WATERVILLE — The council voted 6-0 in favor of declaring a vacancy for the Ward 5 seat in the wake of a school board member accusing a sitting councilor of acting inappropriately when she allegedly tried to convince people he is not the right person for the position.

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

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 Monday 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.”

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

Neither Payne nor Lessing spoke about the issue at the meeting, but several residents voiced their opinion on the matter during the time allotted for public comment.

Hillary Koch, who lives in Ward 1, said it concerned her that Payne took issue with a councilor expressing opinion in a private conversation, saying everyone has the right to express themselves because it is protected by the Constitution.

“Democracy is ugly sometimes, but if it were easy, everybody would be doing it,” she said.

She applauded the fact that the council room was packed and that the discussion during the public comment period was spirited.

“I’m so glad we can disagree with each other civilly,” she said.

Sandy Sullivan, a Ward 5 resident, said she thought it was wrong for Lessing to voice her opinion, no matter which type of email she used.

“We have a councilor lobbying her position to fill that. That’s not right,” Sullivan said. “Let the residents of that ward voice their opinions before a resident of another ward butts in and controls what’s going to happen.”

Since the order was approved, the position will be advertised and candidates will be asked to submit a letter of interest or a résumé to City Clerk Patti Dubois by 5 p.m. March 29. 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.

The council also voted to approve a 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 previously said they would not use taxpayer money to pay for the Riverwalk development.

Councilors Steve Soule and Sydney Mayhew both spoke in favor of the amendment saying the Riverwalk development would attract more people to the downtown area and would increase the demand and market value of the Head of Falls property.

Mayor Nick Isgro proposed to make an amendment to the amendment, which would add language stating that any funding allocated should be contingent on a return of the city’s investment once the property is purschased. He marked June 30 as a date the city would want to initiate the process of putting the property on the market. The council adopted the mayor’s proposed language in their affirmative vote.

Former Mayor Karen Heck spoke during the debate on the amendment, saying she hoped the council would form a committee to make a plan defining the ways in which the property can and cannot be used. She also asked the council to find time for the public to be able to voice thoughts on what it would like to see at Head of Falls.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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