Reasons for not signing Dixfield election warrant
To the Editor:
I’ve been informed there may have been a few citizens of Dixfield who were upset due to the fact that Selectman Scott Belskis and I refused to sign an election warrant presented at the last selectmen’s meeting. I gave a full and detailed explanation at the meeting, however when Eileen Adams, SunJournal reporter wrote her article depicting the events, she was negligently non-descriptive. So, in the infamous words of Paul Harvey, “Now for the rest of the story.”
Scott Belskis and I refused to sign the election warrant because of a flawed, inconsistent and unclear wind ordinance that could result in potential illegal ramifications. Prior to making my decision to abstain from signing the warrant, I did meet with two other town managers who advised me that I was correct in following the MMA Town Election & Warrant Manual guidelines.
In May 2012, the Town of Dixfield had a five-member selectboard. After the June 2012 election and a resignation from the board, three of the past board members were no longer in office. However the town manager of Dixfield still felt it was necessary to honor their decision back in May to place the wind ordinance on the ballot. The problem is this. The ordinance the past board agreed to put on the ballot was seriously flawed. We demanded that the ordinance be sent to a neutral attorney and it was sent to Kristin M. Collins, Esq (Kelly & Collins, LLC). This time when it was scrutinized by the lawyer it was returned to the board in September 2012 with over 90 recommended amendments. The document was 34 pages long and 27 of those pages contained suggested corrections, to include attaching a zoning map, prior to going in front of the voters.
At the September meeting, the current board of selectmen tabled the discussion of the changes to the following meeting since there was a mountain of information to digest. Again, there were over 90 "more than a few" recommended amendments made by our legal representative from MMA. I should also mention that John Maloney, senior planner of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments (AVCOG) had provided his recommendation that the wind ordinance needed to be changed or the comprehensive plan needed to be changed so they would be compatible. The townspeople voted in Nov. 2010 not to change the comprehensive plan to exclude Colonel Holman Mountain as a scenic resource. John Maloney stated the wind ordinance should not be put in front of the voters until the changes were made.
After tabling the wind ordinance discussion in September, we fully expected to meet as a board two weeks later to address the recommended changes by the attorney but that meeting did not take place because Chairman Gill and Selectman Withrow both ended up being unavailable and out of town so we would not have had a quarum. This is why we were restricted from discussing the ordinance until Oct 15th. In this interim, the town manager took it upon himself as clerk to put in his own words, a flawed ordinance on the election ballot. The town manager said we could always change the ordinance later after the people voted on it. I believed this was unacceptable and improper since if we amended the ordinance after the vote, knowing we were going to do so before the vote, we would then have to hold another public hearing and the citizens would have to vote on it all over again.
I stressed that there is no urgency in this matter since Patriot Renewable's representativeTom Carroll has stated publicly that the company doesn’t plan on starting any project until at least 2015. Scott Belskis and I agreed that the wind ordinance was unclear, flawed and created a strong potential for litigation if we ignored the recommendations made by legal representatives and felt it was improper and a disservice to allow the citizens to vote on an ordinance such as that.
MMA procedure states in the Town Election & Warrant Manual that a majority of the board needs to sign (not vote) the warrant to finalize it in the public's view and that if a majority of the board does not agree to sign the warrant then no member shall sign the warrant. Because of this I feel we have a non- binding referendum ballot going to the citizens of Dixfield for a vote, since we did not have a majority of the board signing and finalizing the election warrant. This was not just a formality according to the MMA manual.
In regards to public hearings in the MMA manual, it addresses Public Hearings Preceding a Secret Ballot Vote on an Ordinance. It is written that there must be a public hearing held at least 10 days prior to consideration of any article (other than election of officials) by secret ballot referendum. This requirement also pertains to ordinances to be enacted by secret ballot. If, after the required public hearing, substantive changes are made to a proposed ordinance, a further hearing must be held on the new version of the ordinance. (See the New Hampshire case of Town of Hampton v. Brust, 446 A.2d 458 (N.H., 1982). Further, that new hearing must also comply with the requirements of Section 2528. This may sometimes mean having to postpone an election, if the ordinance posted with the warrant varies from the final draft.
To avoid this, the best practice is to refrain from posting a warrant until all redrafting is complete, a hearing has been held on the final draft and no changes have resulted from that hearing. In short, it is good to obtain repeated public input on an ordinance before going to the formal, statutory public hearing. It is also important to keep in mind that absentee ballots must be made available at least 30 days prior to a secret ballot election. Hearings should be held early enough so that the ordinance may be finalized in time to prepare the absentee ballots. Note: When you have an ordinance that has a significant number of changes the ordinance, which would be attached to the warrant or made available at the town office, would either list all the amendments individually, or would show the entire original ordinance with new language underlined and deleted language stricken through.
Finally, a "no" vote was taken by the other two selectmen (Chairman Gill and Selectman Withrow) to sign the election warrant. There was no motion made and no vote taken, they simply signed the election warrant at the suggestion of the town manager and in my opinion violated MMA election procedures.
I am proud of the Dixfield that my ancestors created back when we were Holmantown. I grew up in this town, my wife and I raised our children in this town and are raising our grandchildren in this town. I want nothing more than what is in the best interest of the people who have chosen to plant their roots here. My goal in local government has been to permanently lower and stabilize the town’s tax base, strive for accountability and promote transparency in local government and finally to give the citizens of Dixfield a voice in local politics. Norman Mitchell is running for a selectman seat on Nov. 6. Norman Mitchell shares these same goals and has my full support. .I hope he has yours. Vote for Norman Mitchell, “Vote for a change.”