TREMONT — Faced with a decision Tuesday on placing a proposed recall ordinance on the annual town meeting warrant, selectmen instead voted to table the issue to gather public input before taking that step.
In a 4-0 vote, selectmen postponed action that would have put the recall ordinance on the warrant for voting by secret ballot at the May town meeting.
As proposed by the town’s recall ordinance committee, the ordinance would apply only to selectmen. School committee members, who also are elected officials, would be exempt. If the ordinance were adopted, a selectman would be the subject of a recall election upon presentation of a written petition signed by a number of voters equal to or greater than 25 percent the number of votes cast in Tremont during the most recent gubernatorial election.
Town Manager Dana Reed provided selectmen with documents that would put the proposed ordinance on the ballot and, in his manager’s memo, suggested the board approve and sign the documents and set April 19 as the date of a public hearing on the issue.
Selectman Kevin Buck made a motion to do so, but it was withdrawn after another board member, Stewart Murphy, raised concerns about the public hearing process.
Murphy said he was concerned that input from the April hearing would have no bearing on what is presented to voters because the language of the ordinance already would have been set by the board’s vote to put it on the warrant. Comments from the public might result in amendments and a better ordinance.
“Public input on a big issue never hurts,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s motion to table action until after a public hearing carried, as did a motion to schedule that hearing for March 7.
Selectmen also discussed but took no action on a proposal by Buck regarding a solar electric array at the town’s closed landfill.
According to Buck, there are companies that would set up photovoltaic panels on the landfill site and lease them to the town. The town could either use the electricity generated directly or feed it into the electric grid and receive credit. This could help pay for the town’s annual electric bill, which is roughly $50,000, Buck said.
Buck’s fellow selectmen were not opposed to the idea but did have issues with the proposal.
“I don’t have a problem with a solar farm, I have a problem with it there,” Murphy said.
Chairman Kathi Thurston and Dean Wass pointed out that there are unresolved issues with the landfill that need to be addressed first.
Those unresolved issues might have resurfaced because of Buck’s eagerness to make sure the landfill could be used for solar arrays. He contacted the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which oversees landfill closures, to see if the plan was feasible, a move that proved unpopular with his fellow selectmen because the step was taken without their knowledge.
“I apologize if I overstepped my bounds,” Buck responded.
In an email response to Buck’s inquiry, Rachel Hickey of the DEP’s landfill closure and remediation program, said she and others in her department “feel it pertinent” to meet with town officials to discuss contaminants from the landfill leaking into several wells in the area. The town has been providing bottled water to some of the affected homeowners and treatment systems to others.
“This meeting would be a great opportunity to reach a permanent solution for the residents as well as discuss the proposed solar field project,” Hickey wrote in a Feb. 1 email to Buck.
Buck acknowledged this unexpected turn of events in a Feb. 2 email to Reed.
“… I thought you should see the last paragraph that talks about the local water problem,” Buck wrote. “I hope I didn’t wake a sleeping bear.”
Reed formally was made aware of the DEP’s concern in a Feb. 9 letter. Hickey reminded Reed that bottled water, for which the DEP reimburses the town, was intended as a temporary solution to the problem. Hickey said the department would like to meet to discuss options.
Selectmen voted to invite the DEP to their March 7 meeting.