Freeport councilors battle over right-to-know

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FREEPORT — A clash between two town councilors has prompted one of them to make a formal Freedom of Access request and threaten to take legal action against the other.

Town Councilor Genie Beaulieu said she will give her colleague, Councilor Joe Migliaccio, until Thursday, April 16, to supply the information she requested.

Beaulieu wants the names of people who sent e-mails to Migliaccio the night of a recent Town Council meeting about a zoning ordinance change. She said she thought his refusal to provide the information  is “appalling.”

Migliaccio on Tuesday would not discuss the situation with a reporter. But Beaulieu said she understood he would not give her the information she requested. She said Migliaccio told her he may hire his own legal counsel.

“We disagree with what the law is,” she said.

According to the Maine Freedom of Access Act, any e-mail or document in the possession of a public official, that has been received or prepared for use in connection with the transaction of public or governmental business or contains information relating to the transaction of public or governmental business and is not deemed confidential or personal, is public material.

Beaulieu said she made her FOA request after last Tuesday’s Town Council meeting on a zoning ordinance amendment that waived parking for a proposed movie theater slated to be built in the Freeport Village Station parking garage.

Councilors Migliaccio and Eric Pandora opposed the ordinance change, which eliminates the cost of nearly 80 parking spaces for the incoming cinema. Both councilors claimed it was unfair to nearby businesses that are required to pay parking fees. They also said there was not enough information about the pending theater application, and did not feel comfortable changing the zoning ordinance without additional background information. They said they did not oppose the theater, but disagreed with the process.

The amendment was recommended by the Planning Board because the peak parking demand for retail users is different than the peak parking demand for cinemas. Migliaccio said the Town Council was not given enough information to make a decision and recommended they table the discussion, but the council voted 5-2 to pass the zoning amendment.

According to Beaulieu, after the meeting on April 7, Migliaccio forwarded councilors e-mail messages from four constituents who did not agree with the vote. But he removed their names from the messages.

Beaulieu said she wanted to know the names of the people who sent the e-mails, so if they lived or owned a business in her district, she could talk to them. She said when Migliaccio wouldn’t respond to her questions, she decided to make a formal request for the information. She also said Town Attorney Jeff Hole advised councilors that “anything an elected official puts out there is public.”

“My intention was only to get more information because we can help these people,” she said. “In the 12 or so years I’ve been involved in town politics, I’ve been involved in hearing from the people and trying to help them.”

She said she doesn’t intend to create problems within the council, especially when there is so much work to do, but she doesn’t know what else to do.

“I wanted to do something positive,” Beaulieu said. “I’d like to talk to the business owners and help them save some money, but I can’t do that without their names.”

Beaulieu also said Migliaccio’s refusal makes her wonder what else he may be hiding.

“He always touts transparency, but he is not being open,” she said. “I may not appear transparent, but I try to be. I don’t want to blindside anybody.”

Pandora said Beaulieu’s action is “an abuse of the intent of FOA.”

Town Manager Dale Olmstead, responding to a request Tuesday from The Forecaster for the e-mails in question, agreed to provide the documents. But the messages were not provided by Wednesday morning.

Council Chairman Rich DeGrandpre said he can see both sides of the
situation and thinks the councilors need to work out their differences
with each other.

“This is an unfortunate distraction in a time when we have a lot of
work to do,” he said. “My hope is that this disagreement will not
handicap them from making good decisions.”

The council will meet again May 5 at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall council chambers to continue budget discussions. 

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]