Special meeting scheduled after Hampden councilors walk out

Posted June 03, 2014, at 9:37 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — In an unusual move Monday evening, three of Hampden’s seven town councilors boycotted Monday night’s regularly scheduled council meeting, leaving the rest of the councilors without the necessary quorum for conducting business and forcing the meeting’s cancellation.

The dispute was just the latest in a series since last November’s elections, which left council members who had been in the majority in the minority.

Councilors Thomas Brann, Jean Lawlis and William Shakespeare apparently decided not to attend the council meeting largely in protest over a 4-3 vote to forward to the council for public hearing Councilor Greg Sirois’ proposal to reduce the stipends that councilors receive for meeting attendance from the current $35 per meeting for the mayor and $30 per meeting for councilors to $1.

A similar proposal failed 3-2 during the council’s May 5 meeting, with Mayor Carol Duprey and Councilor Greg Sirois absent. Councilor Ivan McPike had suggested the cut earlier this spring.

The cancellation of Monday’s meeting came at a critical time, Town Manager Susan Lessard noted Tuesday. Monday night’s meeting agenda included the introduction of the proposed 2014-15 budget for a public hearing on June 16 — the council’s deadline for doing so if it is to comply with a town charter provision requiring that the budget hearing take place no later than the third Monday in June.

In an effort to meet that deadline, a special council meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday. The only two items that will be taken up at that time will be the budget and the introduction of a proposal to eliminate the Community Connector’s Saturday runs in Hampden as a cost-cutting measure.

Although the proposal to entirely do away with the stipends initially was rejected, town councilors who still wanted to pursue the measure obtained a legal opinion from the town’s attorney. Lessard said that attorney Thomas Russell said that the original proposal calling for no stipends could not be revisited but that proposals calling for other amounts can.

Brann said Tuesday that he walked out on Monday’s meeting because he felt the attempt to reconsider the stipends was “slimy” given last month’s decision to retain them. He further said that he objected to the committee vote on procedural grounds and that he had been “cut off” from further discussion of the issue by the mayor, who led the committee meeting.

Brann has been critical of Mayor Carol Duprey’s handling of council business since she was elected to that post in January.

Brann said that if Duprey and Sirois wanted to weigh in on the decision, they should have attended the May meeting. Duprey said she was ill and Sirois was on a planned vacation.

Lawlis, who wants to retain the stipends as a way of ensuring those with less disposable income can serve on the council if they so desire, said she left because she wanted to head off budget grandstanding planned for that night that she had heard rumblings about in the community.

Shakespeare did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Some of the councilors were not pleased with the tactics employed by Brann, Lawlis and Shakespeare.

“It comes down to that it was just a hissy fit,” McPike said the of walkout. “They were not getting their way.”

Sirois saw the trio’s move as “basically holding the town hostage. That’s extremely self-serving,” he said, adding, “It was obvious that they were in lockstep.”

On Tuesday, Lessard said she hoped that councilors will find a way to work out their differences between now and their next regular meeting, set for June 16.

Councilors recently have squabbled over such issues as whether to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of meetings, whether to accept and display an antique map donated by one of their own, and more recently whether to give up their pay as a way of sharing the town’s budget pain.

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