Cape Elizabeth council, commission member clash over freedom of information

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The town has decided not to take immediate action against a Fort Williams Advisory Commission member who apparently failed to comply with a freedom of information request.

The request for emails under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act was made by Town Council Chairwoman Kathy Ray to Dr. Terry Ann Scriven, who has served on the commission since January 2014.

According to emails provided by Town Manager Michael McGovern, Scriven made attempts to discuss public issues in private with other commission members, and then didn’t turn over all emails related to the discussions, as requested by Ray.

Scriven’s actions were first questioned in March, when commission Chairwoman Lise Pratt emailed Councilor Jim Walsh to say that over a two-month period Scriven had sent her hundreds of emails with “relentless ideas, suggestions, comments, ‘need to know’ demands,” and “issues she has stirred up.”

Pratt said Scriven also called and texted her many times, and that they had met in person four times.

In response to this, McGovern sent an email to the commission, reminding members to discuss policy issues only during public meetings. McGovern said Scriven responded via email with questions asking for more of an explanation.

McGovern provided emails to The Forecaster in which Scriven said she understood she wasn’t allowed to set or decide town policy outside of a public meeting.

Ray submitted her request for Scriven’s emails in June after Pratt forwarded one of Scriven’s messages to the town.

In that email, Scriven asked to meet with Pratt to discuss the commission’s strategy for presenting its recommendation for renovation of Fort Williams bleachers to the council. The council on Monday decided to demolish most of the bleachers.

Scriven said she wanted to discuss why the renovations are needed, and how to fund the project with an undisclosed amount of revenue and donations held by the commission.

In the email, Scriven said “Lise, please do not forward this on to anyone else. This is meant as a private communication between you and me.”

In an email memo sent to councilors, McGovern said “the above emails indicate that policy issues were continuing to be the subject of meetings contrary to what Terry Ann herself had written as her understanding of limits.”

McGovern said after the FOAA request was made, Scriven contacted Town Attorney Thomas Leahy to ask about the legality of Ray’s request. He provided Leahy’s response to The Forecaster.

“In response to a written request from the Town Council Chair for your emails regarding the Commission from a certain date forward, you asked the Chair for a legal opinion on the propriety, lawfulness of such request,” Leahy wrote to Scriven. “I have provided you that letter as the Town Attorney. I have also, at your request, discussed this by phone with you for I believe 45 minutes. In response to your subsequent email, I have provided you with the statutory basis, my 2012 memo to the Council on Maine’s Right to Know law that covers such emails and the whole chapter by MMA on the subject. I’m afraid that I am at the end of what I can provide to you.”

The Town Council on Monday held a workshop meeting to discuss the Freedom of Access Act and the Right to Know law with Leahy. Scriven was present, but councilors didn’t specifically discuss her involvement.

Leahy went over the laws and regulations that prohibit conversations held outside of public meetings. Another workshop was scheduled for Sept. 9 to continue the conversation, but McGovern said Scriven’s situation won’t be discussed at that meeting, either.

The information to be discussed at the meeting, as described in the agenda, will be what to do in response to a FOAA request, and what to do about non-compliance.

McGovern said councilors can use the information they obtain at the Sept. 9 meeting to decide if they want to take action against Scriven. He said the meeting is being held so councilors can be fully informed about town and state freedom of information laws.

McGovern on Wednesday wouldn’t say if he thinks Scriven violated the FOAA law. But in his memo to councilors, he said she either didn’t comply or didn’t retain emails that should have been saved.

“I am concerned that after we have spent funds on legal advice we still have emails asking for meetings contrary to what the commission member indicated she understood,” he said in the memo. “Further, a (freedom of information) request was made that does not seem to have been fully complied with.”

Scriven, who has hired attorney James Katsiaficas of Perkins Thompson for legal counsel, on Wednesday said she doesn’t think Ray’s FOAA request was necessary. She declined to discuss her actions leading up to the request.

“I don’t think wielding FOAA requests against citizens who volunteer their time is the way to promote democracy and civil discourse in Cape Elizabeth, nor does it support human-to-human relationships inherent in democratic process,” Scriven said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.