New Woodland Select Board member named chairperson during first meeting

2 months ago

WOODLAND, Maine – Woodland’s newest select board member became the board’s chairperson Tuesday after fellow members Thomas Drew and Kathy Ouellette unanimously appointed him.

After being elected earlier this month, Matthew Cole said he wanted to help the town move forward amid conflicts that prevented the board from meeting several times. 

 “I’m here because I’m all about transparency,” Cole said.

Cole made that remark after the board voted unanimously to combine their “public comment” and “public question and answer” agenda items into one item that gives residents a chance to ask questions and receive answers from elected officials.

But during his first meeting, Cole saw how challenging it might be to reach his goals.

Tuesday marked the first time Drew attended a select board meeting since October. Drew’s absence resulted in September and November meetings being canceled, both times because he disagreed with board member Ouellette on how to properly conduct town business.

On Sept. 19, former board chairperson Harold Tardy and Ouellette allowed residents to vote to postpone that evening’s meeting when Drew and town administrator Vicki Page did not attend. Drew later claimed that he arrived several minutes later. 

Drew refused to attend the rescheduled Sept. 26 meeting after stating that Ouellette did not allow enough time to advertise the meeting. At that point, Tardy had resigned from the board, leaving only Drew and Ouellette.

Last month, Drew did not show up to the select board’s meeting because he disagreed with allowing town residents to voice complaints against board members in a public forum. This came after several residents accused Drew of allowing potato waste to contaminate their well water. Cole was not elected to the board until Dec. 4.

On Tuesday, Drew stayed for the entire hourlong select board meeting but refused to attend an executive session scheduled to occur afterward. 

The Dec. 19 agenda included a private session for the board to discuss personnel matters and another for a tax abatement. Drew said that he, Ouellette and Cole had already held executive sessions for those same reasons Monday night.

Ouellette said that due to a power outage at the town office during Monday’s wind storm, the board needed to finish discussing the abatement and personnel matters. 

Drew also took issue with how Ouellette and Cole supposedly handled certain topics during Monday’s executive session.

“We should not be discussing road plans or time cards in executive session. Those are things the public might want to know about,” Drew said.

Ouellette and Cole said that they could not comment further on topics from executive sessions, per state law.

In other business, the board agreed to research the potential costs of installing a new security camera system in the town office. Their decision came after many residents voiced concerns about the current system recording audio and violating a resident’s right to confidentiality if they request General Assistance.

Road Commissioner Paul Pelletier said that he turned off the camera system two weeks ago after a request from Page, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

General Assistance is an income-based program that provides residents with assistance for utility bills, rent, home mortgages, food costs, medical and dental bills. Residents must apply for General Assistance through a designated municipal officer, usually a town clerk. Woodland Town Clerk Bridget Coats serves as the town’s General Assistance administrator.

The board agreed to delay appointing members to a town steering committee. Six people have applied but the board has extended the application period in hopes of getting at least seven members. Each board member will appoint two members each, and then the board will need to unanimously appoint the seventh member.

Residents have until Jan. 2 to return committee applications to the town office.

Woodland resident Lewis Cousins suggested that the steering committee look into creating a town charter and bylaws, which currently do not exist. Those policies could address town office security measures and confidentiality rules, Cousins said.

The board unanimously appointed Jamie Stephens to the town’s board of appeals. Stephens stepped down from his position as a non-voting planning board member to prevent a conflict of interest on the board of appeals. The appeals board considers appeals to tax abatements that the planning board has the authority to deny.

Woodland’s Select Board typically meets on the third Tuesday of the month. The next meeting will be held Jan. 16 at 5:30 p.m. in the town garage. 

The select board voted unanimously to close the town office at 4:30 instead of 5 p.m., on board meeting days, to allow Page and Coats time to prepare for the board meeting.