WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro is calling on the city and City Manager Michael Roy to give notice to the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition that it no longer can have free office space inside City Hall.

Isgro posted the request Tuesday afternoon on Facebook, calling Sustain Mid-Maine a special interest group that works to influence elections, city policy and local ordinances.

Sustain Mid-Maine, which has a small corner of an office in City Hall large enough for a desk and chair, describes itself as a grassroots initiative created to conserve resources, sustain a healthy environment, and promote economic prosperity for the Mid-Maine region.

The organization also proposed a plastic bag ban that would prohibit businesses that are 10,000 square feet or more in size from dispensing plastic carryout bags, a move Isgro opposed, though voters in November appeared to approve the ban.

Isgro then paid the city a $250 deposit to conduct a recount, saying the numbers were skewed by Colby College students who gave post office box numbers instead of physical addresses when they registered to vote. Isgro at the time referred to the Colby students on Facebook as “illegally registered persons.”

Contacted Tuesday for comment, Roy said: “I will reserve my comments for when I speak directly with Mayor Isgro. I don’t conduct city business via Facebook post. It would have been nice for him to talk to me before he posted that.”

Isgro’s Facebook post on Tuesday says it is important the city be “impartial when it comes to dealing with lobbyist and special interest groups. Even when there are no bad intentions, it is important to be cognizant of any appearances of impropriety or special favors; #OurCity should go out of its way to make sure everything is and appears to be above-board.”

Isgro claims the issue is not a partisan one.

“Groups such as SMM who work to influence elections, city policy, and local ordinances should not be given a free base of operations inside the very institution they are trying to influence — especially when they receive occasional out-of-state funding. A subsidy like this can create an unfair appearance that they receive special access to government officials, which can reflect poorly both on them and #OurCity.”

He also said government should be transparent.

“To protect everyone’s best interests, pressure groups in Waterville need to seek alternative accommodations outside of our sacred institutions,” he said.

Sustain Mid-Maine was created in 2009 and has five teams that work on issues including education, energy, growing and supporting local foods, rethinking reducing, reusing and recycling, and transportation.

Information on the Sustain Mid-Maine website says the organization seeks to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in municipal facilities as well as in area homes and businesses, recommend appropriate alternative energy technologies to elected officials and staff for implementation, and help make education and resources available to the public to help the community reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Messages and an email left for Linda Woods, coordinator of Sustain Mid-Maine, were not returned immediately.

Efforts to reach other Sustain Mid-Maine members were unsuccessful Tuesday, but Rien Finch, a supporter of the organization, said he thinks Isgro wants the organization out of City Hall for political reasons.

Finch wondered aloud why Isgro did not raise the issue months ago and said he thinks it curious he is doing so just now. The documents filed by parties in the court case involving the challenged ballots of Colby students in the plastic bag referendum were due in court Monday, and Isgro would have access to those documents, Finch said.

“That does make the timing of this very interesting,” Finch said, “and I am wondering if there’s information in those briefs that he doesn’t like and now he’s kicking them out because they said things he didn’t like.”

A message to Council Chairman Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, was not returned immediately.

Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, said he did not know enough details to comment on the Sustain Mid-Maine office. He said he is not aware of what the city’s reasoning was when it first gave the organization space in City Hall.

Julian Payne, a vocal resident at council meetings, said Tuesday that he learned weeks ago that Sustain Mid-Maine has office space at City Hall at no charge and he thinks it is inappropriate.

“It’s an issue we’ve been looking at for quite a while,” Payne said. “What organization next? Will they let me have space there to do a budget repeal from?”

Payne, a member of the Waterville Board of Education, said businesses looking to move to Waterville might not agree with the environmental stance Sustain Mid-Maine takes, and knowing its office is in City Hall could be a deterrent.

Councilor Jay Coelho, D-Ward 5, says no one should use city property for purposes that are not city business.

“My larger concern is that there are files kept in the same space that belong to the city,” Coelho said Tuesday in an email. “Are there sensitive files in there? Who else has access to those files other than government employees. Waterville never ceases to create news for obvious blunders.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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