HAMPDEN, Maine — Things already were simmering during the first hour of Monday night’s Town Council meeting, but a motion essentially putting the Citizens Comprehensive Plan Committee in limbo really caused things to boil over.
After a 10-minute presentation to the council by the committee requesting an extension of its Sept. 9, 2011, deadline to finish review and recommendations for the town’s controversial 2010 comprehensive plan, the council eventually tabled the request.
The council went from making and seconding a motion to grant the extension to voting 5-1 in favor of tabling it because of committee cost concerns.
Mayor Janet Hughes questioned the costs the committee has incurred, including for a moderator, which councilors estimated has cost around $6,000 thus far. If the group were to hold 10 meetings, the total cost was projected to be $22,000.
The council voted in May to create the committee.
The vote, which puts the committee in limbo for the time being, left the majority of the 75 people in attendance fuming, and many stormed out of the council chambers midway through what would be a 3½-hour meeting.
“This is why we don’t trust the government,” one woman told a companion after Mayor Janet Hughes made the tabling motion, councilor Tom Brann seconded it, and Councilors Hughes, Brann, Jean Lawlis, Bill Shakespeare and Andre Cushing voting in favor. Councilor Kristen Hornbrook was the lone dissenter.
Lawlis said she felt distrustful because of the slow progress made by the committee and was concerned that the speed of review was meant to delay things beyond the Nov. 8 election, when as many as three new councilors could be elected.
Hughes suggested the committee, which has completed its review of “almost four” of the 15 sections in the comprehensive plan, tackle some of the more contentious and controversial sections — such as the one governing land use — to speed things along.
Committee member Michelle Blosser, who along with Brian Duprey is running against Lawlis for the District 3 council seat, replied that the panel was not stalling and had decided the best way to proceed was to tackle each section of the plan in order so as not to “jump around and confuse things.”
After Blosser’s request for a deadline extension to Feb. 29, 2012, six more residents — five of them committee members — spoke in favor of an extension. No one spoke against it.
Blosser and others characterized the committee’s work and meetings as a healing action that has helped allay residents’ distrust and hostility toward town government.
Brann said he was troubled by the slow pace of the 20-member committee’s review and contended that time was being wasted. He gave an example, saying that 30 minutes was spent discussing whether or not to build a sidewalk which already had been constructed.
That charge prompted several catcalls and angry retorts from a visibly heated audience as Hughes struggled to maintain order.
At least 50 of the attendees left the chambers angrily and could be heard loudly complaining outside in the town office parking lot for at least a half hour.
Cushing suggested bringing committee moderator Rich Rothe back for a wrap-up session and the contentious land use section review while using Hampden community and economic director Dean Bennett as a potential moderator for the other sections as a cost-saving measure.
“I’d hope they take the initiative to continue to meet because we haven’t said we won’t extend the time and I think some of us feel like that may be appropriate,” said Hughes. “But what I hope to get from them is they’d be willing to look at certain sections earlier and not cost the town more money.
“We do want to keep peace in the community as they’ve mentioned and I think we can bring together the community by reviewing the most contentious items first.”
Correction: An early version of this story requires correction. Hampden's community and economic director is Dean Bennett.