MONTVILLE, Maine — Montville residents spent nearly eight hours last Saturday taking care of business — such as voting for selectboard members and deciding what to do about an unmaintained stretch of road — at an annual town meeting that one attendee described as “angry” and “excruciating.”
One element that provoked unhappiness among some of the 170 people present was the meeting’s location: the Walker School in nearby Liberty instead of the Montville Town House, where it has been held for generations. The selectboard decided in March to move the meeting place after an inspection of the Town House by an official with the Maine state fire marshal’s office showed that the building only has a 90-person capacity.
“The tenor of the entire day was one of hard feelings. [There was] a lot of discontent on the part of some people, and there was a lot of anger,” resident Buck O’Herin said Thursday. “I think that some people feel like their rights are being denied … It got beyond uncomfortable. It was excruciating.”
That feeling was behind several warrant items brought forward in a citizen petition, said Montville farmer G.W. Martin. Several of those agenda items were meant to give voters a different way to choose their elected municipal officials — by secret ballot in advance of the annual town meeting rather than by show of hands from the floor as has been done traditionally. But after a lot of discussion, those articles all failed, although a citizen-led initiative to send an itemized tax bill and a copy of current tax cards to each Montville taxpayer was easily passed by voters.
“Locals don’t feel comfortable coming to town meeting,” Martin said this week. “They stand up and say something, they get laughed at and feel ridiculed. A nationally recognized way of having more people involved is by having a secret ballot.”
He said that while he is not finished with trying to bring the secret ballot to Montville, it will be hard because he has to work for a living and can’t spend endless hours on efforts to make change.
“There’s only so much work anybody can really do, of a younger persuasion or working class,” Martin said.
Voters did decide on three selectboard members at the town meeting, according to Susan Shell, the administrative assistant for the selectboard. First Selectman Jay LeGore was re-elected with 93 votes, with challenger Randy Hayes receiving 50. Second Selectman Cathy Roberts was re-elected with 103 votes, with Hayes receiving 39. Outgoing Third Selectman Herman Peaslee’s seat was filled by Bob Price, who won with 107 votes against Hayes’ wife, Margot Hayes, who received 39 votes.
Residents also decided to re-elect Bob Delio to the Montville Planning Board, with 67 votes to Jodi Martin’s 57, and to re-elect Bernice Nadler, with 65 votes to Martin’s 56. Paul McKinney was elected alternate, with 65 votes to Martin’s 50.
Jodi Martin is G.W. Martin’s sister, Shell said.
Peaslee ran unopposed for the budget committee and was elected by the voters to serve there, according to Shell.
Another controversial issue at the annual town meeting was an article that would have approved a municipal order to discontinue the Whitten Hill Road for a distance of approximately 650 feet, beginning at the point where the road crosses the boundary of property owned by the Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance. The road is unpaved and unmaintained by the town of Montville, Shell said, but if the order of discontinuance had passed, the public easement would have been taken away, and many spoke against that.
Part of the controversy might stem from a mistrust of the land trust among some in town, according to O’Herin, who is a board member of the nonprofit organization.
“The land trust really took an awful lot of heat at town meeting,” he said. “There are individuals suggesting the land trust is getting some kind of favoritism. We do pay a reduced rate on our taxes. Some people are mad that they have to pay extra. They don’t seem to see the value of conserved land.”
He said that discontinuing the section of the road, which is used by people in trucks and other four-wheel-drive vehicles, would benefit only the region’s ecology.
“Roads are an entryway for invasive species,” O’Herin said. “Invasive species are a huge issue.”
The article to discontinue the road failed 60-39 after a long discussion, Shell said.
Montville citizens did vote to appropriate $9,500 to pave the area in front of the firehouse, and after discussion, voted to increase the budget for the Union Harvest Grange from $1,500 to $6,000. That building, which also has been closed by the selectboard after the fire marshal’s inspection, now can have funds to either begin repairs or to make plans for repairs, Shell said.