2007 February 13
by Eileen Curry
A Perry special town meeting deemed legal by some and illegal by others brought a turnout of about 200 people to listen, voice their opinions and cast votes regarding a citizens' committee to represent the town in negotiations with the liquefied natural gas developer, Quoddy Bay LNG.
Moderator Bill Love read the rules and regulations for the two-hour meeting. He said, "These rules should be followed to avoid acrimony. Questions must be addressed to the moderator and these rules will work in everyone's favor." Proponents and opponents of LNG discussed the article brought before voters regarding a town committee to work toward a financial agreement with the LNG developer, and questions about the legality of the meeting. The issue of a negotiating panel came about some months ago after a 21 vote by selectmen to begin negotiations with Chairman Selectman David Turner, a supporter of LNG, the town's attorney, Erik Stumpfel of Eaton Peabody, and Quoddy Bay LNG. Selectwoman Jeanne Guisinger, an opponent of LNG, was opposed to the decision and initiated a petition asking for the town to form a committee to negotiate with the company. At another selectmen's meeting, Turner moved to place the question of the town committee on the ballot for the annual town meeting in March; this motion passed with Turner and Dick Adams in favor and Guisinger opposed. Guisinger asked for the question to be placed before voters "as quickly as possible" but was turned down. A petition was then circulated, signed by 66 Perry citizens and authorized by a notary public, calling for a special town meeting to consider the issue of forming a negotiating committee. The meeting was posted in public areas and scheduled for February 1.
Proponents of the article, those who agreed with the formation of a town committee, had their say. Resident John Cook said, "I'm pretty certain that everybody here has a good idea why we are here. We are facing a monumental change in our community, and we need to address this as a community. We have not addressed this as a community, and we need to do that to find out what is best for us." Nancy Asante, who drew some applause from the audience, said, "This is democracy in action. I believe that our town of government has been hijacked. The majority of our selectmen should not be making these decisions for us. I'm sorry, but I don't trust them. We need light and air to this process."
Linda Newcomb, an opponent of the article and a supporter of LNG, said, "Unlike what John Cook has mentioned, our group, the PIA [Perry Improvement Association], has asked for people to come and talk about what the town wants, a wish list we asked for. Instead, the fighting and fighting goes on at every [selectmen's] meeting, and no one gets anything done. I am against sending eight people to negotiate for the entire town. You people better think about this. John, Jeannie and them, they are going to be the ruination of us."
Resident Larry Hilderbrand made a motion to amend the article to read differently, and many more motions were made asking to add more citizens and groups and also to remove some. Planning board members Jim Whitehead and Angus McPhail were not in favor of any of their committee members serving on the negotiating panel. Whitehead said, "We are supposed to take care of the rules and advise the town. This is a conflict for us. The town needs to bring the plan to us. We have to stop fighting. Let [Quoddy Bay] LNG make us an offer. We are in charge here, not LNG." McPhail said, "I have a lot of concerns. We need to decide who gets on this committee landowners, lobstermen but the planning board should stay out of it."
Before the rewording of the article took place, some questions were asked about the legality of the meeting. In question was an e-mailed response from Becky Seel, senior staff attorney at the Maine Municipal Association (MMA), to Turner and Guisinger on January 30. Seel stated, "I believe that a court probably would find that the selectpersons acted reasonably in deciding to wait until the annual town meeting and elections in March before placing the petitioned question before the voters." Seel went on to explain that the board must either place a petitioned article in the "next warrant issued" or call special town meeting to address the petition. "The petitioners asked for an immediate open town meeting vote. While I think the board has a right to wait until March to schedule the vote, I think that a court probably would find that the petitioners have a right to request a particular method of voting that must be honored." Seel also stated, "Only a court can ultimately decide whether the board has acted unreasonably by waiting until March to schedule a vote on the petitioned article. A notary has no discretion about calling a requested meeting once receiving a petition. In my opinion, a court probably would find that the board did not act unreasonably by waiting to schedule a vote in this case and that the voting at the notary-called meeting isn't legally binding. The issue of allowing a vote by open meeting can be addressed as part of the March town meeting warrant as noted above."
Resident Dennis Turner said in regard to the legality of the meeting, "I fully respect everyone's opinion about LNG, but MMA has ruled this meeting as illegal. The opposition [to the article] may or may not take this to court, but my question would be, who's going to pay for it?"
Resident Gary Guisinger responded at the podium to Dennis Turner saying, "MMA cannot make any decision here, David Turner can't decide here, Dennis Turner can't decide here, only a court of law can decide if it's legal or not. The last time I looked around this room, it's a town meeting, not a court of law. As far as the cost of going to court -- they don't have to take it to court. They can accept the outcome of this and not spend the town's money. So if there's any money spent, ask them who's going to spend it."
Love spoke to the group and determined that the issue of whether the meeting was legal or not was "beyond the capability of this meeting, and it will be decided in due course. The legality of the article is closed."
The reworded articel was passed with 72 in favor, 23 opposed and 1 void. The article now reads: "To see if the town will require the selectmen to conduct all future discussions and correspondence by them regarding issues of the potential citing of any liquefied natural gas facilities in Perry, including discussions and correspondence with the town's attorneys and with representatives from Quoddy Bay LNG, only after notice to and participation with full voting rights by a special negotiating committee to be made up of the following members of the Perry community: the board of selectmen; one member of the school committee (to be selected by the school committee); the Perry fire chief; one fisherman to be selected by Cobscook Bay Fishermen's Association; three members of the Perry community at large (one to be picked by each selectman); one member of the Fixed Gear Association (to be selected by the committee); one member of the Passamaquoddy Lobstermen's Association, to be selected by the committee; one abutting landowner, and one Native American resident from Perry to be selected by the committee. The purpose of the article is to assure community involvement in determining the town's goals with respect to possible LNG development before an agreement is presented to the town's voters." Negotiations would be open to the public.
Selectwoman Jeanne Guisinger was the organizer of the special town meeting. Selectmen David Turner and Dick Adams did not attend the meeting.
© 2007 The Quoddy Tides
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.