2017-01-19 / Letters

Did council go into executive session when it shouldn’t have?

To the editor:

It appears that the public’s ability to participate in their local government is becoming less evident as time goes by.

At the Jan. 9 Saco City Council workshop, a non-recorded and non-televised meeting, an excellent presentation was made by GXT Green, a company producing disposable shopping bags. In addition, the workshop was loaded with other issues of public interest.

The workshop agenda was not available to the public or a sign-up sheet for the public wishing to offer comments. As the meeting progressed, residents in attendance wishing to speak were not permitted to do so. When a resident tried to speak, she was gaveled down – a common occurrence of late at meetings and workshops.

At workshop’s end, the mayor stated that the council was going to have an executive session. The public was asked to leave. When asked repeatedly what was the purpose of the executive session, there was no response other than, “we are going into executive session.”

As fate would have it, Saco’s city solicitor was standing at the podium and was asked his opinion if the meeting was legal. The taxpayers present stated that the meeting was illegal. Residents challenged the city attorney to state the purpose and legality of the session. His response was that he was going to speak with the city council and that was reason enough.

Here again the city brushed aside state statutory requirements and went ahead with an illegal executive session. The mayor and majority of council members violated the statute governing such sessions. Please refer to Title 1, Chapter 13 M.R.S.A. - Public Records and Proceedings to additional details: www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/1/title1ch13sec0.html.

First, an executive session can only be called by a three fifths vote of the parties present and voting. Second, the meeting had to be publicly recorded. Third, a record of vote by council members present had to be recorded. Finally, and most importantly, the motion to go into an executive session must clearly indicate the precise nature of the reason for the business to be conducted as well as the statutory authority for same.

It is actions as described herein that have given rise to litigation by a Saco resident to have the mayor, council and city staff members adhere to the charter, statutes and policies affecting this community. It is time to reverse the mindset prevalent in the non-transparent dealings of Saco government behind the daily operations and closed doors of city government actions.

John Harkins, chairman Saco Citizens for Sensible Government

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