With lawsuit pending, Freeport council fixes dispatch pact with Brunswick

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FREEPORT — The Town Council on Tuesday codified the April 6 agreement that consolidated emergency dispatch services with Brunswick.

The after-the-fact vote corrected procedural errors in the agreement that took effect June 29. The vote was 5-1, with Councilor Eric Pandora opposed; Councilor Joe Migliaccio abstained.

Residents Marianne McGettigan and Donald Rice urged the council to delay until after a hearing in a Superior Court lawsuit. The hearing had been scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 13, but was delayed because of a judge’s illness.

McGettigan, Rice and Judith Blanchard sued the town in September. They claim that consolidating dispatch by a council order, not an ordinance, is inconsistent with the Town Charter. They claim the charter states that multi-year contracts must be approved by ordinance, so the $122,500 payment made by Freeport to Brunswick is invalid.

The plaintiffs asked the court to halt the consolidation process, by either issuing a temporary restraining order or ruling that the contract between Brunswick and Freeport is illegal and invalid, which would return dispatch services to Freeport.

In addition, they claim councilors who voted in favor of consolidation on April 6 – all but Migliaccio and Pandora – should be held liable for repaying the $122,500.

Migliaccio said he said he was not present at a council meeting on Sept. 14 when, in an executive session, the town attorney gave legal advice on how to proceed in light of the possible lawsuit. He said he was not “up to speed” on the matter, and noted he voted against consolidations in the first place.

Pandora said it is not “prudent to proceed,” since he did not have all the information he felt he needed about the temporary restraining order sought against the town. 

He moved to table the decision to ratify the agreement, but without a second, the motion failed.

“This is not about dispatch, this is about the legal case in front of us,” Pandora said. “We should not move forward.”

McGettigan said the council vote was “predictable” and was not surprised the only people who spoke in the public hearing were the plaintiffs.

Rice called the council action illegal and said the logical action would have been to hold off until a judge ruled.

In addition, McGettigan said she is concerned that Brunswick could be required to transfer its emergency dispatch services to Cumberland County if there is a reduction from 26 to 17 public service answering points in Maine.

Dispatch services switched from Freeport to Brunswick on Friday, Oct. 8.

Brunswick communications Supervisor Sonia Moeller said Freeport’s 911 calls have been answered in Brunswick for the past four to five years, but calls directly to the fire and police departments are now transferred to Brunswick dispatchers, who assign the appropriate Freeport vehicle.

“There were a few hiccups (on Oct. 8), as is expected with any new system,” Moeller said. “But, there have been no complaints from responders to the public and overall the transition has gone smoothly.”

Freeport Police Chief Gerald Schofield said the Freeport Public Safety Building will no longer be open to the public 24 hours a day. Instead, it will be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. A phone outside the building will automatically dial the Brunswick Police Department in case of an after-hours emergency, he said.

In addition, the Reassurance Program has been incorporated into Brunswick’s Good Morning Program, which Schofield said “operates 99 percent” the way Freeport’s did.

Overall, the chief said, “phone communications have worked really well and radio has been working well. We are still identifying hiccups and making improvements where it is necessary.”

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

This report was updated on Oct. 14.