MILLINOCKET -- The children of Millinocket have been paying attention to their civics lessons, and they proved it at last Thursday's town council meeting. After a proposal for consolidation of Recreation Department services was proffered by East Millinocket's current Rec Director, Frank Clukey, local teenager Dennis Layden rounded up a number of his peers as well as their parents and got them to attend the town council meeting.
The proposal, which was first read to the public on Monday night, was tabled at that time, and addressed at the town council meeting. As it stands right now, the consolidation will cost $5,000 more than first thought, which makes it actually more expensive to give the directorship over to East Millinocket than to keep it in Millinocket.
Millinocket Rec Director Mary Walsh, who is extremely well-liked by the local youth, would be let go under the proposal.
Councilor Jimmy Busque said he had changed his mind about supporting the merger given the fact that it would end up costing the town more to join forces with East Millinocket. Chairman John Davis concurred with the cost sentiment and added, "The one thing I have the most heartburn with is that the one thing we need the least around here is to be adding to the ranks of the unemployed. Millinocket's going to lose an employee. Davis was interrupted at this point by thunderous applause from the audience.
In response to several citizens' concerns about a Millinocket resident losing her job, Councilor David Nelson said that he would "rather not make it about the employee." He said that the fact that Clukey and East Millinocket often go after grants, and take trips around the state make the proposal attractive to him. He also extolled the virtues of Clukey as "a strong administrator." He ended by saying, "$5,000 is a small price to pay for increased services."
Predictibly, Councilor Matt Polstein concurred with Nelson, saying that it was still up in the air as to whether or not it was going to mean it would cost Millinocket the $5,000 additional.
Before recognizing young Layden, Davis conferred briefly with town manager Gene Conlogue, who indicated that there is no age limit for public speaking.
Layden said that he and his friends had read over the proposal and were at the meeting to ask the Council to keep Walsh and the department local. He pointed out that under the terms of the proposal, Millinocket is required annually to pay the town of East Millinocket $40,948.43, which includes $24,500 plus 59% ($16,448.43) of East Millinocket's cost of payroll taxes, health insurance, retirement and other benefits paid to Clukey. Millinocket will also reimburse Clukey and his assistant $1,920 for their travel into Millinocket.
The contract is good for two years with an automatic renewal at the end of that time. It also stipulates that Millinocket "make its existing recreation office equipment available for use by East Millinocket at the Director's office in East Millinocket, and if any of that equipment needs to be replaced, Millinocket will pay 59.1% of the cost.
He went on to say that he hates politics, but that he considers Walsh a friend and had helped her with the Easter egg hunt and with street dances. Layden pointed out that Millinocket had lost more than East Millinocket during the mill bankruptcies and that he and the people with him "are opposed to this."
He was followed by Jessie Sirois, who said the only information she had was the proposal, which was not specific as to which activities were going to be cut or added. Citizen John DiCentes spoke for keeping the department in Millinocket. He suggested that Millinocket's recreation department could write grants.
Citizen Money McGibbon said that transportation was not included in the proposal. Conlogue responded that the proposal does not require Millinocket children to go to East Millinocket. He explained that some children might want to avail themselves of programs in East Millinocket, and vice versa. McGibbon concluded, "Mr. Nelson said, 'We're not talking about jobs, we're talking about recreation.' Well, we are talking about jobs. We've lost enough jobs in this town. I don't want to see any more lost. Thank you."
Citizen Michael Weymouth stepped up to the podium next, and said that Layden had said everything Weymouth was going to say but that he wanted to point out that, "we need to keep our kids here." He added that hiring someone from out of town is "like saying we have no pride in our town." He said he thought it would be better to generate something up here rather than to give it away. Citizen Loren Hartley concurred.
Citizen Wendy Polstein said she was confused and asked whether there would still be programs here. Davis explained to her that the contract called for swimming, football, and other activities to remain in Millinocket.
Citizen John McLaughlin asked why we don't just change the recreation policy to say, "We will accept children from East Millinocket and Medway for a fee, and vice-a-versa. They can go to Medway and East Millinocket and participate there. Why give away the job? We're extending the olive branch to Medway and East Millinocket a lot, and I don't see much reciprocation." He talked about the fact that he grew up in Medway, and that the stigma was that Millinocket was better than Medway and East Millinocket. "They hold the power now. We need to give something of us to them so that they can feel better so the consolidation issue can be resolved. But we don't need to be giving them one-hundred-and-some-thousand dollars."
Citizen Linda Nadeau said that Millinocket used to do movies and to out of town trips and she didn't see why that couldn't be re-started. "Millinocket's given up so much. Let's face it. There's a lot of kids who want to play soccer. There's a lot of kids that want to play sports. The kids that want to do it, their parents are not going to be able to take them to East Millinocket to do it because both parents have to work." She too suggested getting grants instead of "giving up another job in Millinocket. You know, that just isn't right. I'm sorry."
