2016-10-07 / Community

Resident raises ruckus, demands apology from board

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The lead-up to the resignation of Kennebunk Town Manager Barry Tibbetts has one resident demanding an apology from the board of selectmen, but Chairman Richard Morin says that’s not likely to happen.

At the Sept. 27 board meeting, John Costin, a member of the town’s budget board, took to the podium to exercise what he saw as his right to speak to the single item on the agenda — a motion to go into executive session to discuss Tibbetts’ contract.

As the Maine Municipal Association often notes in its guidance to member towns, and as the state points out on its “frequently asked questions” webpage summarizing Maine’s Freedom of Access Act requirements, Maine law “does not require that an opportunity for public participation be provided at open meetings, although many public bodies or agencies choose to permit public participation.”

The only requirement of the law is that business be conducted in public, except for a few narrowly prescribed allowances for executive sessions.

The law does make clear that, in addition to being present, the public has a right to make audio and/or visual recordings of the proceedings. Beyond that, however, the ability to speak and ask questions is granted solely the discretion of the municipal body.

However, Kennebunk’s town charter, adopted in July 2009, specifically states that at selectmen meetings “the public shall have the right to be heard on all items on the board’s meeting agenda.”

Because the agenda for the meeting stated flatly that no comment on Tibbetts’ contract would be entertained by the board, Costin got up to do just that, and was shut down by Morin.

Costin at first reiterated his right to speak about Tibbetts’ contract, as he had in emails with Morin the previous week, arguing he only planned to make general comments on matters already known to the public, and “could not possibly,” invade Tibbetts’ privacy by broaching whatever aspect of the contract was to be discussed in executive session.

At that point Costin did not know Tibbetts had expressed to selectmen a desire to not renew his contract when it expires next year.

However, Town Attorney William Dale, said the charter provision allowing public comments is essentially meaningless, “because state statute trumps our charter.”

“Now, I’m not going to tell you what it is about Barry Tibbetts’ contract or condition that he wants discussed in executive session, because if I told you it wouldn’t be confidential anymore,” Dale said.

“I’m a member of the bar, you’re not,” Dale told Costin, “and I’m advising my client, that, under the right-to-know law, they may, at the employee’s instance, and he has insisted, discuss this in executive session.”

After five minutes of back and forth, Morin interjected, saying, “If you do not sit down, I will call the police and have you escorted out. Call it your way, but your time is done.”

Costin told Morin to “go ahead,” and continued to argue his right to speak to the agenda item.

At about that time, Selectman Blake Baldwin left the room. Baldwin did not appear to answer when Costin asked — having remained at the podium while the board voted to enter executive session — whether he had indeed called police.

“I asked you to,” he said. “It won’t be the first time I went to jail standing up for my rights.”

“If you want to make a scene, do it on somebody else’s time,” Morin said, as board members got up to leave the room.

“You’re all violating the charter. All of you,” Costin called after them.

In an Oct. 3 email to selectmen, Costin revived the confrontation, writing, “I demand a public apology at the Oct. 11, board of selectmen meeting from the selectmen and Mr. Dale.”

However, Morin said in an interview later that day that Costin might not want to hold his breath.

“I respect John,” Morin said. “I think he’s got unbelievable intelligence and ability to communicate his wishes and his intent. But I think the board had a responsibility to agree to its paid legal advice, who said this was the course we needed to follow.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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