Voters enact sweeping changes in Newburgh

Posted March 09, 2011, at 12:12 p.m.
Last modified March 09, 2011, at 1:20 p.m.

NEWBURGH, Maine — A group of concerned residents that has been at odds with town officials for at least two years tallied major victories Tuesday with the election of one of its core members to the Board of Selectmen and the passage of three referendum questions forwarded by the group.

Mike Burns defeated incumbent selectman Stanley “Skip” Smith by a vote of 199-139, according to Town Clerk Lois Libby. It was Burns’ third consecutive bid for the Board of Selectmen. Smith could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

“Yesterday’s election spoke volumes to me about the direction the town wants to go in,” Burns said Wednesday. “Not only was I elected, but the concerned citizens got all three of their petitions passed. The town is obviously ready for a major change in direction.”

Newburgh has been rife with controversy since a forensic auditor uncovered a nearly $200,000 embezzlement by Cindy Dunton, who was Newburgh’s deputy treasurer until she was fired by selectmen last March. Dunton’s case is working its way through the judicial process. The so-called Concerned Citizens of Newburgh, also known as the “Fixers,” have maintained a contentious relationship with selectmen since then by challenging them repeatedly at public meetings and publishing blogs and newsletters.

The results of the referendum questions, all three of which resulted from petitions circulated by the concerned residents group, were as follows, according to Libby:

  1. Voters supported changing the town’s form of government from a town manager-selectmen arrangement to having an administrative assistant working under selectmen. The vote was 187-143. That change goes into effect at the March 2012 town meeting, according to Libby.
  1. By a vote of 222-103, residents enacted an ordinance that will allow townspeople to recall an elected official and effectively pull him from office regardless of when the person’s term expires. That provision also does not go into effect until 2012.
  1. The number of selectmen in Newburgh will increase from three to five, also in March 2012. The vote on that question was 188-143 in favor of the change.

Burns said he plans to be aggressive in his new position, beginning Saturday at Newburgh’s annual town meeting. He said he and other members of the Concerned Citizens of Newburgh are meeting this week to develop a list of spending cuts that they’ll propose from the floor of Saturday’s meeting. Burns said he hopes that at least 10 percent of the town’s budget will be cut and that payroll and roads projects are prime targets. Burns said any cuts now will soften the blow next year when the town begins paying its share of the recent construction of Hampden Academy.

“Our citizens just can’t keep affording all of these tax increases,” said Burns.

Asked how effective he will be working with the other two selectmen, Leonard “Buddy” Belcher and Leona Smith, whom he has clashed with in the past, Burns said he knows he has an “uphill battle” looming.

“I hope they’ll see this election as a chance to put the town back together,” said Burns, who campaigned door to door and with an aggressive sign presence. “It’s time the finger-pointing stopped and everyone tried working together.”

Burns said his position as chairman of the town’s planning board will expire when he is sworn in as selectman later this week.

The annual town meeting begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at the former Newburgh Elementary School.

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