May 23, 2018
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Spat erupts at Hampden council meeting despite unanimous vote

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — The second item on the Hampden Town Council’s policy agenda at Monday night’s meeting looked pretty basic. It was anything but.

The discussion on the appointment of election clerks took up 40 minutes, prompted a 15-minute break and involved a heated exchange between a councilor and a state lawmaker before finally being approved.

Town Clerk Denise Hodsdon, who already had a list of registered Hampden voters willing to serve as election clerks, explained that Sen. Deborah Plowman, R-Hampden, gave her a list of seven more people. Those seven had signed up at a recent Republican caucus, but no one turned the list in by the state’s April 1 deadline.

Since May 1 is the deadline for towns to approve their potential election clerk lists, Hodsdon recommended the council approve the addition of those names, along with the names of 27 volunteers she already had, for inclusion in the town’s appointed clerk pool.

Because two of the names added at the Republican caucus were already on Hodsdon’s list, which requires council approval, the total number on the clerk pool list would be 32.

Councilor Tom Brann was the only one to voice opposition initially, saying he was uncomfortable with the idea of bending state rules to allow the inclusion of the other five names. He said he felt especially strongly about that, since the town and council had recently experienced a prolonged election controversy that involved ballots from the wrong districts being given to a few voters, a recount in one district council race and a report from the Maine attorney general’s office clearing town staff and election officials of any wrongdoing.

“I just think we open ourselves up to more criticism,” said Brann. “To add names at the last minute is just bothersome to me.”

That prompted a 25-minute public response by Plowman, which prompted Councilor and Mayor Janet Hughes to call a 15-minute break in the midst of it “to give people a chance to settle.” Tempers were still simmering after the break.

“I’ve never heard of a municipality, never heard of a municipal officer, turning down a list of volunteers to participate in the election process,” Plowman told the councilors. “This is unbelievable, … the fact there is even any debate or dissension as to accepting volunteers to help with a democratic election process.”

Plowman continued her rebuke.

“I am ashamed I … even have to deal with this. It’s time to buck up, put on your big boy pants, and do the council business — business without regard to your personal feelings,” she continued.

Hughes interjected, asking Plowman whether she was blaming councilors for the delay in submitting the late clerk volunteer list.

Plowman said she did not, but she said the council was the only recourse for the people volunteering their time as clerks to be included on the town list.

Councilor Shelby Wright then made a motion to approve both Hodsdon’s original list of potential clerks and the five added after the deadline. Councilor Kristen Hornbrook — who has indicated she will not seek re-election in November and whose name is among those 32 potential clerks — seconded the motion.

“I was ready to make this motion 35 minutes ago,” Wright said while shaking her head.

The motion was then approved by unanimous vote, but that didn’t end the drama.

Brann asked to be recognized and said he had a question for Plowman. He asked whether there was any kind of list available from the state of dates and deadlines that had to be followed and others that did not have to be obeyed.

Plowman returned to the podium and told Brann she recommended he ask the town attorney. Brann responded that he didn’t think she would know the answer. She replied that she did know the answer, and that it was no. Hughes put a stop to any further discussion.

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