CSD Trustees reject referendum petition

Wed, 05/15/2024 - 2:15pm

The Community School District (CSD) Board of Trustees on May 14 unanimously rejected a citizen’s petition contesting the April 24 referendum that approved renovating Boothbay Region Elementary School (BRES). In a special meeting, the board declared it will not initiate a new referendum because a legal petition was not received. 

“It's not some dates missing or something like that,” said Chair Troy Lewis. “Little things with the petition aren't my biggest concern with it. The problem I have with it is in the law.”

As reported in the Register, the petition was filed with the school district May 1. According to the district, the town clerks reported 347 registered voters signed, including 198 from Boothbay and 149 from Boothbay Harbor. Petitioners favored reconsidering and repealing the April 24 vote that approved a $30 million BRES renovation. The petition’s second article stated signers support the CSD in updating and renovating BRES in a project not to exceed $10,250,300. 

Patty Minerich, who filed and helped circulate the petition, told the Register she did not have a comment at this time. 

Advised by lawyers from Drummond Woodsum, the trustees said the petition does not comply with 20-A M.R.S. § 1504. According to a document detailing the trustees’ vote, petitioners have a legal right to petition the trustees to reconsider a referendum vote, but the petition requests a referendum on two articles, which is not authorized by law. The trustees claim petitioners requested a new referendum on a different article than what was considered in the April 24 referendum, and that petitioners called for a second referendum on another article, the $10 million project, which is unrelated to the April 24 referendum.  

Lewis told the Register, according to the guidance they received, due to the way the petition is worded, the trustees cannot call for reconsideration. He said the trustees don’t have a right to change the petition and would be creating a new referendum, and new problems, if they altered the wording to correct it.

“If you try and follow a petition that wasn't lawful or done correctly or wasn't worded right, then it's going to create legal issues. By changing the wording and doing everything, you're creating more legal issues. I mean, it just kind of tied our hands if it's not done the way the law says it should be done.” 

“Then we're just opened up for lawsuits,” added trustee Darrell Gudroe.  

According to the district, the petition also has several technical concerns, although the errors were not the crux of the board’s decision. The CSD document stated missing address and date information from several circulators was tied to 119 collected signatures. In addition, it claims none of the circulator affidavits include statements that the circulator is a Maine resident and a registered Maine voter, or that they understand the penalties for violating laws governing circulating petitions.

“All of those things would be the least of the reasons, they may add to it, but they're the least of the reasons,” Lewis said about the board’s decision. “If it was only that, we would follow with the petition. That wouldn't have been enough for us to say, ‘We don't want to move forward with this.’” 

According to Lewis and Gudroe, the trustees could start a new referendum. However, Gudroe said he would expect a similar result because the board already recommended what they thought was the best option, the $30 million referendum project.  

Several trustees also said they felt the $10 million renovation article in the petition was misleading. Gudroe said he knew people who signed the petition mistakenly believing the board would move forward with the cheaper option, or that their taxes wouldn't increase at all.  

“All of us feel it’s very misleading because they're using old numbers that weren't complete. (The) project cannot be done for $10 million. It just cannot be done,” Lewis said. 

According to Lewis, a new referendum would also delay an already tight project timeline and add to costs. He said it cost thousands of dollars to call a reconsideration vote and more to organize a new referendum. He said any delay would also increase the project cost significantly due to price escalation. 

“We literally are within a week or two buffer zone. And if we miss that week or two buffer zone, then it puts it off for a minimum of one year,” he said. “We could have done the reconsideration, if it was done right, without adding to the timeline. But in order to do a whole new referendum, it would add to the timeline enough that it would put the whole project behind at least a year and at least another $1.7 million on top of what already needs to be done.”