and brought some new information about the charter to light. "I called MMA, talked to Michael Stultz, staff attorney, concerning the question at the public hearing on our charter. The town is free to adopt a recall ordinance and will not be required to also change the charter. This was codified in Maine law when Maine became a state, now MRSA 30-A. The new version, which we didn't have with us last night, can be found on page 15 of the Maine Officers Manual, Chapter 2. We have several manuals that do not always make things clear and simple." He says the recall ordinance ballot question will go ahead as planned.
The next hearing item and article on the voting ballot for Perry citizens is, "To see if the town will authorize selectmen, on behalf of the town, pursuant to 30 A MRSA sec. 5654, to accept a conditional gift of $18,000 from Quoddy Bay LNG, to be used to reimburse the town's legal and related expenses incurred in connection with Quoddy Bay's proposal to locate a liquefied natural gas storage facility in the town; and to further authorize selectmen, on behalf of the town, to accept such additional amounts as may be received from Quoddy Bay LNG for the same purpose." Six residents spoke in opposition of the article, and two spoke in favor.
Many questions arose regarding the relationship between the town's hired law firm, Eaton Peabody, and Quoddy Bay LNG's proposal for an LNG facility. Brian Theriault spoke in opposition, asking, "Why did we accept the $18,000 ahead of time? We've spent this money, and we don't have anything ironed out. You're asking us to approve this money, and the first issue hasn't been resolved." He continued, "What have we gotten for the $18,000? Can you tell us that?" Selectman David Turner explained, "We said back in July we would take this out to a vote. In addition, it also states in the town book, Article 16, where the town accepted to allow selectmen to apply for and to accept all municipal revenue sharing, local road assistance, state aid to education, reimbursement, etc., state grants and other funds. The town voted to correct the article that read 'or other funds' to 'and other funds,' giving selectmen the authority to pay the attorneys to finish the job of legal work to ensure that Perry gets a good deal if LNG comes to town." Theriault returned, "I don't agree with the way it was put out with an open ended question for us to vote on. Our hands our tied." Turner said, "We have an agreement with Eaton Peabody not to go over the $18,000. They will finish the job at $18,000."
Others made statements opposing the $18,000 legal fee. Gary Guisinger read a statement, saying, "In the next few days you are going to be asked to vote on whether or not the town should accept an $18,000 hand-out from Quoddy Bay to cover the town's legal expenses. I heard from one Perry person who felt that they had no choice but to vote to accept the money. They were afraid, if they did not, the money would have to come out of the town's taxes. Not necessarily. If the town votes not to accept the money, it's possible that some of our selectmen will be personally responsible for paying back the $18,000."
Linda Newcomb asked, "Why can't selectmen send out a wish list to people in town asking, what do you want in Perry? Scholarships? A new school addition? Fire department? Police force? That's the only way to satisfy everybody. It could be given to the planning board to look over and decide on." A comment was made in reply to her statement, asking, "Can we add, 'Do you want LNG in your community?'" Newcomb answered, "You don't have the authority to vote down LNG now. We only voted against annexed land on Gleason's Cove. It's done."
Nearing the end of the hearing, Turner said, "I've taken a terrible beating over this. The issue is not going to be gone unless we have a permit from FERC." Another comment in favor of the fee was, "This isn't about whether it's [LNG] coming or not. It's about doing the right thing for the town."
After the meeting, Selectwoman Jeanne Guisinger added two points of clarification, commenting, "During the hearing, David Turner referenced Article 16 from the annual meeting of March 2006 as evidence that he did not need the town's approval to take Quoddy Bay's money. This, from the municipal officer's manual, says, 'Conditional gifts: A gift with conditions attached must be submitted to the voters for acceptance or rejection.'" She says the article to be voted on should indicate the nature of the conditions, so the voters know exactly what the town's obligation may be. A written description of the gift and conditions must be provided to the municipality before a vote is scheduled. She adds, "Secondly, regarding posting the entire ordinance for the hearing discussed at the selectmen's meeting on October 16, MMA has confirmed that the posting was not complete without the entire ordinance. Both David and I have confirmed this with Michael Stultz, staff attorney at MMA."
Voting on these ballot questions will take place on Tuesday, November 7, at the polls. A special town meeting will follow with results on Wednesday, November 8, at 7 p.m. at the Perry Elementary School.
© 2006 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.