Past Alna planning board chairman and recent shoreland project applicant Jeff Spinney wrote the emails that led current member Laurie Hiestand to quit as secretary, Spinney, Hiestand and an electronic trail confirmed Feb. 10. Then on Feb. 11, Spinney sent Hiestand and chair Jim Amaral another email, this one using derogatory terms and describing both as unqualified for the board.
Spinney said Feb. 10, he stands by everything in the emails that preceded Hiestand’s resignation as secretary. Second Selectman Doug Baston, also a past planning board chair, said Feb. 10, he would call those emails blunt, but not disturbing, as Hiestand did; and current planning board chair Jim Amaral reiterated his support for Hiestand’s service, and he commented on the matter of respect.
“On several occasions I have spoken in strong support of Laura’s work as planning board secretary with members of our select board and have tried to create an environment on the board and in the town in general where all planning board members are treated with respect for the work they do for the town, no matter how they vote or what their personal viewpoints might be,” Amaral wrote in an email where, at Wiscasset Newspaper’s request, he provided Hiestand’s letter resigning as secretary.
The letter states Hiestand was new to the board when she stepped up to serve as secretary; and since then, there have been new bylaws to follow and, in the pandemic, a lack of town office access. Hiestand wrote she posted notices in public for the Feb. 2 meeting Jan. 26 as required, but a notice did not go out on the town’s email list until the next day because it was sent to the clerk after noon Jan. 26.
“I received several emails from Jeffry Spinney about this, and this sentence in one email particularly stood out: ‘Again, this obvious lack of understanding about things such as governing ordinances and bylaws is why you shouldn’t even be on the board.’”
Hiestand wrote to Amaral, “I have no interest in being bullied by Jeffry Spinney and if I am not serving as secretary, that will come to an end. I have served for 35 years in various volunteer positions for municipalities, professional organizations, and nonprofits, in both staff and leadership positions and I have never been treated with such rudeness by anyone.
“Many Alna residents have thanked me for my work on the planning board during this difficult time; it is the citizens of Alna who have made my service worthwhile. I am willing to stay on this board but not as its secretary.”
Asked for comment on her decision, Hiestand told Wiscasset Newspaper Feb. 10, “This is certainly not the first time I have been criticized by Jeff on my work email in the middle of my work day and I decided if I was not the secretary anymore, I would no longer be the focus of his complaints on how the planning board is being managed.”
Baston had this take on Spinney’s earlier emails: “Mr. Spinney was simply – albeit bluntly – pointing out that procedures need to be followed. That is a fair critique of what appears to have happened here.”
Reached again Feb. 16 after Wiscasset Newspaper learned of the Feb. 11 email, Spinney stood by it as he did the others. “While it might be far more blunt than they are used to, nothing I have said is untrue and I will stand by it ... I have been making the case as to why both Laurie and Jim should be removed from the board ... for some time now,” for multiple items his emails have cited, among them how notices have been handled.
“The members of a planning board do not have to like the applicant, they do not have to like the project(s), but they do have an obligation to apply the rules and ordinances in a uniform manner with respect to the appropriate scope of the town planning board and independent of public pressure ...”
Also reached again Feb. 16, Baston shared what he wrote to Hiestand and Amaral Feb. 12 about Spinney’s Feb. 11 email. “I'm sorry, Laurie. This is inexcusable. Obviously totally inexcusable. As I watched the impeachment hearings yesterday, I had this awful sinking feeling of how much our town has turned into two competing cults. Each side will excuse anything ... It is not about 8 feet of crushed rock on (Sheepscot) River. It's the national culture war brought home to our town.”