May 26, 2018
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Hampden council agrees to property sale, accepts manager’s offer to stay until replacement found

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — A three-hour meeting of the Town Council resulted in the tabling of a proposed conservation easement, the approval of the sale of a property lot at the Hampden Business Park, and plenty of argument and debate.

Councilors clashed on everything from disclosure of information discussed in executive sessions, whether to vote on accepting the resignation of the town manager, applying for a grant to create a trail system, and which committee should oversee the review of subpar communications equipment.

The council voted 7-0 in favor of the planning and development committee’s recommendation to accept an $88,000 offer for the purchase of Lot 5 at the Hampden Business Park, conditional on changing the language of the sale agreement to denote that Hampden is tax exempt and not subject to sharing of closing costs.

The buyer of the property was not identified.

David Hughes of Epstein Commercial Realty acted as the sales agent.

Councilors also voted 6-1 to accept the resignation of Town Manager Susan Lessard, who turned in her resignation letter last August. While it was merely a formality, Lessard used the vote as a chance to address what she called “conspiracy theories” concerning her resignation.

“My resignation has nothing to do with any plot to take over the world,” Lessard said. “The community is struggling right now and I don’t want to see some of the work we’ve done over the last few years fall by the wayside, and that’s why I’m willing to stay on longer than I’m obligated to.”

Councilors voted unanimously to accept her offer to stay on until the end of the year in an interim role while the council interviews and evaluates candidates.

Councilors also got an update on the quest to determine the best course of action concerning reuse of Hampden Academy and the property it sits on once the new high school opens next fall. Mayor Janet Hughes reported that the 23-acre property apparently is worth more without the buildings on site than with. That could affect significantly its estimated $1 million value, especially if removal of all buildings except the original Hampden Academy building, designated a historic site, costs $1 million or more.

Councilor Jean Lawlis updated the council on her attempts to fund the creation of multipurpose hiking and biking trails behind Reeds Brook School by applying for grant money. After debating whether grant proposals should include snowmobiling as one of the proposed trails’ uses, councilors elected to approve the grant proposal.

An argument between Thomas Brann and councilor Kristen Hornbrook erupted over which committee — infrastructure, of which Brann is chairman, or communications, of which Hornbrook is chairwoman — should have oversight of the sound quality of council meetings on public access Channel 7. Hughes and Councilors Bill Shakespeare and Lawlis suggested having the communications committee take the lead and a majority of the six members left — Shelby Wright left during the 9 p.m. recess because of illness — agreed.

In another matter, Lessard took the opportunity presented by Hughes’ agenda item concerning legal fines and penalties to allay public concerns about removal of trees.

“I had [the Maine Department of Conservation call me about a] woman in Searsmont [who] was panicking because she was convinced there’s a $500 fine for cutting a tree in Hampden,” Lessard said. “Apparently, it was mentioned by someone on the Ric Tyler [WVOM radio’s George Hale/Ric Tyler] morning show that you face fines and jail time if you cut down a tree on private property.”

Lessard went on to explain that there are fines and other potential penalties for cutting trees down on public property, but not private.

“One woman was convinced her husband might go to jail because he’d already cut a tree in their yard, so please do not panic,” Lessard said with a slight chuckle.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Town Manager Susan Lessard offered to stay on indefinitely as the council searched for her replacement. Lessard, who resigned in August, has requested to stay on no longer than the end of the year. Also, the Maine Department of Conservation, not a woman, called Lessard about a woman in Searsmont who was concerned about erroneous reports that people faced $500 fines for cutting down trees on private property.

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