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Judge decision favors Black Mountain
RUMFORD -- It's been a long road, but today, Black Mountain of Maine will finally receive a check from the Town of Rumford for $51,000 in funding approved on Oct. 13 by voters by a margin of 405-370.
In a statement on Dec. 22, Superior Court Justice Robert W. Clifford wrote, "Contrary to the contentions of the plaintiffs, the court concludes that the provisions of the Town Charter have been complied with, and that Article V, Section 6 allows the previous votes of the town to be reconsider if there is a valid petition with the requisite number of signatures.
The Charter does not require that a vote on whether there is a 'critical circumstance' to be conducted separate and distinct from the vote on the funding itself. The one vote on the funding is all that the Charter requires. Because that vote authorized the town to provide funding for Black Mountain, the complaint of the plantiffs must be dismissed, and their request for relief denied."
Town Manager Carlo Puiia said the argument was filed on Dec. 2. He couldn't released the funds until the court's decision because of the lawsuit filed in August challenging the resort's use of the petition process to circumvent its initial funding request defeat.
At the June 8 town meeting, 657 residents voted to not give Black Mountain any money; 420 voted to give it $56,700, and 637 voted to give it $51,000.
Black Mountain officials contend that people wanted to fund the resort, but were split on the amount, so they circulated a petition to bring it up for another vote.
The town charter states that if neither amount is approved by the majority of voters, the article is "defeated and the amount appropriated will be zero.”
On Aug. 11, Alan Gerace, Frank DiConzo, Paul Lowell, Selectman Mark Belanger and Ronald Theriault, all of Rumford, filed suit after Black Mountain officials successfully petitioned for another vote.
Claiming Rumford officials violated the town's charter by scheduling a vote, they sought an injunction to block the ski resort's request by challenging the petition process used.
They stated that while Article V, Section 6 of the charter states that citizens may petition for a special town meeting by gathering 500 signatures, critical circumstances that would affect the welfare of Rumford residents as required by that charter article did not exist.
A majority of selectmen twice ruled that funding the ski area after their initial request in June was denied did not constitute a critical circumstance that would affect the well-being of residents.
Ski resort officials then bypassed the board's decision using a petition and claiming that if Black Mountain didn't get the funding, it would close, thereby creating the critical circumstance.
On Aug. 19, Justice Clifford denied the preliminary injunction, but told the town to hold a formal town meeting and vote to decide the funding issue.
“Plaintiffs' complaint challenges the town's scheduling of a vote per Article V, Section 6 of the Town's Charter entitled 'Special Meetings' in accordance with the citizen's petition process provided for therein,” Clifford wrote in his decision.
“After review of Article V, Section 6, and arguments of the parties, the motion for preliminary injunction to enjoin the town from conducting a vote on the Black Mountain issue is hereby denied.”
“Even though not raised in plaintiffs' pleading, however, the court concludes that the vote on the Black Mountain issue should be preceded by a formal town meeting with notice to the public, a reading of the warrant, and debate on the Black Mountain issue consistent with the requirements of Article V, Section 3,” said Clifford.
A debate was held at the business meeting on September 27, with the secret ballot vote on October 13.