FREEPORT — An anonymous publication called the Crow’s Nest has resurfaced, upsetting some residents and business owners, and prompting town officials to investigate whether they have the right to prevent its distribution.
According to several residents, the publication has been distributed periodically in town for about 25 years. It parodies town business, politics and public officials.
An edition distributed before the Nov. 8 election targeted several candidates and town staff. The publication also depicted a lynching, prompting several residents to address the Town Council on Dec. 6.
Resident Stephanie Helms said the Crow’s Nest was distributed at Town Hall on at least two occasions. She asked the council to adopt a resolution that would prohibit distribution of the the publication or any others like it on town property.
“This kind of material does not deserve to be distributed at our Town Hall, it is threatening and I think this council should vote on this right now, they should waive the rules and adopt this,” Helms said.
Resident Ken Mann said the election edition was more threatening than past issues.
“Town employees are being hurt by this, good citizens are being hurt by this, all the people that have been depicted in this thing are well known in the community … office holders, former office holders, town employees, people that have run for public office,” Mann said.
“Everybody has a right to make fun of us, but I think this has gone too far,” he continued. “I understand there is nothing illegal … but it’s certainly improper and certainly shouldn’t be made available at the Town Hall.”
Town Manager Dale Olmstead said he does not want publications like the Crow’s Nest in Town Hall and does not want residents to assume town employees are being complacent.
He said there is an administrative policy that allows people to put public documents, notices, and newspapers in the entrance of Town Hall as long as the documents have a name, contact information or something indicating ownership. The same policy allows for the removal of those documents if they fail to indicate ownership, Olmstead said.
Town staff have removed questionable documents in the past, he said, although it is not up to them to monitor the area.
In the wake of the latest Crow’s Nest, Olmstead said the town attorney is investigating whether the administrative policy can withstand a legal challenge.
“We are trying to find out if I have the authority to (make that policy) and if it’s a violation of the First Amendment,” Olmstead said. “If the town attorney feels I’ve overstepped my reach and publications and notices can be distributed, then we will leave (them) alone.”
Police Chief Gerald Schofield also sent a copy of the Crow’s Nest to the attorney general’s office to determine if the publication violates the Maine Civil Rights Act or if the rights of residents depicted in the publication had been violated.
According to a response from Detective Margie Berkovich of the Investigation Division of the AG’s office on Nov. 23, the Crow’s Nest does not contain a direct threat against a specific individual and no action can be taken.
“Despite its offensive nature, the author of the newsletter is doing nothing more than engaging in First Amendment speech,” Berkovich said in her letter.
Olmstead denied he has any connection to the Crow’s Nest publication, although some residents who spoke at the Dec. 6 council meeting suggested he is involved. Mann and a few other residents who spoke that night also suggested former Town Councilor Ed Campbell is the author of the publication.
When asked, Campbell, a resident of West Gardiner, said he was not producing the publication from his house and said he’s “put to bed all the boogieman stuff.”
He said he has been “lampooned” by the Crow’s Nest in the past, and is an easy target for people who want to accuse him of these actions.
“(The Crow’s Nest) has been going on now for about 25 years,” he said. “One person’s joke is another person’s anguish. But I don’t really care about it one way or another.
“I don’t have, as a person, the market cornered on public dissent on political bodies. I’ve got more important things to do in life than ‘you said this and you said that.’ I’ve been (in West Gardiner) for almost eight years. It’s like being on a different planet.”
In addition to the depictions of political candidates, town staff and public officials, the Crow’s Nest recently listed several local businesses on its back page, implying they are advertisers or supporters of the publication. They included The Forecaster, the Times Record of Brunswick, Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union, Bow Street Market, the Freeport Historical Society and the North Freeport Store.
On Monday, Adam Nappi, owner of Bow Street Market, said his business has nothing to do with the publication.
“Bow Street Market did not authorize use of our logo nor did it sponsor a Crow’s Nest,” Nappi said in an email. “Bow Street Market undertakes a serious and careful review of opportunities for sponsorship and the use of our logo. We are proud to have the ability to support community organizations and events and plan to continue to do so in a positive manner.”
Christina White, executive director of the Freeport Historical Society, said she, too, knew nothing about the use of the organization’s logo in the Crow’s Nest.
Ryan Doherty, owner of North Freeport Store on Wardtown Road, said he went to the Police Department with a copy of the publication, but does not believe anything can be done without first confirming who is responsible for the publication.
“We have nothing to do with this, and it’s starting to anger me,” he said. “It showed up in my store right after the election and I am not happy about it.”
Doherty said he has other publications in his store, but removes the Crow’s Nest when it shows up.
“If someone would sign it and admit they were doing it, I’d put it on the shelf,” he said. “If there was a name and phone number on it, then it is his problem, not mine. But until then, it is wrong to use the names of these businesses without permission. It’s fine to say what you want to say, but I don’t want my business, my livelihood involved in this.”
Karen Wood, publisher of The Forecaster, said the newspaper disavows any connection to the Crow’s Nest.