Attorney: Eddington recall petition may go forward

Posted Aug. 14, 2015, at 7:39 p.m.

EDDINGTON, Maine — The signatures of 116 registered voters on a petition that asks for the recall of longtime Selectwoman Joan Brooks is enough to hold the referendum vote, according to Town Attorney Charlie Gilbert.

That means selectmen, who are hosting a 6 p.m. special town meeting Tuesday about refinancing the town hall and a firetruck, will take up the matter at a second meeting scheduled for directly after the town gathering instead of at their September meeting, as originally planned, Town Manager Russell Smith said Friday.

Initially, Gilbert recommended the town deny the recall petition, based on state law, but has “corrected his stance” in a second letter sent Friday to selectmen, the town manager said.

“Unless otherwise supplanted, the [local] recall ordinance governs,” Gilbert states in the letter.

The petition makes a vague claim of wrongdoing by Brooks, who has been on the board for 19 years, of which 17 were spent as chairwoman. In fact, at the beginning of last week’s meeting, the panel again voted her in as chairwoman for another year.

Wrongdoing is not required for a recall in Eddington, the town attorney’s letter states.

“I took note of the fact that your ordinance does not set a standard of [mis]behavior for recall,” Gilbert states. “In other words, recall is essentially a political question just like any other election of officials.”

James and Nichole McLeod, who live on Fox Lane and oppose a rock quarry planned by Hampden contractor Hughes Brothers, collected signatures for the petition.

“According to the group, I should be tarred and feathered,” Brooks said Friday. “I’m a crook. I‘m incompetent.”

“My read on it is: I disagreed with them and it was more than they could bear,” she said later. “It’s stupid. This whole thing is stupid.”

Brooks has seen a movement in town to create rules for the development of windmills, cell phone towers and now quarries that scare away possible business investments in the town, she said.

“They make it so restrictive that it’s impossible [for developers],” the chairwoman said. “That’s against the law.”

When the group that opposed the quarry on Fox Hill started asking for one-mile setbacks in the development of town quarry rules, which were created last year and approved in April by residents, Brooks said, “I got vocal.

“They were coming out with all this stupid stuff and I started to talk against it,” she said. “The anti-quarry people — they took all this stuff as gospel.”

Brooks said she did her own research, even going to a quarry run by Hughes Brothers in Dedham.

“There was no dust, no flying rocks and no radon flying over to get me,” Brooks said. “I didn’t get silicosis.”

Silicosis is a lung and airway disorder that occurs with those who mine and blast rock or sand, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Ralph McLeod, a Holden Town Council member who represents his son, James McLeod, in Eddington matters when the latter is away from home working as a merchant marine, said there are “numerous things” Brooks has done at recent meetings that break local ethics guidelines.

“There was a public meeting where no public access was allowed, but she asked pointed questions of Hughes Brothers while the rest of the townspeople — the voters and taxpayers — could not,” McLeod said.

There was a private meeting, with Hughes Brothers that was held at the town office and “she showed up and was handing out fliers for them,” he added later, as another example. “She was definitely working for Hughes Brothers.”

He mentioned that, after another selectmen’s meeting, Brooks was seen having an “illegal meeting” with a group of people who represent the Hampden construction company.

“It’s all stuff she should not have done,” McLeod said.

Brooks scoffed at the accusations of wrongdoing, saying petitioners are only providing

“half of the information,” adding they have never asked her to explain her actions.

She said the “private meeting” McLeod mentioned was a public information meeting hosted by Hughes Brothers that is required as part of the planning process.

“They set it up at the town office and our town manager was unable to be there to unlock the door, so he asked me, ‘Can you take the key and unlock the door,’” Brooks said explaining why she was at the meeting. She said it wasn’t a big deal because she planned to attend the meeting anyway.

The plan Hughes Brothers submitted generated some controversy in the community, especially from those who live on nearby Fox Lane and Coffey Hill Way, because it called for a quarry that would start at 5-acres, with the ability to grow to 20 acres.

Brooks explained the “illegal meeting” with Hughes Brothers, was her catching up with the company’s attorney, Andy Hamilton, “who advised me about 20 years ago,” Brooks said. “And it wasn’t an ‘illegal meeting,’ it was at the end of a selectmen’s meeting, and Nicole [McLeod] was there shoving her phone in my face.

“We were just chatting,” she said. “I can talk to whoever I wanted to.”

Selectmen at Tuesday’s meeting are expected to vote on whether a recall vote should be held, and if they move forward with the recall, they also will schedule a date, the town manager said. Brooks hopes residents get all the facts before making their decisions.

The petition alleges “malfeasance” but the town attorney suggests any mention of it should be left off the question that may be put before voters.

“The actual recall question presented to voters should not either suggest a claim of wrongdoing or imply that a finding of wrongdoing is necessary for recall,” Gilbert states in the letter. “Voters may well ask that question themselves but it is not part of the legal equation as I see it.”

 

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