Bridgton officials stand firm on reappointment policy despite possible mass exodus

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Dec. 21, 2012 may not be the end of the world as some say is prophesied by the Mayan calendar, but it certainly will be a day to remember in the history of Bridgton town politics.

On that day, a new policy will go into effect: all members of appointed committees will serve annually, and must reapply by Dec. 21 if they want to stay on for another year.

Yet all but one of the members of four town committees — around 15 residents — have signed a letter stating it’s “unlikely” they’ll reapply, because they view this new requirement as an attempt by town government to “recall” certain members and “rewrite” the committees’ charges. Members of the Comprehensive Plan Committee, the Community Development Committee, the Sewer Committee and the Pondicherry Park Committee agreed with the letter’s view that requiring existing members to reapply is a “battle for control” by selectmen who’ve shown a “lack of leadership” in moving projects forward, yet who don’t want committees to take the initiative on any issue.

Significantly, the letter suggests that it might be time for town volunteers to quit trying to work with the town, and to instead act on their own on behalf of residents, by filing citizen petitions. The only member who didn’t sign was Dee Miller of the CDC. The four letters from the four committees all had the same wording, and were delivered in envelopes to the municipal complex on Dec. 6.

On Tuesday, three members of the five-member Bridgton Board of Selectmen fought back, saying the letter misrepresented what they are trying to do. Woody Woodward, Bob McHatton and Paul Hoyt rejected a motion by Bernie King, backed by Doug Taft, to exempt current committee volunteers from having to reapply to serve. Instead, the board voted, by the same 3–2 split, to require all existing committee members to notify the town by Dec. 21 if they want to continue serving, and to also update the board of any changes in the committees’ status.

The new policy opens up applications for each of the town’s nine committees to any new resident who would like to apply by the Dec. 21 deadline. The board will then review all applications and decide on committee membership in January. In January the board will also finalize the “charge, mission and authority” of each committee. The board reviewed newly-redrafted charges Tuesday for the CDC, CPC, Investment Committee, Recycling Committee, Sewer Committee and the Budget Advisory Committee. Budget Committee members were held to an earlier application deadline of Dec. 7, since they need to meet in advance of the presentation of the FY 2014 budget on Jan. 8.

“I’m not looking for anything more than an acknowledgement that any committee member is wanting to continue,” said Hoyt, who denied that the annual reappointments were either a “recall” or an attempt to change the wording of mission statements. There was a lack of consistency in both the format and content of committee mission statements that the board thought it was time to address, he said. Woodward added that, over the course of a year, some committee volunteers drop out, and “It’s our fiduciary responsibility to make sure these committees are staffed.”

But, Taft said, it was counter-productive to make changes in mission statements midway through a committee’s efforts. “We appointed them, we may not agree with them, but we need to stop interfering — that’s not the right word — stop interjecting (the board’s opinions) partway through the project.”

Every town employee is reappointed annually to their position, Woodward said, “and I don’t think it demoralizes them.”

Woodward said committee members signed a letter that was based “on gossip and lies,” when they could have contacted selectmen to ask if the allegation of an intended recall was true. “All of this is being misrepresented,” he said. The letter writer wasn’t identified, but two people in the audience said CDC and CPC member Chuck Renneker was the primary person behind the message.

McHatton said the reappointment process simply requires filling out a one-page application with basic questions. “I don’t think that’s that big a deal.”

McHatton said to committee members in the audience, “As a selectman, I want to work with you. I have the same passion for the town (that others do) and I’ve lived here for 44 years. I ask you to be a team player with me,” by returning the reappointment application on Dec. 21.

“That’s a signal that you want to be a team player,” McHatton said. “If you do not want to be a team player, then I don’t want you on the team with me.” When Hoyt suggested the board move on to other things, McHatton said he wasn’t done.

“This is an important issue. “Whoever feels you cannot work with the board of selectmen, go out on your own and do petition work,” McHatton said. “(But) you should do yourself a favor and the town a favor, and resign your position.”

 

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