Things get heated up over Frozen Fuel Fund

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

CASCO – The meeting room at Casco Community Center got a little heated – both from the number of bodies in seats, and from the emotions and passionate speaking by a few people in the room.

Resident Jeannine Lauber Oren waited until the public participation period at the end of the Casco Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday. She read from a written statement. Her grievance was that she had been unrightfully denied a spot on the agenda – for a presentation that she had been preparing for months to give. She said the minutes from a September meeting indicated she would have the floor on Oct. 12; and yet that date had arrived and her presentation had been deleted from the agenda.

Chairman Barbara York said Oren would have been allowed to speak at length – if she had provided the town clerk with copies of her presentation at least one week before the scheduled meeting.

Oren repeatedly claimed she had handed over the requested paperwork to accompany her presentation. Quickly, Oren singled out board member Mary-Vanessa Fernandes, saying Fernandes had a copy of the paperwork that proves the town mismanaged money in the General Assistance Fund set aside to provide fuel assistance to community members. She indicated Fernandes should have been responsible for getting that written material to other selectmen.

In less than 15 minutes after Oren stood up to speak, community members verbally urged her to leave the room, and clapped and cheered when she walked out.

At first, Oren grabbed her purse, keys and sizable stack of paperwork. Someone suggested she “just leave.” She walked toward the door and turned around to watch the person who now had the floor. Oren responded to that comment from where she was standing near the door. Then, she almost backed out of the room before she left. Her departure was met with an avalanche of applause from the audience.

When Oren initially took the podium, she accused the town manager and members of the board of “deceiving the public” by removing her presentation from the agenda.

“I am very disappointed not to give the presentation tonight on the frozen fuel fund. Jenn (Murray) and I have spent months preparing it. I am disappointed that our voices – which are the voices of Casco – have been silenced,” Oren said.

During a phone interview on Wednesday, Town Manager David Morton, said he gave Oren and Murray ample time to submit the written material that was associated with the social services account.

“Such a request has never been refused or ignored by anyone since I’ve been with the town. The communication on Sept. 23 clearly said we would set up the time, and needed material by Oct. 5,” Morton said, adding he delayed posting the agenda by 24 hours to give the women more time to provide the paperwork. On Oct. 6, he sent both Murray and Oren e-mails containing the Oct. 12 agenda.  “If they had checked their e-mails, they would have realized their presentation wasn’t on the agenda,” he said.

Oren claimed she had given a pile of paperwork to Fernandes, who followed-up on Oren and Murray’s accusations this winter that there were accounting errors in the fuel fund account.

“Numerous fraudulent figures were submitted to the state by town staff” and there’s written material to back that up, Oren said.

Fernandes bristled at the mention of her name, and leaned down the table to ask Selectman Ray Grant if he would get her a cup of water while she kept her eyes on Oren and waited to speak her peace. Someone yelled, “Let Mary talk.”

“After that meeting, I went to your house for three hours to get to the truth of it,” Fernandes said. She continued, saying the amount of paperwork was overwhelming and she had asked the women to provide her with a few pages to summarize their point and highlight the accounting errors.

“If these infractions are true – as a taxpayer I want to know. As a board member, I need to know,” she said. Immediately, the crowd clapped and yelled “yeah” to Fernandes’ response.

On Wednesday, Morton said an audit by a reputable firm revealed there wasn’t any mismanagement of money in the General Assistance Fund. And, over the course of months, Murray and Oren pushed for the audit, battled against having it done, and then accused the firm doing the audit of being unreliable.

“She (Oren) has been very abusive, very angry, and she’s been very disruptive,” Morton said.

“She is impassioned. She has her perception; and although it’s different, people probably shouldn’t be rude to her. But, she has angered a lot of people in this community,” he said.

Please follow and like us: