ELLSWORTH — A Superior Court judge has denied an appeal from Bar Harbor resident and attorney Arthur Greif seeking a hearing on alleged town councilor misconduct, saying the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the appeal and Greif lacked standing to bring it.
The suit was filed in February, challenging a January Town Council decision that Greif’s allegation of misconduct by Councilors Paul Paradis and now-former Councilor David Bowden did not warrant additional review. Greif claimed that the council violated the town charter by failing to hold a hearing on his complaint.
The allegations stem from a meeting Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain said she attended at Paradis’ home in 2013 with Paradis and Bowden. At issue is whether the councilors “gave orders” to Chamberlain. Under the town charter, the council and its members only have authority over town employees through the town manager.
Greif had argued that the charter requires the council to hold a hearing with him present, open to the public if either councilor requested it, to determine whether the alleged conduct is grounds for forfeiture of office.
In his decision, Justice William Anderson said that such a hearing would only be required if the council itself had taken formal action charging a councilor in writing with conduct constituting grounds for forfeiture of office.
“The court does not interpret the relevant provisions of the charter as requiring that the council provide notice and hold a full forfeiture hearing every time a disgruntled citizen alleges conduct by a councilor that could be grounds for forfeiture,” he wrote.
Greif had argued otherwise in a reply brief last winter, saying that “being ‘charged in writing with conduct constituting grounds for forfeiture’ [in one section of the charter] is different from a councilor being ‘deemed to have forfeited the office’ [in another section].
“The interpretation of the two separate notices [one a charge and the other a final decision] only makes sense as the Town Council ought not to be both the accuser and the judge in the same matter,” Greif wrote.
The council’s decision to take no action on the original complaint letter was made in open session, following an executive session discussing “the legal rights and duties of the town” in regard to the complaint.
Greif argued that the executive session violated the Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) because he and his wife, Donna Karlson, who made the complaint, were not informed or permitted to be present during the executive session.
“Plaintiff’s claim that the council made its decision, or discussed anything other than its legal rights and duties with its counsel, while in the executive session is simply not supported by the record,” Anderson’s decision states.
Anderson did appear to leave the door open to a future challenge, however, when he added in a footnote that the alleged FOAA violation could be “brought as an independent action.”
Neither the letter nor the district court complaint mentions how Greif obtained the email from Chamberlain to Town Manager Cornell Knight in which she described the 2013 meeting.
The same email – and others – was circulated to area journalists and some town officials by former Police Chief Nate Young in early January. Young also is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the town.
Greif plans to appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
“This is a simple matter of holding each and every public official accountable for their duties under the town charter,” he said. “The law is the great leveler: no one is above the law.”