December 15, 2018
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Maine town muzzles public comment at meetings after school choice conflict

Christine LaPado-Breglia | The Lincoln County News
Christine LaPado-Breglia | The Lincoln County News
Alna Second Selectman Melissa Spinney at a selectmen's meeting on January.

ALNA, Maine — The Alna Board of Selectmen will not accept public comments on any item not on its agenda until after the annual town meeting March 23 and 24.

For the past several months, the issue of school choice has monopolized time at the meetings, the selectmen have said. At their Feb. 14 meeting, they decided to restrict comments going forward.

“Public comment is a courtesy,” First Selectman David Abbott said. “We don’t have to have it.”

Second Selectwoman Melissa Spinney read in a statement that she has appreciated hearing various points of view as “food for thought,” but expressed disappointment in what she described as a decline in civility.

“Unfortunately, over the past few weeks the tone has moved toward harassment and sarcasm, in and out of the meetings,” she said. “The three of us have been accused publicly of lying, fear-mongering, causing community discord, as well as violating the law and the U.S. Constitution.”

Spinney spoke about weekly Freedom of Access Act requests for “mounds of irrelevant documents” and comparisons of the town to Mayberry and Barney Fife, of “The Andy Griffith Show,” on social media.

“That is unacceptable. Enough is enough,” she said. “We need to focus on the business of running this town. It is not all about school choice.”

As an alternative to public comment at board meetings, Spinney encouraged residents to attend a March 5 public hearing on the upcoming referendum regarding a change in the town’s policy on school choice.

The current policy allows residents to send their children to private schools at the town’s expense. If the referendum passes, it would restrict school choice to public schools.

“The three of us are very different, but we all came to the same conclusions on the need to alter our current school choice policy,” she said. “We did so not because, as we have been told, [we] are ‘anti-family’ or because we ‘want to keep Alna a town of old people.’”

“We did so based on our collective experience serving this community and because it is what our review of the data told us was in the best interest of the entire community,” she said.

The public hearing will take place at the fire station at 6 p.m., Monday, March 5.

Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit Superintendent Howard Tuttle will be there to answer questions, Spinney said.

“School funding and choice is a very complex and confusing issue, and there is a lot of misinformation on the internet,” she said. “The most reputable sources are the RSU itself and the state Department of Education.”

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