During the Millinocket council's March 11 meeting, Councilor Jimmy Busque proposed the annexation of certain properties west of Millinocket, which would have included portions of Township 3, Indian Purchase, as well as the North Twin and Quakish dams, which would have added as much as $150,000 in revenue to the town and provided room for development within the town limits.
Councilors Polstein and Fanjoy were quick to voice their disagreement with the annexation plan, with Councilor Nelson following in suit. Councilor Danforth had previously expressed his agreement with the annexation, while Councilors McLaughlin and Davis were enthusiastic in their assent.
Fanjoy stated that one of the large landowners had looked over the annexation plans at her house. She did not say which landowner this was, but it may have been the one who employs her husband.
Another, I think it was Polstein but it may have been Fanjoy, said that one of the landowners involved is our largest employer. How many Millinocket residents are employed by Great Lakes Hydro or Katahdin Woodlands, anyhow?
No, I don't believe that any of the landowners are among our largest employers, but I do believe that one of them owns the land that Polstein's business sits on.
Despite the Polstein-Fanjoy-Nelson opposition, it looked like a good deal for the people of Millinocket. Under laws governing annexation, private property owners who reside on the land would have to agree to annexation of their property, but there is no such requirement on the part of non-residential landowners, so it still appeared to be a viable idea, one that promised much needed tax revenue and development opportunities to the area, still suffering from the bankruptcy of Great Northern Paper Company in January of 2002.
Polstein, in his role of defending the large landowners rather than the citizens of the town of Millinocket, was determined to kill the annexation. As he had plans to be absent from the March 25 meeting, he decided to hold his own, without notice and outside of the ears of the voters.
In an email that was circulated to each of the councilors, save McLaughlin, Polstein complained that Conlogue should not have allowed the annexation plan to be brought before the council and berated Busque for taking up the issue of annexation with the council.
Polstein was upset because he hadn't been informed of the annexation prior to it being brought to the council on March 11, which in itself is strange when you consider that Fanjoy found time to review it with one of the landowners prior to the March 11 council meeting and representatives of two of the landowners were on hand to speak against it at that same meeting.
In an email, Polstein wrote, "Gail, Dave, and Avern if this comes up I urge you to vote no and kill this effort as it can not pass with a 3 3 vote. It is extremely unlikely that unless significant new information camed to light on this issue that I would ever vote for it. The 10% cap however is looking more and more attractive to me."
This email exchange resulted in the annexation proposal being pulled by its sponsor, Councilor Busque, with Councilor Davis casting the lone nay vote.
I contend that this email exchange constituted an illegal meeting.
In states where this issue has been brought to the courts, it has been found that email exchanges between council members do indeed constitute a meeting, subject to the same regulations that are afforded other public meetings under Freedom of Access laws. That partial copies might be made available to the public after the fact does nothing to change the illegality of the meeting.
Additionally, email, online forum, or actual meetings between four or more councilors who are involved in MAGIC or the Katahdin Vision efforts may also constitute a meeting under Freedom of Access regulations. When objectives that are the result of the "vision" effort are being pushed through by Councilors Polstein, Fanjoy, Danforth, and Nelson, three of whom are on the board of MAGIC and all of whom are heavily involved with the "vision" schemes, the public, the other councilors are reduced to the status of observers, and the public is left out altogether.
While the efforts of many in this community, including MAGIC, the Katahdin Vision project, AMCi, Worksphere, and others, are aimed at changing this, we are yet entitled to all of the rights and privileges of a republican form of government, one that is participatory and open to public scrutiny.
These rights are denied us when decisions are made behind the closed doors of an email exchange or within the privacy of a non-governmental organization whose members are neither elected or accountable to the electorate.