Lawsuit threat spurs Freeport to cement dispatch deal with Brunswick

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FREEPORT — The threat of a lawsuit has prompted the Town Council to move toward enacting an ordinance to codify the town’s emergency dispatch consolidation agreement with Brunswick.

Councilors on Tuesday night also put several Town Charter amendments on the Nov. 2 ballot. They include two that are the result of a complaint filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission by Marianne McGettigan, a resident with multiple sclerosis who said she was not offered accommodations when she was unable to travel to Town Hall to sign a petition to overrule the dispatch agreement.

In addition, councilors were told an agreement has been reached between the town and the Seacoast United Maine soccer club for field construction at Pownal Field.

Town Manager Dale Olmstead said there will be a public hearing Tuesday, Oct. 12, to discuss the dispatch ordinance and the field deal.

The council voted April 6 to consolidate dispatch services with Brunswick’s communication center. The petition to overturn the decision failed, but another petition was circulated to keep emergency dispatch service in town.

Although the second petition gathered enough signatures to send the question to a referendum, town officials deemed it invalid because a petitioners’ committee was not created and no affidavit was filed with the town clerk. There was also no sworn statement that the petition could be circulated by five designated residents, and petition blanks were not prepared and issued by the clerk’s office.

Now, according to McGettigan, a third petition as been filed with the town that would prohibit Freeport from contracting with another entity for dispatch and require dispatch, fire, emergency transport to be based in town 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

McGettigan, who served as a special assistant to President George H. W. Bush to help pass the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1989, said the current petition was filed using town standards. 

In addition, McGettigan said while she has not sued the town, a lawsuit could be filed this week. She said she gave the town a copy of the unfiled complaint a week ago as a courtesy.

She said she has concerns about the council creating an ordinance to retroactively excuse any procedural errors made in the contract with Brunswick. She also said there is also no specific line item in the 2010 or 2011 budget that shows where the money is coming from to pay Brunswick.

“They are trying to ratify a multi-year contract by taking a new vote,” she said. “I expected (the council) to realize how much they did not comply with the charter, but we will let a court decide if they can do it that way.”

The agreement between Freeport and Brunswick to consolidate emergency dispatch services was signed on June 29, and the decision was approved by a Town Council order.

The intent of the proposed new ordinance is to ratify the agreement and rectify any procedural errors made by the town.

Councilors voted 4-1 Tuesday to send the ordinance to a public hearing, after discussing it in executive session with the town attorney. Olmstead said the draft lawsuit raises “procedural issues.”

Councilor Eric Pandora cast the dissenting vote and Councilors Rich DeGrandpre and Joe Migliaccio were absent.

Charter amendments

Residents will vote on five questions in November relating to the Town Charter.

Under the existing charter, a petition to overturn a council decision has to be signed in the presence of the town clerk or deputy clerk at the clerk’s office. Some residents said this requirement prevents housebound residents from participating.

One of the five charter amendments residents includes language that would provide accommodations to qualified persons with a disability when petitions are circulated to enact an ordinance, overrule council actions or recall members of the council.

Another amendment change would remove references to the School Committee as part of the town, since the committee was dissolved with the creation of Regional School Unit 5.

Other questions would give the council flexibility in establishing the town manager’s term of office; clarify the authority of Town Council leadership; define the meaning of ordinance, order and resolve; give the council more flexibility as to when town budgets are adopted, and increase the amount of money the council can approve for capital improvements when using bonds or notes from $75,000 to $100,000.

Pownal Field

The council will also hold a public hearing on Oct. 12 on an agreement between Seacoast United Maine and the town regarding the use of Pownal Field.

Olmstead told the council that after months of negotiations, an agreement has been reached for RSU 5 and town athletic clubs to use the proposed fields and indoor soccer arena.

After permits are approved, Seacoast would build two outdoor fields, an indoor arena and an additional, town-owned Little League field. The agreement will allow the schools and town athletic clubs use of the fields for the next seven years. The arrangement is valued at $237,000.

“The Pownal Field Committee is pleased with the outcome, and has worked hard to create these arrangements,” Olmstead said.

After the seven-year agreement expires, he said, Freeport and RSU 5 will be able to buy field use at 80 percent of the published rate from Seacoast United. The money could come from future tax revenue put aside for athletic purposes.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net

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