Alna’s municipal government seemingly shows new signs of trouble every week, most recently during the June 10 special meeting, when selectmen for the first time ever decided against allowing any public comment, while finalizing a warrant article for the upcoming ballot to authorize a $50,000 appropriation for legal fees.
Despite an initial $5,000 budget already sufficient to cover extraordinary contingencies for legal expenses usually less than $1,000, the selectmen said they had already spent $25,067 this year. About 5% was spent for help drafting Planning Board bylaws, with nearly 90% for legal services related to a controversial dock proposal being pursued by Planning Board Chair Jeff Spinney, who is also husband of our first selectman.
In comparison, Lincoln County, with 50 times Alna’s population, faced extraordinary legal costs of $41,334 in 2018; not for anything as simple as a development permit, but the result of both difficult union negotiations and high-profile litigation related to allegations that a deputy sheriff had sexually abused minors over many years while on duty.
Worse than incurring these eye-popping expenses and asking permission to spend even more are the insinuations that these costs are the fault of the many citizens opposing the permit. In truth, none of these expenses would be required if our selectboard was demonstrating a determination to apply ordinances uniformly, fairly, and without special favor. Instead, they turn to the town attorney not only for legal questions regarding administrative procedure and interpreting ordinances, but also to pay hundreds of dollars an hour for simple administrative tasks typically performed by a clerk or board member, including clarifying meeting agendas, providing lists of meeting attendees, and shuffling documents between parties. Lately they’ve even had her hosting virtual Planning and Select Board meetings.
These expenses aren’t the fault of the public. They result from a selectboard whose actions are so questionable that they’re seeking cover behind counsel. If our representatives would listen to the many members of the community that have raised legitimate, substantive concerns about the legality of the proposed project, instead of appearing to favor those with inside connections, they could save us all a lot of time, money, and avoidable division.