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BEDC loyalists allege slander
BRUNSWICK — On the same night its members were asked to support a project many hope will create jobs and spur the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station, the Town Council on Monday found itself mired in a conflict that’s becoming increasingly personal.
The dispute centered on former Brunswick Economic Development Corp. President Mike Ouellet, who last week resigned following a confrontation with Councilor Karen Klatt at a March 30 workshop on economic development. Ouellet, who is the lead contractor on the Maine Street Station project, had previously been accused of winning the contract by virtue of his involvement in a council subcommittee that oversaw the development.
The conflict-of-interest allegations came last summer, but have festered ever since the council began reviewing the role of the BEDC, a quasi-governmental organization some critics have said advances projects that benefit its members.
While Councilor Ben Tucker was the first to raise questions about Ouellet’s perceived conflict, Klatt has repeatedly raised the issue during council meetings, including the March 30 workshop. Ouellet confronted Klatt after that work session, and later told acting Town Manager Gary Brown that Klatt made allegations about his personal life.
Klatt, meanwhile, said Ouellet threatened her.
Two days later, Ouellet resigned from the BEDC, saying the conflict allegation – while untrue – was impeding the BEDC.
That set the stage for Monday’s council meeting, which drew close to 20 people, most BEDC loyalists who came to speak on Ouellet’s behalf. The meeting was preceded by a closed-door council meeting with Town Attorney Pat Scully.
Councilors are prohibited from discussing executive sessions, but subsequent public comments suggested that at least some councilors were lobbying for censure of Klatt.
That appeared to be the goal of those who spoke in support of Ouellet, several of whom called Klatt’s accusations slanderous.
Klatt did not directly name Ouellet during her public comments on March 30. On Monday, Ouellet’s supporters alluded to her conduct after the meeting.
“It’s clear that one councilor has overstepped the bounds (of decorum),” Landon St. Peter said. “This member has exposed the town to possible legal issues.”
St. Peter added that the council should apologize for Klatt’s comments or “resign.”
Two councilors, Gerald Favreau and Joanne King, did apologize for not insisting that the rules of decorum be enforced. Favreau later vowed to seek censure of councilors who refuse to abide.
While most spoke against Klatt’s treatment of Ouellet, some residents continued to question the former BEDC president’s perceived conflict.
Tom Fusco said that although Ouellet’s position on the Maine Street Station Implementation Committee may not have met the legal requirement for conflict of interest, the perception was enough to raise doubts.
“People don’t trust what you do,” Fusco said. “That’s because it’s not clear, it’s not transparent.”
Julie Poole, a friend of Klatt’s, later claimed that Ouellet’s BEDC resignation was disingenuous.
“It’s just a way for him to fall on his sword and distance himself from the BEDC,” Poole said.
Poole was later involved in a heated argument with Ted Crooker. According to Brunswick Police Cmdr. Marc Hagan, both Poole and Crooker were asked by Officer Dan Devereaux to leave the municipal offices. Poole later alleged that Devereaux showed deference to Crooker and threatened to file a complaint against the Police Department.
Hagan said Poole has not filed a formal complaint, but that the department is investigating the situation.
Back in the meeting, Ouellet told the council that he struggled with taking legal action against the town or to wait until the situation blew over. Instead, he said, he decided to speak to the council “in the same manner I’d like to be treated.”
Ouellet repeated his belief that his involvement in Maine Street Station did not constitute a conflict of interest. He added that his goal was to make sure the town and the business community could work together.
“I personally don’t need an apology,” he said.
All of the comments about Ouellet’s resignation and Klatt’s conduct came during public comment, which typically takes place at the beginning of the meeting. On Monday, the council moved public comment to the middle of the manager’s report – after a report from BNAS Commander Capt. Will Fitzgerald and a presentation about Southern Maine Community College’s planned campus at the base.
The presentation was given by SMCC President James Ortiz, former state House Speaker Glenn Cummings and Sen. Stan Gerzofksy, D-Brunswick.
The $4.7 million campus is billed as a potential economic engine for a redeveloped base. It’s currently included in Gov. John Baldacci’s $306 million bond package, which needs two-thirds approval by the Legislature to be put on the November ballot for voter ratification.
The council unanimously endorsed the SMCC plan.
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.