2017-08-11 / Front Page

Court rules in favor of town in Mere Pt. dispute

Judge: Public hearing should have been held
BY JULIETTE LAAKA
Times Record Staff

PORTLAND

A Cumberland County judge says the Brunswick Town Council should have set a public hearing on a petition to create a public park with the tax acquired Mere Point property. However, Justice Lance Walker ultimately sided with the town’s argument the council was not compelled to submit the proposed park to a referendum.

Town Manager John Eldridge said Thursday the town is pleased to have the issue clarified by the ruling, including the meaning of the town charter and its provisions.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, David A. Lourie said he and his clients will discuss whether it is worth an appeal.

The case centered on whether the town council acted according to municipal law when it voted to sell land at 946 Mere Point Road without considering a petition to allow voters to decide whether to make the four-acre parcel a park.

The property was sold in May for more than a half million dollars to a California couple.

The waterfront land was tax-acquired by the town in 2011, and a petition was circulated last year, garnering 1,100 signatures, to put the option of creating a park with the land to a referendum.

The council narrowly voted to sell the land in September 2016.

The Brunswick Citizens for Collaborative Government filed a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court in February, claiming the town council violated municipal law by failing to set a referendum vote after a petition was presented.

The suit alleged the town’s narrow reading of the town charter had a chilling effect on citizens’ First Amendment rights to initiate an ordinance.

The town argued the council can act in two ways — through an ordinance, which is an ongoing law and subject to challenge via petition, or through an order, which is a onetime action and not open to petition.

Town Attorney Stephen Langsdorf said the decision to sell the property was an order and could not be overturned by referendum.

The only way for the order to be changed, he said, is for the council to voluntarily put the decision to a citizen vote, which they are not obligated to do.

In an email Thursday, Langsdorf wrote: “The court agreed with my legal analysis but did say we should have had another public hearing. That would not have changed the council's decision.”

jlaaka@timesrecord.com

What happened?

THE WATERFRONT LAND at 946 Mere Point Road was tax acquired by Brunswick in 2011, and a petition was circulated last year, garnering 1,100 signatures, to put the option of creating a park with the land to a referendum.

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