Repeal of anti-pesticides policy leads to acrimony, accusations in Scarborough

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SCARBOROUGH — Amid finger-pointing, gavel-pounding and bickering that led to one councilor angrily leaving Wednesday’s meeting, the Town Council replaced a 7-month-old policy promoting the use of organic pest management methods with one that allows chemical pesticides on town-owned property.

The new Integrated Pest Management Policy calls for the town to use the least-harmful product available, rather than always using organics, as long as it still manages pests.

The policy also reduces the new Pest Management Advisory Committee from seven members to five, which would effectively remove two pro-organics members. A decision about who to appoint to the committee was tabled until the next Town Council meeting.

The new policy was approved 3-0. Councilor Richard Sullivan recused himself and Councilors Karen D’Andrea and Carol Rancourt abstained, saying they believed the vote was out of order.

“I don’t think we should be voting on something that is in violation of our policy rules,” D’Andrea said. She scolded councilors during the vote, which led to Vice Chairwoman Judy Roy telling her she was out of order.

“You’re all out of order!” D’Andrea shouted back before leaving the meeting. 

Adoption of the new policy is opposed by some residents. They are angry at the town for replacing the organic policy that took a year to develop before even implementing the policy or filling the advisory board it created when it was approved in September

“Let this, at least for one season, play out with the recommendations of the organic policy and go from there,” said Loan Lorie, one of about a dozen residents who spoke against the new policy. “I don’t understand why something that was decided in September after such a long policy would have to be reconsidered.”

Sullivan, who was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 decision to pass the organic approach last year, proposed the replacement policy, which adopts the “Best Management and Practices for Athletic Fields and School Grounds” approved by the Maine Board of Pesticide Control in February. 

He first proposed a replacement policy in March, but it was removed from the agenda and not discussed.

The first goal of the Maine board policy is to minimize the human exposure to pesticides. It creates a ranked system, with Level 1 fields getting the most attention, and probably application of pesticides, and Level 4 fields getting little more than mowing and water. 

D’Andrea, Rancourt and Elizabeth Peoples – a lawyer working with Citizens for a Green Scarborough, which worked for a year in the Ordinance Committee to craft the organic policy – believe Sullivan had no standing to propose the new policy because he voted in the minority in September.

They cite a Town Council rule about reconsideration, which states that “only those Council members who voted in the majority can sponsor an item for reconsideration, or in the negative on a tie vote, to move a reconsideration thereof at the same, or the next stated meeting.”

They also cited a rule saying a petition cannot be reconsidered for at least a year.

Joel Messer, an outside attorney working for the town, said the rules on reconsideration govern only reconsideration at the same or next meeting, and that “petitions” are defined as requests that originate outside the council, not inside. And so, he argues, Sullivan was free to make his request. 

Members of Citizens for a Green Scarborough said they’re not finished. Some talked Wednesday about taking legal action, others threatened a referendum to bring back the organics-only policy. 

“We are pursuing our options,” said Peoples, who also runs an organic herb farm, MainelyHerbs, in Scarborough.

Much of the debate Wednesday centered around the peripheral issue of whether Sullivan – who runs a landscaping business, but has never been hired by the town – should have disclosed that his brother, Dan Sullivan, owns a landscaping business that does work for the town. 

Rancourt accused Sullivan of violating a disclosure rule because his brother is paid $40,000 by the Community Services Department for mowing and trimming. Town rules stipulate that councilors must file a disclosure statement if a member of his or her immediate family does more than $1,000 of business with the town.

Sullivan said he has made no such disclosure, but that he doesn’t believe he must because he has no reason to read contracts awarded by Community Services. When councilors vote on the budget, he said, they don’t see every contract.

He said he barely talks to his brother, and that his brother doesn’t even use pesticides.

“We don’t have family functions, and we don’t go on trips,” he said. “I would never even know if my brother won or lost a contract.”

Sullivan demanded that Rancourt retract her accusation. If she doesn’t, he said, he will demand a council hearing. 

Before leaving the meeting, D’Andrea also accused Town Manager Tom Hall of acting unethically for “not implementing the (organic) policy.” Hall later said that no pesticide applications, organic or otherwise, have been made since September, with the exception of an emergency grub management application.

Even under the old policy, though, chemical pesticides may have been used in that case because of an emergency provision that allowed the town manager to opt out of organics.

After the meeting, one resident shouted at Councilor Jim Benedict, who voted for Sullivan’s proposal. Others talked with Hall, who said he sought a legal opinion from the moment Sullivan asked about bringing the new policy forward.

Hall tried to assure residents that the council and his staff are still dedicated to using organic pest control techniques, and that the new policy allows them to do so.  

“All is not lost, in fact a lot has been gained,” he said. 

But for some residents, it’s not enough.

“You can’t go half way on organics,” Elisa Boxer-Cook said. “It’s all or nothing.”

Eddie Wooden, a local business owner and philanthropist who supports Citizens for a Green Scarborough, said the fight is not over. 

“We’re not going away,” Wooden said. “We’re going to be very aggressive about this.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.