June 16, 2019


A statewide test of how well local government agencies comply with Maine’s Freedom of Access Law – scores of neatly dressed volunteers fanned out across all 16 counties, politely asking to see documents that should be available for public inspection – found that police departments and school district offices were the least cooperative, turning down one-third of requests for, respectively, daily police logs and school superintendent contracts. One police chief called the audit a “sting operation,” while an attorney for school administrators described the compliance test as “underhanded.” Maybe they thought it was the Freedom From Access Law being tested.


In fairness to police departments, neatly dressed and polite strangers don’t often show up at the front desk asking to see the previous day’s log for no apparent reason, so the spot checks no doubt came as a surprise. That’s not the case with the school districts – word of the survey leaked out, the Maine School Management Association sent a warning memo in advance to local district offices and still one-third flunked the pop quiz. If nothing else, MSMA learned something valuable about the impact of its memos.


The oddest consequence of the survey occurred in Bath, where a city councilor angrily resigned after mistaking the public’s right to review the expense reports of public officials for some local snoop trying to dig up dirt he says isn’t there in the first place. Apparently, even those with nothing to hide resent not being allowed to hide it.


All of Freeport is buzzing about a new policy that requires town employees to notify the town council chairman ahead of time that they intend to speak at council meetings. The big news is that this policy seems to have exposed a rift between the town manager, who says he wrote the policy at the explicit order of the chairman, and the chairman, who says he gave no such order. On a lesser note, some in town wonder if this policy could be an unconstitutional trampling of town employees’ right to free speech, but they’d be wise to keep quiet about it.


You’ve got to hand it to folks in Benton, where they still conduct town business the good old Maine way – loudly, bluntly and in public. The latest knock-down, drag-out concerns the Benton Town Office, which some want to rename the Charles King Town Office. The leading proponent of the renaming is Mr. King himself, 83, who says he’s earned the honor through a lifetime of service. Opponents say they’ll consider Mr. King’s request only at such time as he arranges for them to do it posthumously.

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