GOULDSBORO — Due to errors in the posting of the warrants, the Gouldsboro Town Meeting and municipal elections, including a vote on whether to dissolve the Police Department, have been rescheduled for June 25-26.
After an hour-long discussion at an emergency meeting Monday night, the Gouldsboro selectmen voted unanimously to reschedule the elections for Tuesday, June 25, with Town Meeting set for Wednesday, June 26.
Town officials discovered Friday that the warrants posted prior to the original election and Town Meeting dates, June 11 and 12, had not been signed by the selectmen as required by law.
“We were supposed to [sign them] and intended to and it didn’t happen,” Dana Rice, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Tuesday afternoon.
When asked how the error happened, he said, “That’s a good question. We’re looking into that.”
He declined to elaborate further, saying, “I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus.”
Town Manager Sherri Cox told the approximately 30 people at the meeting Monday that because she had been working long hours with an auditor the week of the posting, she didn’t check to make sure the warrants were signed.
In addition to the missing signatures, the Town Meeting warrant did not include the referendum question, which asks voters whether they want to dissolve the existing police department and contract with Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.
The question is on the ballot as a result of a petition filed by resident Becky Irwin and signed by 97 residents.
Cox took responsibility for omitting the referendum Friday, saying she hadn’t been aware it needed to be included.
The selectmen held an emergency meeting Friday but postponed action until Monday in order to wait for legal advice from the Maine Municipal Association.
Of primary concern was how to handle 57 sealed absentee ballots. According to state law, Rice said, the absentee ballots must exactly match the ballots used on voting day. Because of the date change, the ballots will not match those to be used at the rescheduled election and are no longer valid.
According to correspondence from the Maine Municipal Association, which Rice read, town officials are required to make their “best, most practical effort” to reach all the absentee ballot voters, giving them the option to vote again. Otherwise their votes won’t be counted.
Initially, Rice proposed rescheduling the vote a week earlier but residents at the emergency meeting Monday said that wasn’t enough time.
“This really needs to be put back a lot farther for the sake of decency,” said resident Benjamin Walter, adding a week is “extremely short notice,” especially considering the importance of the police referendum vote.
A large portion of the meeting Monday deviated from the issue of rescheduling the Town Meeting and elections to a discussion of the police referendum and the extent of the town’s responsibility to inform residents about the issue prior to the vote.
Cox said she prepared a cost comparison late last month. It shows the proposed town police budget of $209,000, which provides an average of 100 hours of weekly coverage. In other columns are the costs of county coverage for 40, 80 and 100 hours. It would cost the town $254,917 for 100 hours of coverage, based on figures provided by the county for 2018 hourly rates.
Residents at the meeting said the figures should have been distributed to everyone in town. The selectmen agreed a mailing would have been helpful, but questioned how effective if it would have been.
“We all know more than 75 percent of them are going to go straight to the wastebasket,” Rice said.
He noted that the town held a hearing to discuss the police issue April 29. The language in the referendum question does not specify the level of coverage the town would receive from either the police department or the Sheriff’s Office going forward, making it hard to pinpoint costs, Rice said.
Gouldsboro police currently provide about 100 hours of coverage a week. The town could contract for more, less or the same from the Sheriff’s Office. That decision would be up to the selectmen if voters choose to dissolve the local department.
“I’d say, as a selectman, as a board of selectmen, I think the board and the town has done its due diligence,” Rice said.
But Catherine Dunbar, who is Police Chief Tyler Dunbar’s mother, said the information presented at the hearing was inadequate.
“[People] left that meeting more confused than when they went,” she said.
Walter and resident Roger Bowen also cited confusion created by a letter sent out by resident Melinda Boumans about the police issue, which appeared to some to be an official town document, they said.
“I would request that the select board consider sending out to every voting resident an addendum to the last newsletter,” Bowen said. “That would be the honest thing to do.”
Boumans said she had not intended to confuse anyone with her letter.
“I actually do agree with Roger [Bowen],” she said. “I do think it’s important to reach as many people as possible.”
Resident Robert Youtt, who is one of six candidates for three open seats on the Board of Selectmen (that vote, too, has been postponed until June 25), said he believes the town didn’t handle the dissemination of information on the police issue very well.
“The resources and the information need to be provided to the voter,” he said.
Walter concurred, saying that providing information to allow voters to make an informed decision is “the role of government.”
Youtt also said the lack of information will create a vote based on emotions rather than facts.
“This should weigh on everybody’s mind when they vote,” Rice responded.
Several others said voters should have been doing their own research, not asking the town to do it for them.
Selectman Cheri Robinson agreed.
“If this hadn’t happened, the vote would have taken place [June 11],” she said. “You’re still going to vote the same way, just a week or two later.”
In response to residents who suggested having the referendum vote on a date separate from the rest of town elections, Rice said doing so would require more time to get legal advice.
“This is a sour pill to swallow,” he said. “This is one balled up frigging mess.”