Alna selectman calls for end to ‘harassment’

Posted:  Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 8:15am

The latest Freedom of Access Act request Alna has gotten over school choice had Third Selectman Doug Baston wishing for an end to the multiple FOAA requests on the topic as a hearing and referendum draw near.

Reviewing one from Damariscotta attorney Peter Drum with fellow selectmen Feb. 28, Baston said people should be deciding the ballot issue on its merits, “and stop harassing us.” Due to the specifics and the extent of Drum’s list in a Feb.23 letter, the board will need to contact town attorney David Soule for guidance on what information the town can legally release and what it can’t due to student confidentiality, selectmen said.

Some of the information the letter seeks is useless and irrelevant, Baston said. And now the town will have to pay attorney fees, Second Selectman Melissa Spinney said.

“That’ll put the taxes up just a little more,” First Selectman David Abbott said. Selectmen have predicted property tax hikes due to the attraction they said Alna holds for offering the private school option as part of its publicly funded school choice. The referendum proposes limiting kindergarten through grade eight school choice to public schools; the change would not apply to children living in Alna by June 30. Resident Ralph Hilton petitioned for the question and selectmen have voiced support. If it passes locally, it would face Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12’s approval, Hilton has said.

Opponents have questioned the board’s information on private school choice’s impact. A hearing on the referendum is set for 6 p.m. this Monday, March 5 at the fire station. Voters will decide at the polls at the station March 23, the start of the annual town meeting that concludes March 24 with the open town meeting, also at the station. The town won’t be able to meet Drum’s request by then, Baston said. In addition to getting the legal opinion, the town will need to detemine the number of work hours it will take the town to retrieve the information it is going to release.

Baston said the town would then tell Drum the cost for labor and await a deposit from him before doing the work.

In a phone interview Friday, Drum said he would not have a problem with that, or with the town redacting students’ names from the materials if the names are determined to be confidential. As for Baston noting Drum has not identified a client, Drum said bar rules bar him from naming a client without their authorization.

Drum was surprised the town didn’t expect to have the materials to him before the vote. He said his client is concerned as a taxpayer and has other questions about the board’s past statements about a school choice fraud claim the town did not take to court, and why, if selectmen support the proposed change, it had to come about via a petition instead of their putting it on the warrant. Over the course of months of discussions before Hilton filed his petition, selectmen expressed support for a change  but said if one was going to be considered, they wanted it to come from the townspeople.

Drum’s letter asks for a copy of all documents, files, and/or communications “"concerning the Town of Alna in regards to ‘School Choice’ dated from January 1, 2013 to present,” including anything that caused the town to suspect fraud or other offenses involving school choice; advice from the Maine Municipal Association or others; and a list of students including what school they attend or attended, its address and whether it is public or private. The letter also asks how much the town has paid for each student to attend school.

Also Feb. 28, selectmen said they have heard from an out-of-state couple, both doctors, asking how they could become Alna residents by June 30. Before releasing the note, selectmen said they will find out if any parts need redacting.