MILLINOCKET -- In March of this year, I cautioned the Millinocket town council against holding illegal meetings via email. In early April, I wrote an Opinion column that delved further into the subject.
At that time, the subject was annexation. Councilor Busque had introduced the idea of annexing land adjacent to the town of Millinocket, a move that Councilor Polstein was curiously and adamantly opposed to. Following the public meeting, in an email conversation between the councilors and Gene Conlogue, the town manager, Polstein instructed Avern Danforth, Gail Fanjoy, and David Nelson to "kill" any effort to annex property.
Since that time, Polstein has admitted to a conflict of interest relating to annexation of property, but he would have us believe that no conflict existed at the time that he instructed his cronies to kill Busque's annexation plans. In the face of opposition from Polstein, Danforth, who had previously expressed approval and interest in going ahead with plans for annexation, had a change of heart. Surely there are no surprises there.
Of concern is the fact that this was done in what can only be considered an illegal meeting of the town council. Any reasonable person will conclude that there is no significant difference between a majority of the council meeting privately and without notice in a smoked-filled room or in an email conversation. It is obvious, to me at least, that it is unethical, and in states where this issue has been litigated, it has been decided that such email conversations between a majority of a council do constitute an illegal meeting.
The intent of open meetings legislation is to prevent public business from being conducted in private. Email conversations between a majority of the council violates this intent just as surely as if they had met in a room.
Nothing was done about it then, and the problem has worsened. The gang of four (consisting of Polstein, Fanjoy, Danforth, and Nelson) have continued to work against the future of the majority of the people in this town through their opposition to annexation, both publicly and in private, and now they've concocted a scheme to push Maine Monolite out of the way in favor of someone who, I can only assume, is among their circle of friends; and again, they've done it via an illegal email meeting of a majority of the council, this time leaving councilors Busque, Davis, and McLaughlin out of the loop altogether, while including people who are not even members of the council, and one who is not even a citizen of this country.
In an email meeting that excluded three members of the council, but included the gang of four, and eight other people, six who, along with councilors Polstein, Fanjoy, and Danforth, sit on the board of the Millinocket Area Growth & Investment Council (MAGIC), as well as Kathy Lee, Medway's administrative assistant, and Terry Ingram, of Allagash Valve & Controls, Inc. of Falmouth, who wants the building that was promised to Maine Monolite.
Monolite is to be pushed aside in favor of Allagash and, while the town of Medway will be a co-sponsor of the loan application, Millinocket alone is to bear the burden if Allagash should default.
While most of us were perhaps thinking that Bruce McLean, the executive director of MAGIC, had secured the building for Maine Monolite, a project that I have questioned but which nevertheless promises to bring as many as 250 jobs to the Millinocket area, he has not done so; and has instead been working to deliver the building to Allagash Valve & Controls, whose owner, Terry Ingram, is a member of MAGIC's circle of friends.
Never mind that Allagash is promising no more than 25 jobs, to be divided between Medway and Millinocket, since true economic development has never been a mission of MAGIC.
"I am more interested in 250+ jobs than 15, if given the choice," wrote Conlogue. While I have had misgivings about the Maine Monolite project, I would agree. There are no guarantees with Allagash, either.
While Conlogue suggested the old Bouchard building on the Golden Road as possible location for Allagash, this was not acceptable to Ingram, who insisted on being closer to his friends at MAGIC. "I will not be locating my new location to Millinocket if it is not in the Katahdin Building," wrote Ingram.
Weighing the possibility of as many as 250 jobs in Millinocket against the potential for no more than 25 jobs from Allagash, one might think that the Bouchard building would be a fair compromise.
Not Ingram. Not MAGIC.
Nor did MAGIC have any intention of including the full council in on its plans until the conclusion was decided among its own members, and Nelson, who has yet to vote against them on any issue of importance to Polstein, who founded MAGIC for the purpose of promoting tourism and lessening the importance of the paper industry in the Katahdin area. Polstein is the owner of New England Outdoor Center (NEOC), and derives a substantial income from the tourist industry.
In a series of emails, MAGIC chose to exclude councilors Busque, Davis, and Mclaughlin, I surmise, because their support couldn't be depended upon, and because they didn't need them. The gang of four makes up the majority of the council.
In an August 14, 2004 email addressed to the gang of four, as well as to Gene Conlogue, Kathy Lee, Don McNeil, Dean Beaupain, Don Casko, Richard Waller, and Terry Ingram, McLean said as much:
Asking Danforth to get approval to move forward with a public hearing on approval of a Development Fund Loan, McLean wrote, "I don't believe this has to be done in the form of a meeting as long as a majority of the councilors agree to bring this to a public hearing ..."
His email excluded councilors Busque, Davis, and McLaughlin. Given a majority, the gang of four sees no real need to deal with the rest of the council, or to advise the public.
This matter was discussed as early as August 5th, so it's not as if it just came up.
As directed by McLean, Danforth called an emergency meeting of the council, with very little notice to anyone, and to be held in the office of the town manager at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday - that's tomorrow; by the time I finish this, it might be later today.
I put the notice up yesterday, but I didn't know what it was at the time. As planned, there was not much notice, and nothing that was submitted in time to make the local print papers.
In the event that any members of the public or press do manage to show up, however, the gang of four intends to take its discussion into executive session, claiming proprietary information as an excuse for excluding the public.
Why even have a public meeting, unless it's only to give a brief nod to legality? The matter has already been decided, in an illegal meeting between Polstein, Fanjoy, Danforth, and Nelson.
And what proprietary information can be involved when the gang of four has already included McLean, McNeil, Casko, and Waller, all members of the board of MAGIC, and others, while excluding three members of the council?
If Richard Waller, the new pastor of the Nazarene Church, is included, where is the justification for excluding the public? If Don McNeil, a Canadian citizen and member of the board of The Nature Conservancy, is in on it, can the information truly be considered proprietary?
Did we elect a town council, or did we select MAGIC? How much longer are the people of Millinocket willing to let this continue?
Just say no to corruption.
Just say no to the gang of four, to MAGIC, and to their friends in The Nature Conservancy, RESTORE, the Wilderness Society, and all of the other green vultures who have been invited by MAGIC into this community for the sole purpose of robbing the people who live here of their opportunities.
The clock is ticking.