Woodland Select Board chairperson chosen illegally

7 months ago

WOODLAND, Maine — A member of Woodland’s Select Board was illegally chosen to be the board chair Tuesday night and has since rescinded that position.

After the recent resignation of former Select Board Chair Harold Tardy, only two board members remain; Thomas Drew and Kathy Ouellette. State law allows town clerks to choose the next chairperson if the majority of the board cannot vote, but only through a “random choice” such as a coin toss, picking a name out of a hat or drawing straws.

Instead, Woodland Town Clerk Bridget Coats designated Ouellette as the chairperson by calling her name. Coats’ choice came after Ouellette read from Maine Municipal Association’s description of the state statute but interpreted it as saying that clerks could either make a random choice or use a method like a coin toss or drawing straws.

Coats’ choice of Ouellette sparked outrage among residents at the meeting, once again raising issues of trust in a town that has lost three Select Board members and six town employees, including several town clerks, since September 2022. The town office was closed several months last spring until Coats and Town Administrator Vicki Page were hired in May

In a video taken during Tuesday’s meeting, Ouellette can be seen reading from Maine Municipal Association’s guidance but leaves out a section that says: “The clerk has no discretion to choose the chair on their own. The election must be by drawing straws, picking a name out of a hat, coin toss or some other similar method.”

Kate Dufour, Maine Municipal Association’s director of advocacy and communications, confirmed Thursday that the association’s legal department provided Drew with information on town clerks’ authorities, which Drew shared with Bangor Daily News.

Near the end of the video, Drew and an unidentified resident in the audience can be heard attempting to persuade Coats to choose a chair through a coin toss or similar method. Drew wanted to table the choice until after the town could elect a third board member in December.

“It certainly was not done legally,” Drew said Thursday. “It felt like the whole performance was scripted.”

Ouellette said Thursday that she misinterpreted the state statute while speaking with Coats prior to the meeting Tuesday. The board plans to have Coats choose a chairperson through legitimate means during their November meeting, Ouellette said.

Ouellette stated that she blamed herself, not Coats, for what happened Tuesday.

“I’m not the legitimate chairperson,” Ouellette said. “I misinterpreted the rules 100 percent.”

Coats said that she will legitimately select a chair at the board’s Nov. 21 meeting.