Bank account revelation fuels spat in Columbia Falls

Posted March 11, 2014, at 5:14 p.m.
Last modified March 12, 2014, at 2:44 p.m.

COLUMBIA FALLS, Maine — A bubbling stew over the financial dealings of a Columbia Falls recreation committee rose to a steady simmer with revelations of a mystery bank account.

The brouhaha has been brewing in recent months, prompted by a Freedom of Access Act request filed Oct. 31, 2013, by Pamela Look for bank statements for the town’s former recreation committee for the years 2009-12.

Look, the wife of Selectman Jay Look, also asked Town Clerk Nancy Bailey for a copy of a bill for T-shirts that were sold at the 2012 annual town meeting, plus minutes of the Board of Selectmen meeting at which the panel voted to dissolve the committee and distribute its assets.

John Tibbetts told the selectmen Monday that he came across bank records for the committee when he briefly served as town treasurer in 2010. He told them about a bank statement he received from Machias Savings Bank indicating the recreation committee had an account containing about $7,000 to $10,000, he said.

Tibbetts took the statement to then-town clerk Muriel Smith and brought it to her attention, he said. She snatched it out of his hand and told him it was none of his business, Tibbetts told the board.

Smith has since moved out of Columbia Falls and lives in Florida.

The Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 Monday to contact the bank to obtain records of the account to which Tibbetts referred; Look and Selectman Bernard Ward voted in favor of the motion, and board chair Alan Grant voted against it.

Bailey replied to Look’s request via letter, saying that her research of board minutes essentially found only one reference to the committee, in 1980, when the Board of Selectmen intended to appoint six members.

“Therefore, with no evidence to support this group was an ‘official’ town committee, the records would have to be obtained directly from a committee member, which I do not believe would have to adhere to Right to Know regulations,” responded Bailey in a letter dated Nov. 6.

Look renewed her request in a second letter dated Dec. 9, citing annual reports referring to activities of the recreation committee and its membership. She also suggested the committee had an account at Machias Savings Bank. Bailey replied in a letter a few days later that the committee’s finances were not handled by the town and reiterated that she had no records of its dealings.

In letter dated Feb. 13, Bailey wrote that she had found a savings account passbook for the recreation committee, adding that “it has not been determined that this was an actual town account.” The passbook was not in the town office or treasurer’s office, she wrote; it had been with documents related to the town’s 2012 audit.

Bailey supplied photocopied pages of the passbook to Look, although they appear to be incomplete. The few pages show transactions dating from 2008 to 2012. The pages appear incomplete because the first page does not indicate a deposit to open the account; the first entry is for interest. In fact, most of the entries are for interest, and the account was less than $1,000 for most of the time.

The photocopied passbook pages provided by Bailey are “totally worthless,” said Tibbetts in an interview Tuesday. “This could have belonged to anyone,” he pointed out, because the photocopied pages did not indicate the number of the account or any other information identifying the account.

“It was worthless information,” he added.

Asked why she did not provide a copy of the passbook cover to Look, Bailey, speaking at her office Tuesday, answered, “She didn’t ask.”

When a reporter asked to see the passbook, Bailey said, “I don’t have it with me right at the moment.”

The passbook would be in the custody of the town treasurer, Lenora Weaver, who was not in the office at the time, indicated Bailey, who is Weaver’s daughter.

Bailey later provided the Bangor Daily News with what she said were photocopies of three passbooks held by the recreation committee. The covers bore no identifying information.

Asked why she didn’t provide records of all three passbooks to Look, Bailey indicated that the other two books contained information that was outside the dates of Look’s request.

Bailey said she did not know anything about the bank statements that Tibbetts referred to during Monday’s board meeting. However, later she told the newspaper via email, “I do believe I know what account statements John is speaking of, and it is not the recreation committee.”

Weaver said little. “I was not in charge of the bank account” of the recreation committee, she said Tuesday.

Asked if she wished to comment further, Weaver said, “Nothing that I’m willing to have put in the paper, no.”

Weaver criticized Look at a February selectmen’s meeting, and Bailey has said Look’s request consumed about 14 hours of her time as town clerk.

Tibbetts referred to Bailey’s accounting of her time when he discussed the issue Tuesday.

“Her mother is the town treasurer. Why didn’t she ask her mother?”

There was no reason to spend so much time researching the request, he said, when she likely could have readily obtained the information from Weaver, suggested Tibbetts.

Look also raised the issue of access to information with the Attorney General’s office. However, after reviewing information provided by Look, Bailey and an accounting firm, Brenda Kielty, the attorney general’s public access ombudsman, wrote that Bailey had complied with the law.

In a Feb. 8 email to Look, Jim Wadman indicated that his accounting firm reviewed financial records of the recreation committee in recent years as part of the town audit process.

 

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that selectmen voted 3-0 to contact the bank to obtain records about the account.

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