Topsham selectman invokes right-to-know law to obtain e-mail, documents from colleague
TOPSHAM — A dispute between two selectmen over the public nature of board correspondence has reached the point where one said he will send a formal right-to-know request to the other.
Selectman Jim Trusiani said at the Nov. 19 Board of Selectmen meeting that his request to Selectman Sandra Consolini will call for her to turn over copies of correspondence pertaining to several town issues.
Consolini said Tuesday morning that she had not received the request, but previously said she will comply when she does.
Trusiani said he would also be sending copies of the request to the rest of the board, Town Manager Jim Ashe, the town attorney and the press.
Trusiani's action follows discussion in recent meetings about correspondence between Consolini and members of the public on, among other things, barring or conditional allowance of any future large-scale, open-field recycling facilities in Topsham.
Consolini introduced that agenda item at the board's Oct. 15 meeting in response to a fire at the Grimmel Industries metal recycling business the previous month.
When Consolini asked if the board would have the Planning Board or Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee look at the language she proposed, other board members questioned whether the Board of Selectmen should be involved in the matter.
"Who does get involved, if not the selectmen ... to have something change?," Consolini asked. "If a selectman has people e-mailing or calling and saying ‘we're worried about this fire that we had' ... who does the changing if the people don't have the time, or they work at night, or for whatever reason they ask their elected official ... who better than to come and ask about it?"
Trusiani said Consolini did not give selectmen records of correspondence or e-mail messages she received, and that he would like to see that material if the board was going to consider the language change.
"I have the right to see every e-mail that you have, and I know I have to put that in writing, and I will do that on this issue," Trusiani said, also asking for a list of people who contacted Consolini so he could hear their concerns as well.
Communications that Trusiani requested at the Nov. 19 meeting include bonding for Bay Park drainage, open-field recycling facilities, local or special elections in the past two years, and communication related to town business with former Selectman Michelle Derr and elected officials from other municipalities.
Trusiani said his letter states that if Consolini fails to comply, she must explain her reason for doing so in writing, and that he will pursue any legal remedy necessary to obtain access to the information he requested.
"Any financial obligation that I take upon by doing this is not the town's responsibility, and no town funds will be used," Trusiani said. "This is me as one individual citizen asking for what I believe is public documents, and it's not to be deemed me as a town employee, as a Board of Selectmen member."
Trusiani's request is based on Maine's Freedom of Access Act, which regards e-mail to or from government officials as a public record available for inspection or copying by any member of the public. Whether the communication is between the elected official and another office holder, or between the official and a private citizen does not make a difference.
Consolini told Trusiani that "as soon as I get that (request), you'll get your stuff the next day. If you really want it, go ahead. Because you're not going to find a whole heck of a lot."
The Board of Selectmen also discussed whether to ask the Planning Board to consider zoning language for marijuana dispensaries in Topsham. The discussion followed voter approval in November of a regulated distribution system for medical marijuana.
Earlier this month Gov. John Baldacci created a task force to advise him on the best way to implement the new law with safeguards to protect public health and safety. The task force will meet multiple times next month and make its recommendations are expected by Dec. 31.
Selectman Don Russell suggested asking Ashe and his staff to monitor discussions going on at the state level and, after the task force's work, for Planning Director Rich Roedner to consider a town ordinance that will blend with state regulations.
Selectmen were in consensus that they should take that sort of approach in the weeks ahead, and did not vote.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.