FREEPORT — A second petition to keep emergency dispatch service in town has failed, but proponents are continuing the fight and threatening to appeal the town’s decision in Superior Court.
According to Town Clerk Beverly Curry, a citizen petition submitted on June 15 had enough signatures to send the decision to referendum, but was not completed correctly and has been rejected.
“If the petition followed all the rules of the state statute, there would have been enough signatures,” Curry said. “The process is very specific, and the statute is very clear.”
The petition sought Town Charter changes that would prohibit Freeport from contracting with another entity for dispatch and require dispatch to be based in town 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The petition contained 1,213 valid signatures, Curry said.
But on July 1, Curry deemed the petition was not valid because a petitioners’ committee was not created and no affidavit was filed with the clerk. She said state law requires the committee be made up of five residents, with their addresses provided on the petition. There was also no sworn statement that the petition could be circulated by five designated residents, and petition blanks were not prepared and issued by the clerk’s office.
Elaine Greene, one of the originators of the petition process, said she believes five of the seven town councilors have gone out of their way to block the citizen initiative. She said Councilors Joe Migliaccio and Eric Pandora have supported the petitions and the right of residents to express their opposition.
“It is completely unbelievable that those in charge have snubbed their noses at the people who elected them. (The council) has shown us that they will do whatever they damn well please,” she said. “All the people want is to decide for themselves, and the council has gone out of their way show they do not care.”
After Curry’s action, residents Judy Blanchard and Marianne McGettigan wrote a letter to councilors asking them to reconsider their decision and citing reasons for the petition’s validity.
They said rejecting the petition because a committee was not formed, an affidavit was not filed and private citizens prepared and copied the petition instead of the town is “unfair, illogical and unlawful.”
They also claimed another state law does not require petitions be filed first with the town clerk, and that the town’s reference interpretation of the law is confusing and ambiguous.
“The rejection of the petition places form over substance. At best, the Town Clerk’s decision rests upon a mere technicality,” the letter said. “If the Town Council upholds this decision, the action will be seen for what it is – the Town Council going out of its way to avoid having the people of Freeport weigh in on this issue.”
The letter goes on to list 10 reasons why the petition should be considered sufficient.
“You have the chance to put procedures aside and focus on the core issue – whether dispatch services should be contracted out,” the letter said. “The citizens involved in this process acted in good faith, spending their own money for the petition, believing that their process was a good, fair and lawful approach.”
In the letter, McGettigan and Blanchard ask the council to review the matter and make a determination that the petition is sufficient and submit it to the people for a vote.
“There is a clear public interest in this matter,” McGettigan said. “We’ve heard nothing from the council yet, but we plan on appealing the town’s decision with Superior Court.”
The first petition failed to gather the 626 signatures needed to overrule an April 6 council decision to consolidate dispatch services with Brunswick. Under a contract signed on June 29, Brunswick will provide dispatch services to Freeport through June 30, 2016.
According to Finance Director Abbe Yacoben, Freeport will pay $10,000 a month to Brunswick when the towns consolidate dispatch services. The costs will provide staffing, utilities and operating costs to run the dispatch center. Freeport will still recognize about $80,000 in savings, she said.
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org