ROCKLAND, Maine — Rockland City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson said city officials have had a recent, detailed conversation concerning the possibility of moving City Hall, despite denials by other councilors.
Dickerson contacted members of the media on Thursday to go public with her concerns that city officials improperly discussed moving City Hall during an executive session last month.
She said she was prompted to go public by comments Councilor Larry Pritchett made during a candidates’ debate on Oct. 17 in which he said a story about the possibility of moving City Hall, which appeared in the Bangor Daily News on Sept. 24, was an odd one because “honestly, I don’t know where it came from.”
Dickerson said that on Sept. 9, the council had a closed-door session about the possibility of moving City Hall and selling the property on which it is currently located. The councilor said she is disclosing what was discussed in the meeting because she said the topic was not specified when the council went into the closed-door meeting and because there was nothing discussed then that would put the city at a disadvantage in any future land transaction if it became public.
When contacted by the BDN Friday, Pritchett disputed Dickerson’s version and said that any statements about relocating City Hall that were made during the September meeting were “stray comments.”
“People may have made stray comments, but it certainly was not the focus of the meeting,” Pritchett said.
According to minutes of the meeting obtained from the city, the motion requesting a closed session on Sept. 9 stated that the purpose was to “discuss with the city manager, in his role as economic development director, a possible business warehouse expansion proposal that could potentially include both a new TIF district with related credit enhancement agreement and city owned land.”
The motion stated that premature disclosure of the information would prejudice the competitive or bargaining position of the city. That is one of the provisions under the state’s Freedom of Access law for government boards that allows officials to go into a closed-door session.
Dickerson said Thursday that there was nothing discussed in that executive session that would have affected the competitive or bargaining position of the city.
She said after some talk about a possible tax break for the warehouse expansion, City Manager James Smith began the discussion on possible City Hall relocation. He then turned the discussion over to Community Development Director John Holden. According to Dickerson, the development director then said that the city should look to market the land where City Hall is, and possibly where public works is located, because the properties are so close to where the new Walmart Supercenter is located and would have development potential.
She said there also was a discussion about possibly leasing space in a building on Tillson Avenue near downtown for City Hall.
The discussion about the City Hall property lasted 45 minutes, and no decisions were made, she said.
Dickerson said she waited to go public with her comments because she first sought legal advice about whether she could discuss what was done in the closed session. She said she was advised she could reveal the discussions about the City Hall property because the conversation did not fall under the reasons cited for going into the executive session. She said she also was advised that nothing said about City Hall relocation during that meeting needed to be done outside the view of the citizens.
She said her motive for going public with that information on Thursday night was not connected to the council race in which Pritchett is seeking re-election.
“The thing that was bugging me is when I read stuff in the press from public, elected officials that were not true. We are supposed to tell the truth. People aren’t being transparent. If I didn’t say anything now, I would not be telling the truth,” Dickerson said.
She said Pritchett’s comments at last week’s debate put her over the edge in deciding to go public.
Pritchett said since he has been on the council for the past three years, he has made it a point to have motions to go into executive sessions be more detailed than before he got on the council. He said Rockland is much more forthcoming on its reasons for executive sessions than other communities.
He also said Mayor Will Clayton has been good at keeping people on topic and not allowing discussions to stray outside the announced reasons.
He pointed out that Dickerson did not challenge any talk during the Sept. 9 meeting and said he was unaware of her concerns until called Friday by the BDN.
Messages left Friday morning with Mayor Clayton and Manager Smith were not immediately returned.