Push to recall 5 Bath city councilors advances amid controversy over sale of $6.5 million building for $800,000

Posted Aug. 28, 2013, at 2:32 p.m.

BATH, Maine — A group of Bath residents is circulating petitions to recall five city councilors after the council on Aug. 21 declined to discuss confidential negotiations surrounding the sale of the former Bath Memorial Hospital.

Larry Scott and Michael Wischkaemper have been the most vocal critics of the process the council used to sell the city-owned property for far less than its assessed value. Scott said Wednesday that organizers gathered “many hundreds” of signatures on Tuesday as Bath residents voted in the special election to fill the vacant Maine Senate District 19 seat.

Scott, among others, has been critical of the sale price of $799,000 to Phippsburg developer Bob Smith, given the assessed value of $6.5 million. During public discussion of the sale at Bath City Council meeting, he also has lambasted city officials for what he characterizes as a secretive sale process. Among other objections, Scott maintains the property should have been listed on the multiple listing service in order to solicit more offers.

City Manager Bill Giroux has said that the building only recently began to turn a profit for the city, and that he had been notified that “most of the major tenants there were going to be leaving.” Most of those tenants confirmed to the Bangor Daily News earlier this month that they were leaving or “evaluating” their presence in the building.

On Aug. 21, citing concerns about confidentiality with private entities and about setting a precedent, the council voted 7-1 against waiving executive session protocol that allows them to conduct discussions about property sales in private to answer questions about the sale. However, the council did take steps to begin a process to hire a special investigator to look into the sale.

Councilor David Sinclair voted to waive executive session and, as chairman, Councilor Bernard Wyman did not cast a vote.

The petitions seek to recall Councilors Carolyn Lockwood, Meadow Merrill, Sean Paulhus and Andrew Winglass — the four councilors who voted against waiving executive session and who are not up for re-election in November — and Wyman, who has also declined to answer questions about the sale.

Collecting signatures Tuesday at the polls, Wischkaemper distributed bright orange pamphlets announcing the recall effort, noting, “City council has embarrassed Bath long enough. We deserve better. Recall them.”

Scott — who in November ran unsuccessfully against City Councilor Leverett “Tink” Mitchell to serve the remainder of a vacated Ward 7 council term — said Wednesday, “The recall is going forward unless they choose as individuals to say, ‘Wow, we want to save the city of Bath some money and we’re going to resign … I’m not trying to be a hardass. I’m not trying to be a mean guy [but] these were secret conversations that we were not privy to.”

On Aug. 22, Wyman said “personal vendettas” were driving talk of a recall, and that he did not expect critics to collect enough signatures to force a vote. He said another person — whom he did not name — wanted to purchase the property “and didn’t get a chance to bid on it.”

Reached Wednesday, Wyman said he had nothing to add.

According to the city charter, for a recall petition to move forward it must include the signatures of at least 50 percent of the number of registered voters who voted in the election in which the official was elected.

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