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Editor's Desk

Holding Them Accountable
By Ken Anderson
Apr 21, 2004 - 11:13:00 PM

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If you are as yet unaware, you should know that the Millinocket town council voted 4:3 to raise MAGIC's subsidy to $50,000, double the amount they received last year. Three of the four councilmen voting for the increase hold seats on MAGIC's board of directors.

The Millinocket Area Growth and Investment Council is not an arm of the town government. It is a non-profit corporation, unaccountable to the voters and, it would seem, working against the interests of the people who live here.

Voting to give $50,000 in taxpayer funds to MAGIC were:

  • Matt Polstein, a founder and board member of MAGIC;
  • Gail Fanjoy, a board member of MAGIC;
  • Avern Danforth, a board member of MAGIC; and
  • David Nelson, who can be depended upon to vote with MAGIC.

Voting against were:

  • Don McLaughlin, who is not a member of the board of MAGIC;
  • Jimmy Busque, who is not a member of the board of MAGIC; and
  • John Davis, who is not a member of the board of MAGIC.

In what reeks of corruption, councilmen Polstein, Fanjoy, and Danforth voted to give a 100% raise to their own organization, one whose members are selected and which has acted in concert with The Nature Conservancy, the Wilderness Society, and other green organizations to stifle development in the Katahdin area except for that which promises financial gain for its own members and supporters.

Does this represent a conflict of interest?

Morally and ethically, yes it does. Legally, one would have to prove that the MAGIC board members who also hold a seat on the town council have a personal financial interest in giving $50,000 in taxpayer funds to their own organization. I believe that at least one of them does, probably more, considering who stands to gain from the promotion of a tourist economy, where labor is cheap and where competition is kept under control.

While they remain hidden behind the anonymity of Limited Liability Corporations, there are schemes afoot that promise to enrich members of the board of MAGIC, and we have every reason to believe that this includes at least one member of the Millinocket town council, but probably more. I strongly doubt that altruism has a place in the decisions or alliances that have been made by MAGIC's board of directors.

Maine law also encourages public officials to avoid an appearance of a conflict even when no actual conflict exists, but leaves the determination up to the individual. In my opinion, this assumes a level of ethical standards that does not exist among the majority of our town council.

Given the grayness that exists within the laws governing conflicts of interest in Maine, I don't know if a conflict charge could be sustained in a court of law, although it resides clearly in the minds of reasonable people.

Certainly, there has to be something wrong with voting to give your own organization a 100% raise even as it is acting against the interests of the taxpayers who are footing the bill.

Still, I believe that incompatibility of office fits the bill more clearly.

Maine law recognizes four kinds of ethical dilemmas in municipal government:

  1. Conflict of interest;
  2. Incompatibility of office;
  3. Prohibited appointments or employment; and
  4. Bias.

Incompatibility of office exists where two public offices, by virtue of their respective and conflicting duties, cannot be held simultaneously by the same person no matter how dedicated or financially disinterested.

The town council is charged with exercising fiscal responsibility over our tax dollars, and with acting in the interests of the citizens of Millinocket. When this same council votes to grant taxpayer funds to an organization that they created and which they control, can they be expected to exercise fiscal responsibility?

Given the alliances that this organization has made over the years, it cannot reasonably be argued that they have acted in the interests of the people who live here.

I am of the opinion that at least one of these councilors has acted contrary to Maine laws governing conflicts of interest, and that the positions of Councilors Polstein, Fanjoy, and Danforth on the board of the Millinocket Area Growth and Investment Council constitues an incompatibility of office.

What has MAGIC done for us anyhow? When this question comes up, the only answers I can recall are assisting in the development of Brims Ness, AdTime, Millers, and one other that I can't remember right now. In the past, MAGIC director Bruce McLean has pointed to the Community Press as one of its successes, but publisher Lisa Pelkey assures me that the Press did it on its own, without funding from MAGIC.

Well, the last I heard, Brims Ness had hired only three people, none of whom were previously unemployed and all of whom are among its small circle of friends. I don't know how many people AdTime is employing but I doubt that they have a large workforce. Besides, MAGIC has been helping them to move from Millinocket to East Millinocket, which is hardly a plus for the people of Millinocket. Millers employs a few people and adds some variety to our shopping options, but we should consider who they are leasing their building from.

What else has MAGIC done?

One of MAGIC's chief allies, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), has been instrumental in the bankruptcy of Great Northern Paper Company, and its president, who simultaneously sits on the board of TNC, has been named in a lawsuit filed by the GNP trustee.

And now they've invited the Wilderness Society to have its way with us.

In the years that MAGIC has been here, masquerading as a development corporation, they can point to only a handful of companies that they have in some way assisted.

In the same time period, how many have gone out of business?

How many Millinocket commercial buildings have been bought up by an attorney from Boston, who reportedly plans to raze them, ensuring that no business will ever again inhabit these spaces?

How many potential employers have been discouraged by MAGIC's green agenda?

How many houses have been bought up by people from out of state who plan to use them as vacation homes? How many houses sit empty? How many of your friends and neighbors have had to move because they can no longer find work in the Millinocket area?

MAGIC is not a development corporation, nor does it pretend to be, by name or through its actions. It is an investment corporation, and what I'd like to know is in what -- or whom -- are they investing? And why are taxpayer funds being used for this private corporation which is not accountable to those taxpayers?

While MAGIC does not answer to the voters, we can and should hold the members of our town council accountable.

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