Public Works Director Dennis Cox clarified that there is already reciprocity between the three towns.
Citizen Rose Weymouth wanted to know, "Who came up with this proposal and why?" She said that there was no information going out to the people in Millinocket. She suggested that the people vote on it, "Not just a few select people."
Citizen Linda Leavitt said she had a concern and she spoke to Nelson after Monday's special meeting. "Yeah, we are losing one person here. What about that one person? With all due respect, I did tell Mr. Nelson, and I'll tell you, it's a public session. I know where this vote's going to go. That's the way it always goes: 4-3, no matter which way. And I'm sorry for being so crude, but that's the way it's going to go, and I'm sure it'll go that way. And what about that person, whoever it is that's going to lose their job? Why can't they be incorporated into the whole scheme of things?"
She concurred with Cox about the children being allowed to play in any of the towns, and said, "If you're paying $5,000 more, don't cut the budget for recreation. " She urged the Council to give that $5,000 to Millinocket's recreation department rather than outsourcing the job. "I don't think you heard one person here in this audience tonight say 'Yeah, I want to go ahead and do this consolidation.' I think you heard a couple of people on the Council say that. In the past, you've always said, 'My constituents have said to me;' 'My friends have said to me; 'I've heard this.' Well, I think you've heard it here tonight. So I hope you take that into advisement when you do your vote. You have heard it from here. You may not have heard it from every person in town, but there are quite a few people here who don't want consolidation of recreation services."
Going back to the subject of Walsh, Leavitt said, "Maybe she's not the best person. Maybe she's not the smartest person. But she's the most dedicated person. And she's worked hard.
Nelson complained by asserting a point of order. "Again, I want to state that we shouldn't make this about a personnel issue. We don't want to embarrass anybody."
Another teen, Cassandra, was recognized, and said, "You said that you didn't want to make it about the person working there, so it's about the kids and the people. She actually finds out what we want, and every year, she adds something, and I don't want somebody ...who doesn't know what we want."
Davis thanked the children for coming, as did Busque, who added, "I still will not support this now, based on on what I've heard, and based on, of course, the extra cost. One thing that's bothered me right along here, and what I've heard several times is that we seem to be accepting the fact that we're going to see a decreased population and less kids. I don't accept that. I think we can move forward. I think we can maybe do some things different economically and move ahead, and maybe see an increase in more kids and an increase in population. To keep saying as a council that we're going to continue seeing the population drop and less kids in our schools, it's too negative, and I don't accept that."
Busque assured the public that he was not going to accept consolidation without seeing the fine details. He said that the council is starting to see some of the details, "and it's not good. If we're not satisfied with out recreation program, we can change that."
Fanjoy said that she was saddened because "people apparently have the wrong idea." She went on to explain that people had been misinformed about the recreation proposal. "Every program that happens in Millinocket today is going to happen to Millinocket tomorrow with the --" She interrupted her own monologue to say, "Apparently, Mr. Anderson up here has some different information than I have, but additional programs are going to be offered here as well as in the neighboring community."
Pursing her lips and shaking her head, she continued, "From what I heard tonight, people have the wrong impression, and it's really important that we understand, in times of transition, the truth. And be accurate." Looking directly at Layden, she said, "There's a lot of sensationalizing going on about these changes which are not true. I'd like to confirm what is in the contract as well."
Looking pointedly at Conlogue, she asked, "We're talking office equipment, are we not?" After Conlogue indicated the equipment is a computer, Fanjoy pointed out that that didn't mean hockey sticks and footballs and tractors. Again looking at Layden she said, "We're talking about a computer. Is that clear?"
Predictibly, the council voted 4-3 to consolidate. The Green Bloc, Polstein, Fanjoy, Nelson, and Paul, voted in favor of outsourcing. It was unknown at the time of the meeting whether the contract would actually be able to go into effect on July 1 as planned.
There was some mumbling in the audience, and Davis said, "Ok. That's enough." Nelson repeated his common complaint, "Point of order, Mr. Chairman."
During public comments, Layden addressed Fanjoy's comments, saying, "Really, I want to comment on what Mrs. Fanjoy said earlier about the public being misinformed. We weren't misinformed. We based our opinions on what you guys gave to the public. You guys gave us the drafts, and we passed them around and people read them. We weren't misinformed. It's just that we have an opinion that you don't agree with."
The proposal indicates that Clukey will establish office hours in Millinocket, although in a recent telephone interview, he indicated that the Millinocket office will be used for storage. Clukey is also given final say as to whether or not he will implement programs suggested by Millinocket's recreation advisory committee.