Resignations put Brooklin in legal, municipal limbo

Posted April 05, 2010, at 8:43 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.

BROOKLIN, Maine — The town’s government is in limbo after all three selectmen resigned at the start of the annual town meeting Saturday.

“Our hands are tied,” said resident George Eaton, who served as moderator for the town meeting and is working with remaining town officials in an effort to determine what needs to be done.

Eaton said Monday the town had received legal advice from an attorney at Maine Municipal Association. Based on that advice, he said, it appears the town has only one real option to resolve the situation quickly.

“We talked with MMA, and there’s only one process,” he said. “The selectmen cannot resign to themselves; there has to be a board in place to accept their resignations. But no business can go on until there’s a board in place.”

State law provides for a shortened process to seek nominations and hold a special election, Eaton said, but that requires two of the selectmen to sign off to get that process in motion.

“Right now, we’re having trouble getting the two signatures,” he said.

The process for a regular election takes 90 days, allowing time for potential candidates to gather nomination signatures and to set the election date.

“That would tie us up for three months,” Eaton said. “That’s untenable. That cannot happen.”

Another option is to seek a court order to move the shortened process along. But that could take as long as the normal nomination process, he said

The resignations came Saturday morning at the start of the annual town meeting, the result, apparently, of long-standing turmoil in the town office. According to Eaton, the discord among the elected officials stemmed from the selectmen’s proposal a year ago to combine some of the town office positions.

At town meeting last year, voters authorized a committee to study town office procedures, and although the committee made some recommendations, hard feelings had developed that affected working relationships within the town office.

“The situation became untenable, I’m being told,” Eaton said Monday. “There have been ill feelings and a lot of stress for over a year now. The board felt that they couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with it anymore.”

Townspeople apparently were unaware of the tensions in the office, and Eaton said the resignations came as a shock to them.

Selectman Richard Freethey said Monday that the three selectmen had talked about their decision on Friday, the day before the town meeting, but that each of them had independently made their decisions to resign.

He said he felt things had reached the point where it didn’t seem they could be resolved.

“I felt that I couldn’t effectively perform the duties of selectman anymore,” he said.

“I love this town. I was born and brought up here, and I want to see the best thing for it. Right now, I think that means somebody else being in charge.”

Selectmen Lorna Grant and Jerry Gray could not be reached for comment.

Tax Collector Sharon Freethey said the issues seemed to be mostly personal, but not entirely. She declined further comment except to say, “There are two sides to every story,” and that town officials just want things to move forward.

The two other elected officials in the town office, Town Clerk Jeannine Hardy and Treasurer Tammy Andrews, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Selectman Freethey said he would be willing to sign off on the shortened election process if it would benefit the town and help resolve things amicably.

Eaton said he did not expect to have those signatures by the end of the day Monday, but expressed confidence that the town would have the signatures necessary to move the process forward.

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