WATERVILLE — A member of the Waterville Board of Education seeking appointment to the vacant Ward 5 City Council seat claims another councilor is inappropriately trying to convince people he is not the right person for the post.

Julian Payne, who represents Ward 5 on the school board, says he wants the council to appoint him to the council to replace Nick Champagne, who resigned to become city engineer.

Julian Payne

Payne said Councilor Lauren Lessing, D-Ward 3, sent an email to several people saying Payne has a right-wing agenda and should not become a councilor.

Lessing, a Colby College employee, said in an interview with the Morning Sentinel that she sent an email to friends on her personal, private account, not her city or Colby account. She declined to cite the specifics of her email but said in response to Payne’s complaint, simply, that she supports the democratic process.

Payne said two friends who called to tell him about receiving an email from Lessing are Colby employees who told him her email said Payne is a “right wing Trump supporter.”

“I can’t say I hate everything he does,” Payne said, referring to the president.

Payne said he is a Democrat who voted for President Barack Obama twice and believes in Democratic values, but he is a fiscal conservative.

“Why should her left-wing ideology override my ideology?” he said of Lessing.

Payne said in an email statement Monday to the Sentinel: “We live in dark times when an elected official circulates hate and untruths about a member of the community from an institution trying to promote a second renaissance. Histories darkest moments can be traced back to propaganda machines aimed at allowing only one ideology.”

The council on Tuesday will consider voting to declare the vacancy of the Ward 5 council seat. Then the position will be advertised, candidates will be asked to submit a letter of interest or a resume to City Clerk Patti Dubois by 5 p.m. March 29, and councilors will interview the candidates in open session. Then the council will vote to appoint a person to fill the seat and he or she will serve until the November election when a candidate will be elected by popular vote, Dubois said. The person elected would take office in January and serve a one-year term.

Payne has said the council should appoint him to the seat because he thinks most people in his ward want him to have it, but he thinks Lessing’s email could lead to his not getting a fair shake. When Councilor Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, was appointed to the council, it was after residents of her ward spoke to councilors in support of her, he said.

Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, said Monday that anyone who is going to be a candidate for council needs to understand the process.

“We’re jumping to conclusions before it even begins,” he said. “I think that candidates will come forward and the council will have the job of listening to what the people of Ward 5 want. It’s not a given that any candidate gets the job. We need to go through the entire process and listen to everyone equally.”

Mayor Nick Isgro weighed in on the matter Monday by saying he has not seen Lessing’s email but he hopes councilors would not use personal email “to go around Freedom of Information” if they are discussing city business because the council will be appointing someone to serve in the Ward 5 seat.

Isgro said because there’s speculation that Lessing is trying to use Colby faculty to leverage influence on the council’s choice of councilor in Ward 5, he thinks Lessing should make her email public so ward residents will understand the issue. He said it worries him that there’d be that kind of “divisive rhetoric about someone in our community because we’ve seen a lot of that on social media in the past year.”

Soule said he had spoken with Lessing about the email, and she said it was from a personal email account. Soule responded to Payne and Isgro’s concerns about negative rhetoric being spread around, saying there’s plenty of that in what people say on social and other media.

“Anyone that has concerns over negative rhetoric only needs to look at comments made to see that almost everyone is guilty,” Soule said. “Lauren and all the other councilors have been very professional, and we’ve been really aware of ethical concerns and follow them,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting is at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at The Center at 93 Main St. downtown and will be preceded by a public hearing at 6:45 p.m. to discuss a proposed third amendment to the downtown tax increment financing district and related development program that would allow funding from TIF proceeds to be used, if necessary, to help fund the Riverwalk at Head of Falls. The council took a first vote Feb. 20 to approve the change and will consider a final vote Tuesday.

Also on the agenda Tuesday is a request to form a housing study committee to examine aspects of the city’s housing needs and how to ensure those who rent property meet local, state and federal laws and ordinances for health, safety and construction standards. The committee also would look at vacant and abandoned properties and work with the city to learn what is being done now to address the need for safe housing.

The council also will consider changing the zoning on 19, 21 and 23 Summer St. from residential to a contract zone with the conditions that a financial institution is the only permitted use on the property and the dimensional requirements of the transitional district would apply. New Dimensions Federal Credit Union is requesting the rezoning so as to build a branch there.

Councilors will be asked to vote to dissolve the Waterville-Winslow Solid Waste Corp. which was formed in the 1980s. The communities decided in 2002 to disband its joint recycling program. As part of the request, remaining funds totaling about $34,000 in the corporation’s account would be divided equally between the town and city. That money is what was left over from selling the former recycling building to Ken-A-Set, according to the resolution.

The council also will consider supporting a carbon fee and dividend system. They will take a final vote to spend $68,316 to provide advance engineering services for an anticipated Federal Aviation Administration grant for a clearing and grubbing project at the city-owned Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport. As part of the vote, the city also would be authorized to contract with Santec, the airport’s engineering consultant, to provide engineering and environmental services in advance of the project.

The sale of a tax-acquired vacant lot on Airport Road also will be considered, as will an order authorizing the city to apply for $655,000 in FAA funding to be used for an airport development project, snow removal equipment and wildlife hazard assessment. The council will consider donating two properties for use by the airport. Donating the land would allow the city to apply the value of it to a 5 percent grant match obligation, thereby reducing the out-of-pocket cash contribution for the 2018 projects approved by FAA.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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