2015-01-16 / Community

Sea Road complaint provokes rebuke

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — While it had been a fairly mild winter up until two weeks ago, road maintenance in Kennebunk following one recent storm drew a stern rebuke from Audrey Jones, a resident of Ocean View Road, resulting in a sharp, public retort, in return, from selectmen.

“The tone of the email was quite sarcastic and unprofessional,” said Chairman Kevin Donovan, at the board’s Dec. 9 meeting. “I didn’t reply because, quite frankly, I would have blown my top in doing so.”

Donovan then turned to the community television cameras and unloaded with what was, if not a top-blowing, at least an attention-grabbing public response.

“This is Maine,” he said. “It snows. We have ice. Get used to it. Slow down. Leave early. And you’re going to get home late.”

Jones was reportedly upset over losing vacation time for missing a day of work at an state job “essential” in Augusta. In a Dec. 3 email, written in all caps, she blamed that loss on the town road crew, and Town Manager Barry Tibbetts.

“You can water useless flowers with town money all summer long, but you cannot sand the roads in the winter so I can get to work,” she wrote. “We need a new town manager ... because the town is run by an idiot.”

Tibbetts replied that the town crew had begun working Kennebunk’s 126 miles of public roads at 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 3, but in a follow-up email, Jones called him “a liar,” saying not a single sand truck hit her road until 3:30 p.m.

In a second round of emails later that day, she apologized for berating a town clerk over the phone when calling to complain about the roads, but otherwise held her ground.

“Your budget caters to the summer people for 10 weeks, the rest of us get absolutely nothing for our tax dollars,” she wrote to Tibbetts, this time cc’ing the board of selectmen. “Oh, wait, there is now dirt spread [but] only at the stop signs. Must be we spent too much money on the crew that waters the flowers for the rich summer folk.”

“You enjoy thumbing your nose at the working class,” Jones wrote, claiming to have incurred more than $1,000 in vehicle maintenance bills from damage suffered on Sea Road.

“You have ignored the conditions of this Sea Road community for years,” she wrote. “Our commute to and from work is hell because the last stretch home is the worst road in Maine.”

In a Dec. 5 email, Selectman Chris Cluff invited the complainant to appear at a public meeting to voice her concerns.

“We are all working class citizens just like you, and most of us had to commute in Wednesday’s weather as well,” he said, referring to his fellow selectmen. “We’re not multi-millionaire summer residents, we only want to do what is right for all residents of Kennebunk.”

Still, Cluff took Jones to task for her tone with Tibbetts and the unnamed clerk.

“I find it appalling and utterly inappropriate that any resident would treat any member of the town staff as you have on the phone and in this email chain, regardless of the situation,” he wrote.

In response to questions posed by Jones, Tibbetts wrote back that Kennebunk spends about $22,000 each year to have landscapers maintain flowers on Main Street, as well as in the Lower Village and West Kennebunk. However, that money is derived from revenue generated by tax increment financing districts, paid largely by businesses operating in those areas, and not from residential tax bills, he said.

Tibbetts also said he does not have a car supplied by the town and foots his own maintenance costs for his personal vehicle. And, while Tibbetts said he did not have a breakdown of winter maintenance costs by road, Kennebunk does budget $1.2 million annually for the upkeep of roads, sidewalks, parks and buildings, not counting capital expenditures.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, Donovan addressed that point, saying the pubic works department must strike a balance between service level and available funding.

“We have a budget coming up,” he said, “and if there is a hue and cry from the public that you want these streets to look like the Maine Turnpike, I’m willing to accept $200,000 or $300,000 in extra monies for extra equipment and extra people, and we can salt these roads just the same.

“But I don’t believe that’s what the people of this town want, because under the budget we have, that’s not what you’re going to get,” Donovan said.

Donovan also offered little sympathy for Sea Road, or the driver Jones claimed refused to pick her up, due to road conditions.

“I’m on that road probably three days a week,” he said. “I would strongly suggest that he slow his vehicle down and he probably wouldn’t have to make those repairs.”

“Given the equipment they have to work with, our road crew does the best job they possibly can do,” agreed Selectmen Albert Searles. “So, leave early. Drive slower. What is the big deal? What is the big hurry? I don’t think we need to write nasty letters to the board of selectmen to complain about it.

“Part of you having an essential job is you planning to be there,” said Searles. “If there was 2 feet of snow out there right now, I’d have found a way to be here tonight, because, when you live in Maine, it’s what you do. If you can’t drive in four inches of snow, you don’t belong in the state of Maine. It’s that simple.”

For her part, the person who issued the complaints surmised she may not belong in Kennebunk, at least.

“I know it’s time to move, because in Kennebunk the more you speak out, the more you are maligned for having a voice,” she wrote.

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