HERMON, Maine — A crowd of about 45 residents turned out at a Thursday night public hearing to voice their opinions about a controversial proposed town charter amendment that will appear on the November ballot.
The amendment, if passed, would allow residents to bypass the council and vote to fire the town manager themselves. Residents could petition to have the town vote to remove the manager.
Most people who attended the meeting in the high school cafeteria seemed to be opposed to changing the town’s charter in such a way, especially the town’s attorney.
“Quite honestly, it’s one of the stupidest proposals that I’ve ever heard of in 27 years of practicing law,” said attorney Rick Violette.
Violette and another attorney the town hired to evaluate whether or not the amendment would be legal cautioned residents against voting for it.
“In my opinion, the proposed amendment fails to comply with the requirement of due process,” said attorney Thomas Russell of Bangor. “If you adopt an unconstitutional charter amendment, you’re opening up the town to very expensive litigation.”
Violette said that the drive to alter the town’s amendment seemed to be sparked by a personal conflict that former Councilor Louis “Buzzy” LaChance has with Town Manager Clint Deschene.
But LaChance, who spoke out on behalf of his charter amendment, denied such a conflict.
LaChance said that the reason he wants to change the town charter is that he doesn’t like how tax money is being spent. The lifelong resident thinks too many dollars are spent by the council at special town meetings that are attended only by “special interest groups.”
LaChance told the crowd that he’d attended budget meetings and spoken with councilors about his concerns, but didn’t feel that he had gotten anywhere.
“This seems to be the last answer,” he said of the proposed charter amendment.
Resident Tim Richardson said that he wouldn’t vote for the amendment, but that he disagreed with how the town has dealt with it.
The town’s attorney advised councilors last fall not to put the charter amendment out to a public vote, even though LaChance had led a successful petition drive to do so.
But a Penobscot County Superior Court judge recently ruled that the charter amendment could make it to the ballot. The town was challenging this decision but dropped its appeal last week.
“These are very intelligent and very hardworking people here, who care about their town,” Richardson said. “I support [LaChance’s] efforts to make the council be better representatives of the people than they are now.”
Others talked about how they didn’t want to open up Hermon to potential lawsuits, including resident Sean Wasson, whose words were greeted by enthusiastic applause.
“We can’t make up laws as a municipality, just because we like or don’t like something. We can’t become our own country,” Wasson said. “The town manager would fight this, and he would win, by the way, and would end up soaking the town for a lot more money than he’s pulling right now.”