The Penobscot County sheriff on Friday shared the names of the nine people he recently appointed to a county jail oversight board, reversing his earlier position of keeping their names private for fear it would expose them to harassment from some members of the public.
Sheriff Troy Morton only made the names public after the BDN filed a public records request that he initially declined to fulfill, saying he needed to consult with the county’s attorney and that he had no obligation to make the names public.
Morton recently re-established the Penobscot County Jail’s Board of Visitors after a former inmate pointed out that Maine law requires all counties and state correctional facilities to have such boards and that Penobscot County did not. Board members are allowed to inspect the facilities they oversee and make recommendations on how to maintain a safe and healthy environment for prisoners, particularly those with mental illness, according to state statute.
The sheriff supervises the board and appoints its members. Morton has appointed the following nine people to serve:
— Pat Kimball, the former executive director of Wellspring, an addiction treatment center, and the board’s chair.
— Ashley Homstead, executive director of A Time to Rise, a Brewer substance use disorder counseling center.
— Travis Carey, assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel church in Orrington.
— Jason Clark, a local business owner.
— Joshua D’Alessio, an associate director with Penobscot Community Health Care and shelter program manager at the Hope House Health & Living Center.
— Candace Sabol of Partners for Peace, a domestic and sexual violence resource center.
— Chris Greeley, Holden police chief.
— Wally Fraser, a local mental health provider.
— Jenna Mehnert, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine.
Morton initially declined to provide the identities of the board members when the BDN published a story on Monday about his move to re-establish it. The newspaper then filed a public records request for their names and term appointments. Morton responded in writing four days later to say he would forward the request to the county’s attorney and that he was not obligated by the statute to provide the names. He also, in that response, declined to waive fees to fulfill the request, which he estimated “could exceed $30.”
The names of board members should be public because the statute does not say they are confidential, nor is the membership of a county jail’s board of visitors listed among the exemptions to Maine’s public records law, said Mal Leary, vice president of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition.
The state’s public records law allows agencies to charge for time spent “searching for, retrieving and compiling the requested public record.” However, the law limits them to charging $15 per hour and does not allow them to charge for the first hour.
Under the law, Morton’s estimate that fulfilling the request “could exceed $30” meant that supplying the names of Board of Visitors members could take more than three hours.
After the BDN sent Morton a list of follow-up questions for a story about his declining to provide the names of members of a public board, Morton said in a phone call that he only wanted more time to check with the members to make sure they were comfortable with the possibility that some members of the public might contact them in an aggressive fashion.
“I just don’t want these volunteers to get badgered and filed with numerous electronic harassment letters and notes,” he said. “It has happened to some of our volunteers.”
Asked if he believed the names should be public, Morton said, “I think if somebody wants it to be, sure. That’s why I’m trying to get you to be reasonable so I can let them be sure what they’re in for.”
He said he was “disappointed” in a BDN reporter for suggesting the paper would publish a story about his declining to share the board members’ names before he asked for their permission.
Morton provided the names of the board members shortly after the call ended. On the phone, he also praised the group as the “right” people for the job.
The board had not scheduled any meetings as of Friday, according to Morton.