Scarborough organic lawn care policy back on the books

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SCARBOROUGH — A day after town councilors seemingly replaced a 7-month-old organic pest management policy with a traditional, chemical-friendly plan, the town was back to the chem-free approach.

In an email to councilors, Town Manager Tom Hall said approval of the new policy was invalid because it didn’t meet voting requirements contained in the Town Charter.

The charter says four affirmative votes are needed for final passage, but at the April 18 meeting, only three councilors – Jim Benedict, Jessica Holbrook and Judy Roy – voted for the new policy. Councilor Richard Sullivan recused himself and Councilors Karen D’Andrea and Carol Rancourt refused to vote.

“In light of this, I view the existing policy, adopted September 21, 2011, to be in effect and will act in accordance thereto,” Hall said. 

The traditional pest management policy proposed by Sullivan on April 18 was criticized by D’Andrea and Rancourt, and by many residents, several of whom have formed a group called Citizens for a Green Scarborough. 

On April 20, after hearing that the prior vote was invalid, members of that group were elated.

“This was the 12th-hour miracle in our view,” said Eddie Woodin, a local business owner, philanthropist and member of Citizens for a Green Scarborough.

The organic policy now in effect was drafted during a year of work by the town’s Ordinance Committee and members of Citizens for a Green Scarborough. It calls for the use of chemical-free techniques, except in emergency situations, when traditional pesticides could be applied at the town manager’s discretion. It also created a seven-member board to oversee the organic program and advise the town manager.

When Sullivan proposed replacing the policy, first in March and again last week, pro-organic residents said the council was throwing away all their work with a single vote.

Sullivan’s proposal would have removed the organics mandate and replaced it with a policy of using the least harmful effective pesticides, organic or not. It also would have removed two seats from the Pest Management Advisory Board.

For now, the organic policy seems to be safe. Neither Sullivan nor Holbrook said they intend to bring it back to the council.

“I’m not gonna fight with it anymore,” Sullivan said. “It was a lot of work, I put myself out there, I was falsely accused and I’ve had about enough of that.”

“I’m not opposed to bringing it back, but I’m by no means beating down the doors to do it,” Holbrook said. 

Meanwhile, at Town Hall, business is moving forward under the organic policy.

On Friday, the town opened contractor bids on a request for proposals for turf management services. The town received three bids: one from Go Green Landscaping for more than $22,800 per year, another from Purely Organics for $30,000 per year and the third from Sports Fields for $35,200. 

Hall said a two-year contract would be awarded in the next week or so, but that price is only one factor. Each contractor provided a summary of techniques, services offered and products used, which will play into the decision by Hall and Community Services Director Bruce Gullifer. 

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

Sidebar Elements

Pesticides fracas brings council rules into question

SCARBOROUGH — While the town’s pesticide policy issue has, at least for now, been decided, questions about council procedures and rules raised during the month-long discussion remain unanswered:

• In an email to councilors, Town Manager Tom Hall pointed out that by “abstaining” in the 3-0 vote on April 18, Councilors Karen D’Andrea and Carol Rancourt violated a rule requiring all councilors, except those who have been recused, to cast votes.

• Rancourt has accused Councilor Richard Sullivan of failing to file a disclosure statement about his brother, Dan Sullivan, who has a $40,000 contract with the town for lawn mowing services. Town Council rules require such disclosures, which Sullivan admitted to not filing. Hall has said that no councilor has filed a disclosure statement since the rule was enacted in 2009.

• Citizens for a Green Scarborough (and their attorney) still claim Sullivan was not eligible to propose his new policy in the first place because of council rules regarding “reconsideration.” However, a town attorney gave Sullivan the OK and said he was within the the rules.

• Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist and Sullivan questioned whether proper parliamentary procedure was followed in voting on Sullivan’s proposal. They speculated that when Councilor Jessica Holbrook called for a vote, she was simply “moving the question” – calling for a vote to end debate, not a vote on the policy. Holbrook, though, said she wanted a decision on the policy, and stands by the 3-0 vote.

Violations of council rules could lead to public or private censure hearings. But neither the censure process nor possible punishments for rule-breakers are outlined in the council Rules, Policies and Procedures manual or the Town Charter.

That left Ahlquist, who did not attend last week’s meeting, trying to figure out what to do.

“If you look at (the policy regarding censure), it doesn’t seem to mean anything,” Ahlquist said.

He said Friday that the Rules Committee would address the holes in the council’s manual, but that it would probably have to wait until other, more pressing business is handled.

“I wish this would all go away so we can concentrate on what I want to concentrate on, which is the budget,” he said.

— Mario Moretto