Executive session nixed

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Ralph Dunbar and Lee Worcester were appointed trustees of the quasi-municipal Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District Tuesday after the town’s Board of Selectmen opted not to enter executive session to discuss the appointments.

After hearing statements from the four candidates for the two positions, Chairman Lydia Goetze called for an executive session to discuss the appointments as a “personnel matter.” Maine’s freedom of access laws state that a motion to go into executive session “must indicate the precise nature of the business” to be discussed.

The question arose as to whether the candidates should be considered “personnel,” especially because the water and sewer district functions separately from the town. Under the district charter, the selectmens’ role is simply to appoint trustees.

A discussion followed on whether to seek a legal opinion before proceeding with the appointments or to proceed with deliberations in open session. There have been delays in making the appointments, and selectmen have noted the urgency of having them on board for the district’s budget process, which is underway.

Selectman Ryan Donahue was first to call for discussing the appointments in open session. Dan Norwood and George Jellison agreed.

Once that was decided, selectmen made short work of the matter. Jellison’s motion to appoint Ralph Dunbar to a two-year term carried 3-1-1. Norwood’s motion to appoint Lee Worcester to a three-year term also carried 3-1-1.

In both cases, Goetze cast the opposing vote and Chad Terry abstained, he said, to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Terry owns Terry’s Tank Service, which does business with the district.

The other candidates were Andy Cline, a retired teacher and coach, and Janet Myers. After Norwood’s motion to appoint Worcester, Goetze advocated for Myers.

“I think she has important skills to bring,” she said.

Addressing selectmen earlier in the meeting, Myers said she works for the Federal Highway Administration, is an attorney and has a background in federal and state regulations surrounding grants and infrastructure improvements. She also disclosed a potential conflict of interest in regards to the Maine Department of Transportation.

The disclosure didn’t sit well with some selectmen, who felt the conflict could extend into other areas.

“She’s an employee of the federal government. That’s an issue for me,” Norwood said.

Jellison pointed out that Acadia National Park officials have talked with the town about extending the district’s sewer lines to the Seawall Campground, a discussion he said could come up again.

“There could be a conflict there,” he said.

Goetze argued that Myers stated any conflict would be with her job and not the district. She said she didn’t see where the potential for a conflict of interest was any greater for Myers than the others.

The two new positions were created through an amendment to the district charter that was approved by the Maine Legislature and went into effect on Nov. 1. The switch to a five-member board was intended to help ensure trustees would have a quorum at meetings.

Selectmen first considered the appointments of Dunbar and Worcester in October. The appointments were tabled after Goetze objected that the positions had not been advertised. Earlier this month, selectmen differed on how best to advertise for candidates but voted to post notices and make the appointments on Tuesday.

Making the appointments led to a short discussion on reappointing trustees when their term expires. No formal process has been set up for other candidates to apply. Selectmen decided to consider this at a future meeting.

“These shouldn’t be positions for life,” Jellison said.


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