Falmouth council delays town center ballot question

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FALMOUTH — A proposed bond referendum to fund a new town center at the Lunt and Plummer-Motz schools has been postponed and will not appear on the November ballot.

The Town Council reached a consensus in a special meeting Tuesday to kill the question that, until this week, has moved steadily toward a Nov. 2 referendum.

Instead, councilors said they will explore options including opening the project up for bids from private developers who might be interested in a partnership with the town.

Council Chairman Tony Payne said the project will appear on the June 2011 ballot.

While Payne and three other councilors voted in favor of sending the measure to voters at the last council meeting on Aug. 23, Tuesday’s consensus came after members of the Falmouth Memorial Library board of trustees again expressed concern that the plan, which would require borrowing between $2 million and $4 million, is not fiscally prudent and asked for more time.

“We still think (moving to Lunt) is a viable option,” Trustee Sean Joyce said, adding that the board would rather see the project move forward without town borrowing.

Councilor Bonny Rodden, who was away during the council discussion of the project on Aug. 23, said she feel it is important to keep moving forward, but that the council should do so working closely with the library board.

“It’s not fair to put something on the ballot before anything is concrete,” Rodden said. “I’m not ready, at this point, to rule out other options.”

Councilor Fred Chase said he is relieved the project is no longer on the “fast track.”

There was brief discussion of an April study done of the library building that showed expansion possibilities of up to 4,000 square feet on its existing site at 5 Lunt Road. Some Councilors said they had not seen the study and would want to review it before moving ahead. 

The study was presented while some councilors were present, although the document, produced for the private library board, has not previously been made available to the public.

Councilor Will Armitage said he would like to see the project go out to bid to see what the private sector offers. 

“You’re covering all your bases by at least starting the (request for proposal) process,” he said, adding that the council would not have to accept any proposals it did not think were a good deal for the town.

The council obtained a verbal agreement from the library trustees in attendance that they would together in two weeks to go over the studies and discuss a possible memo of understanding between the town and the library that is currently being drafted. 

Rodden suggested the council and library trustees come to a consensus about how they would be moving forward with the project in six to eight weeks.

“I would like us to have a tour of the library, a public meeting, to go over the reports and the different ideas that have been presented,” Rodden said. “Hopefully then we’ll reach a place where we’re signing a memo of understanding.”

Councilor Teresa Pierce, who was the liaison to the Community Facilities Planning Committee that first drafted the plan, said she is disappointed the committee’s initial plan is not going to voters.

“I wish we’d given the public the option to weigh in on this,” Pierce said.

Members of Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices, which organized a petition drive and collected nearly 400 signatures asking the council to hold off on the ballot question, were in the audience when the consensus was reached.

“What I want to know is, where does the public fit into this? This sounds like it did on Aug. 23, like a discussion between the town and the library,” said Lisa Preney, who organized the petition with former Councilor Dave Libby and Payne, the current council chairman.

After the meeting, library trustees indicated that, while two weeks was not much time, they would be ready to continue the discussion with the council.

“Getting people to understand, getting the council on the same page, has been very painful for us,” library President Chantal Walker said. “We try to be as unpolitical as possible.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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Falmouth Town Council Chairman Tony Payne.

Questions raised about Falmouth council chairman’s role in petition, town center debate

FALMOUTH — After Town Council Chairman Tony Payne on Aug. 23 reversed his opinion that a proposed town center project should not appear on the November ballot, a citizens group revealed Payne had actually drafted the petition it used to solicit opponents to the plan.

The group, Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices, was started by former Falmouth Memorial Library Trustee Lisa Preney and former Town Councilor Dave Libby. They evealed Payne’s involvement after the council chairman said he supported sending a revised version of the town center plan, as well as an additional advisory question, to voters in November.

Payne then issued an e-mail newsletter listing a number of conditions upon which he would support sending the plan to voters, including removing the use of undesignated town funds.

Preney said she was frustrated by Payne’s reversal.

“Tony Payne wrote the language for our petition and palm cards,” Preney said.

The group collected nearly 400 signatures asking councilors to delay the vote on the town center question until more options for the space could be explored.

“(Payne) was interested in downplaying his role (with the group),”  Preney said. “Tony really pulled the plug on us. He sat down with Dave (Libby) and I twice. He drafted the petition. He drafted and printed the palm cards and then dropped them off at my house.”

Payne said he was only trying to help focus the information being presented by the group.

“If you want to put the brakes on the process,” he said, “then petitioning with the right question would help get to that point.”

While Payne admitted he disappointed the Sound Choices group by voting in favor of the referendum on Aug. 23, he said he did not feel there was a conflict of interest in his drafting its documents.

Other councilors disagree.

“There’s an enormous gap between what he says and what he does,” said Councilor Cathy Breen, the former council chairwoman.

Breen said she took issue with Payne’s consistent votes in support of the Community Facilities Planning Committee’s creation, membership and funding for its studies, followed by his creation of the petition opposing the committee’s recommendation.

“He had two years to show up and get involved,” said Breen, referring to the committee’s meetings and public forums. “He came to one charette.”

Payne said his message has been consistent throughout the process.

“I’ve been very clear about this project. I don’t support it,” he said. “That’s part of the process – to be very consistent.”

However, when one citizen used the town’s website to submit an e-mail to the entire council asking questions about the opposition group’s access to documents not yet released to the public, Payne forwarded her e-mail and his response to Libby, encouraging him to post it on the group’s website.

The post went up with the author’s name, home address, phone number, computer IP address and e-mail address. Amy Winton, the author of the e-mail, said she was furious.

“I don’t fear anything I wrote,” Winton  said, “but I didn’t send the letter to the … group, I sent it to the councilors. It just seems like an ethical conflict of interest.”

Payne said he was not aware the post went up with Winton’s personal information. However, he said her message and his response are a matter of public record.

“Was it the right thing to do, was I pushing the envelope?,” Payne said. “Maybe.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net