News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 31, 2017
Main St. lawsuit dismissed after two years

by Monique Labbe

A lawsuit filed against the town of Castine by the Castine Main Street Association has been dismissed on procedural grounds after two years, according to CMSA president Bob Scott and Castine Town Manager Jimmy Goodson.

The lawsuit was filed in 2015, on the grounds that the town embarked on a plan of construction only on the agreement of the voters to borrow money, and that there was never a vote on the plan itself, and that there never was a vote on the funds for the project that was ultimately started and finished in 2016.

The town has disputed these claims from the beginning, stating that a meeting held in March of 2014 in line with the guidelines set for any board of selectmen’s meeting was enough to solidify the plans.

Hearings held in July, August and September of 2016 brought amended motions by the plaintiff (CMSA) and defendant’s (town of Castine) motions to dismiss and plaintiff’s opposition to the motion to dismiss the amended complaint. In these filings by the CMSA, additional counts were introduced to be ruled upon by the judge.

The first was the original appeal limited to the May 9, 2015 town meeting vote on the sidewalk addition. The second was the complaint of a Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) open meeting violation that refers to a March 7, 2014 “executive session” meeting at which time the selectmen voted on certain changes to the project without notice to the public in advance. The third was the request for judgment that the vote at the special town meeting in January 2015 was valid and binding on the design plans. The town had filed motions to dismiss all of these counts essentially as time-barred or moot, to which the CMSA had responded in opposition.

Judge William Anderson ruled on April 5 of this year for a dismissal that was agreed upon by all parties. In his decision, Anderson ruled to dismiss the first and third counts; however, he left open the second count for the CMSA to continue pursuit. The members decided to discontinue the suit, according to Scott.

In total, Goodson reported that the town’s taxpayers spent just over $36,000 on legal fees over the last two years of proceedings fighting the suit brought by CMSA.

At the annual meeting of the CMSA on August 29, members of the board stated that the amount of money spent to cover the CMSA legal fees had not been finalized. When asked directly by Castine Patriot, CMSA officials declined to give any financial information stating that as a private association they were not obligated to and would not share it at any time with the public.

The organization reported that it had 150 members that paid dues to the association.

The CMSA members discussed what they perceived to be safety concerns regarding the new Main Street design during the August 29 meeting, including mispainted crosswalks, the lack of a sidewalk connecting Main Street to the golf course on Battle Avenue, a crosswalk deemed unsafe at the post office, and a sidewalk claimed to not adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act between the post office and what is known as the Dillon property. While the group said it wants to bring awareness to these concerns, it does not have any plans to address them directly to the board of selectmen at this time.

A call to write letters or talk to the selectmen and Goodson about putting future plans for infrastructure projects on the town’s website was made during the annual meeting as well.

Secretary Marissa Roessiger noted that in the research she has done, several towns have those plans readily available in a digital format. In Castine, she said, those plans have to be viewed at the town office.

A conversation also took place about trying to recruit candidates to run for an open board of selectmen seat, which will be voted on in November. According to CMSA president Robert Scott, David Unger, who currently holds that open seat, is not planning on running for another term.

“We need to find people who will have a voice for us on the board,” he said.

Roessiger added that it would “be nice” to see someone younger, and/or female on the board.

“It’s obvious there is a demographic not being reached there,” she said.