May 27, 2018
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Veazie council’s behind-the-scenes chats, ‘meetings’ stir controversy

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

VEAZIE, Maine — Frustration is building between the Town Council and others in town government, including the town manager.

Since the council’s last meeting on Aug. 29, several residents and town employees have complained about how the council operates. Town Manager Bill Reed, Councilor Jon Parker and others have accused councilors of holding “meetings” out of public view.

Three Veazie councilors — Tammy Olson, David King and Brian Perkins — were seen chatting in the Veazie town office parking lot about half an hour after the Aug. 29 meeting adjourned, according to Reed.

Three councilors make a quorum, the minimum number of members needed to take an action in a governing body.

Reed, who has clashed with some councilors and will have his performance as manager reviewed by the council on Monday, said that when a group of Veazie councilors have long conversations outside of public meetings, it “gives an air of improper actions.”

“There’s a lot of frustration from people who see them getting together and talking,” Reed said. Reed said he also has fielded complaints about some councilors going to restaurants and discussing town business over dinner.

There is nothing to prevent three councilors from chatting outside of town meetings. However, according to state law, if town business is discussed at all, then the discussion becomes a de facto public meeting.

At that point, the statute would be violated if a member of public is shooed away from the conversation. The quorum also can’t vote, take action or make a decision while outside of an announced public meeting.

Reed argued that because councilors live and work in Veazie, the talk likely will turn to discussion of town business that should be aired in a regular council meeting.

Two of the councilors involved in the parking lot chat said it was a conversation among three friends, and town business was not discussed.

“We happened to be friends long before many of us even got on the council,” Olson said, referring to several councilors’ backgrounds with the Veazie Sewer District. “And oftentimes the last thing you want to do outside of council meetings is talk about town business.”

Councilor Perkins said it’s common for councilors to stand outside or linger after meetings to catch up. The councilors shy away from discussing town matters outside of meetings, he said, but his understanding is that there is nothing to prevent the council from discussing the town as long as they don’t take any official action.

“I’ve always assumed that citizens, any free citizen — even if they’re [on] a council — can have a conversation as long as they’re not making any decisions,” he said.

Still, Reed said, it makes the town look “shady” when councilors have lengthy discussions away from public view.

“I really believe that if three councilors get together, even if they aren’t talking about town business, it’s frowned on by the public because a quorum of the council is involved,” he said.

The controversy isn’t limited to parking lot or restaurant chats.

Parker said he has misgivings about how the other Veazie councilors operate.

Quick council decisions on proposals and committee appointments, with “lack of quality discussions over topics” beforehand, hint at behind-the-scenes phone calls and emails councilors use to discuss and debate matters that should be brought in front of the public, Parker said.

At the Aug. 29 council meeting, Parker voted against several proposed committee appointments because, he said, he didn’t know enough about the applicants. It seemed other councilors knew more from previous talks, and should have discussed their qualifications in public, he said.

Parker said he doesn’t socialize with the other councilors outside of regular meetings.

Calls to council chairman Joe Friedman were not returned Friday afternoon.

The council will convene at 7 p.m. Monday at the Veazie town office for the town manager’s review. Reed asked that the review be held in open session — a rare occurrence.

Reed said many of these concerns will be raised.

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