Letter causes rift between Sangerville and Corinna

Posted March 25, 2011, at 7:49 p.m.

SANGERVILLE, Maine — Residents faulted municipal officials Thursday for their reaction to a meeting Corinna’s town manager reportedly had with the former Sangerville public works director. They also sharply criticized them on Sangerville’s proposed budget, which will be voted on at Saturday’s annual town meeting.

Lance Burgess, chairman of the Sangerville Board of Selectmen, said at Thursday’s meeting of the panel that selectmen were advised by a Sangerville firefighter that a meeting took place last Sunday between Corinna Town Manager Dalton Mullis and former Public Works Director Randy Cookson at the Sangerville fire station. Mullis reportedly asked Cookson if he planned to bring legal action against the town regarding his termination, and if he was, whether Mullis could participate in the process, according to Burgess.

Both Mullis and Cookson denied Friday that such a conversation took place regarding Cookson’s employment.

Based on the secondhand information from the firefighter, Burgess fired off a letter to Corinna selectmen about the alleged discussion.

‘’I find Mr. Mullis’s actions reprehensible,’’ Burgess wrote in the letter he read publicly Thursday. ‘’It would be unfortunate for Corinna’s problems to carry over into Sangerville town politics. It would be even more unfortunate for the Town of Corinna if Sangerville pursued legal action against Corinna because of this inappropriate behavior.’’

Burgess also asked whether Mullis had been acting on Corinna’s behalf and if selectmen would consider any disciplinary action against him.

Sangerville Town Manager Michelle Dumoulin previously served as Corinna’s town clerk.

Sangerville resident Melissa Randall, who raised the issue of the letter, asked when the board voted to send the letter and what authority Burgess had to sign it. She also expressed her surprise that town officials would act on hearsay.

Burgess said it was the consensus of the board, with guidance from legal counsel, to send the letter. He said both he and Selectman Tom Carone had discussed the matter individually with the town manager.

‘’There was no illegal meeting,’’ Dumoulin added.

‘’The board perceives it as an attack on the town of Sangerville which could cost us more in legal fees,’’ Burgess said. ‘’We do not want Mr. Mullis up here trying to agitate us and the people of the town of Sangerville.”

Randall took exception to the letter.

‘’As far as I can tell, the Bill of Rights still applies in Sangerville,’’ she said. ‘’We have freedom of speech, we have freedom of assembly. Mr. Cookson and Mr. Mullis can talk anytime, anywhere they want in the town of Sangerville and they can assemble anytime, anywhere they want. Personally, I do not feel that threatening the select boards of other towns reflects well on the select board of this town.’’

Contacted on Friday, Mullis said he owns two properties in Sangerville and had met with Cookson to ask about a road matter. He said he did not realize Cookson had been terminated. Sangerville selectmen have not revealed why that action was taken.

‘’It seems to me that they [Sangerville officials] apparently have got some internal political issues going on there and I just feel that it’s very unfortunate and embarrassing that they find it necessary to drag me or the town of Corinna in their issues,’’ Mullis said Friday. ‘’What disturbs me the most is that apparently this was all hearsay and nobody contacted me and apparently they haven’t even contacted Randy to find out if this was true.’’

Mullis said he presented the letter from Burgess to the Corinna Board of Selectmen, which discussed it in executive session Wednesday. The board agreed outside of the executive session to respond to the letter.

Cookson, who was fired last month, filed an appeal, which was discussed by Sangerville selectmen during an executive session Thursday. In open session, the board denied Cookson’s appeal because it had not been filed in a timely manner.

Also on Thursday, several budget committee members spoke out against the budget process and the layout of some of the warrant articles for the March 26 town meeting.

‘’The selectmen failed to inform us that this was Sangerville’s largest budget ever proposed,’’ Rick Pellerin said.

Pellerin, who accused town officials of being ‘’sneaky,’’ also faulted the budget process, which  he said was decided in one ‘’marathon’’ session rather than in one or two meetings as in the past.

‘’I feel the budget committee meeting was ramrodded through so quickly, that the committee didn’t fully comprehend or have an idea what the final outcome would be,’’ he said.

Pellerin said property taxpayers would see an increase of 4.3 percent over last year if the proposed budget is approved. He warned that if the state eliminated the Homestead exemption, the increase could be 11.7 percent.

Burgess said he disagreed with much of what Pellerin said.

Others also expressed concern about the use of too much money from surplus and of overdrafts, which included $9,986 in legal fees. Unlike previous years, the overdrafts in each line item are not listed individually in the town warrant, a consolidation advised by the town’s auditor, Dumoulin said.

Dumoulin said the auditor felt that the town would still be in good shape if it used $396,413 of the $886,316 surplus to help offset the tax commitment. She said the auditor said $400,000 was more than sufficient for the town to keep in surplus.

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