WATERVILLE — A challenge to the eligibility of Colby College students and faculty to vote has so far cost the city nearly $31,000, not including the cost of many public information requests to the city that City Manager Michael Roy said represented a pattern of harassment.

City manager Mike Roy Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

“It’s public information,” Roy said Friday of the repeated requests from challengers for thousands of city emails. “Anyone has a right to ask for information, but this seemed to me to be a clear pattern of harassment.”

In response to a request from one of the challengers, Cathy Weeks, the city on Friday released a breakdown of what it cost the city to defend its stance that the Colby students and faculty had legally voted in the city in the Nov. 6 election. The city’s legal fees in the case totaled about $24,000.

Other associated costs were $350 for challenges, $660 for a plastic bag recount, $580 for registrar hearings, $1,820 for the Maine Supreme Judicial Court case and $3,395 for the Voter Registration Appeals Board hearings for a total $6,905.

With the legal fees, the latest cost for the voting challenge was $30,905, just shy of $31,000. A final cost has not been determined.

The Voter Registration Appeals Board costs include staff costs to prepare packets, supplies including cases of paper, file folders and photocopying costs.

Not included in the $30,095 total are the many hours city staff, including IT and city clerk employees, spent going though thousands of emails Oakland resident Mark Andre, Weeks and others, including Julian Payne, asked the city for through Freedom of Access Act requests.

Cathy Weeks Morning Sentinel file photo

Payne, for instance, asked in a March 21 request for all of Roy’s communications from Sept. 1, 2018, to March 21, 2019, that referenced Payne or Colby College. Weeks, in a March 21 request, asked for Roy emails between Jan. 1, 2016, and March 21, 2019, pertaining to discussions about city elections, including emails involving Weeks and those referring to Colby and revitalization projects for the past three years.

The city has not tallied the city’s cost for dealing with the information requests.

City Clerk Patti Dubois had discussions with those requesting the emails so as to narrow the requests, as initial requests involved so many emails that it would have cost them thousands of dollars.

Resident Dan Libby, for instance, in a request dated March 20, wanted all Roy emails, including those that referenced Libby, from Aug. 1, 2018, to March 20, 2019, which represented 17,000 emails, as well as all Dubois emails from those dates. The cost would have been $4,250, and when the clerk’s office notified Libby of that cost, he did not pursue the request.

Payne paid about $20 for his request, which involved about 100 emails, according to the clerk’s office. Weeks’ requests are still in the works.

Andre’s initial request, dated March 21, asked for all Roy and Dubois emails and correspondence pertaining to elections and voter registration and qualifications between Aug. 1, 2018, and March 21, 2019. He also wanted emails including those with Colby administration, students, Secretary of State Office personnel, city councilors and others who discussed such matters.

Andre’s request represented 3,600 emails, and he paid the city $945, but Dubois said the city refunded him $791.25, as the time spent to process them was less than expected. A total of 559 emails were determined to have been within the scope of his request.

Mark Andre, center, and Shaun Caron, left, listen as Leah B. Rachin, an attorney representing Colby College students, questions a challenged voter at the Chace Forum at Alfond Commons in Waterville on May 3. The voter challenge orchestrated by Andre, Caron and Cathy and Jonathan Weeks cost the city more than $31,000. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

The email requests took city workers many hours of poring through emails to determine which ones pertained to specific topics and culling any that contained information that is not public, including those related to union negotiations, negotiations with attorneys, legal documents and so forth.

A special computer was set up in the basement of City Hall, and Dubois log in and sift through emails. IT staff also pored through emails. In some cases, Dubois had to confer with the city attorney to ensure emails were not released that contained information that was not public.

“Some emails took 20 seconds to look at, and other emails could take an hour,” Dubois said.

Some would contain a chain of about 30 emails, and each had to be looked at, she said.

State law stipulates that the first hour of staff time used for a freedom of information request is free, and after that, the cost is $15 per hour. Associated costs included those for photocopying and supplies.

“People need to understand what is involved in that kind of process,” Roy said.

Asked if he is concerned about possible further voter challenges and related costs, Roy paused before responding.

“I don’t expect that we will see this kind of thing again,” he said. “I hope that Waterville taxpayers are paying attention to the cost of this kind of thing, but I’m hopeful that this has put it to rest.”

Nick Isgro Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

The Waterville Registration Appeals Board voted unanimously May 3 to uphold the voting rights of dozens of students and Colby faculty and staff members, whose rights were challenged by Weeks, her husband Jonathan and resident Shaun Caron. Andre, who was prohibited from speaking at the hearings because he is not a Waterville resident, coached the challengers at those hearings, which were held over a day and a half.

The Appeals Board decision represented the latest step in attempts to resolve a conflict over the outcome of a referendum on whether to ban plastic shopping bags and a simultaneous effort to challenge voter registrations.

Mayor Nick Isgro opposed the plastic bag ban, which voters approved Nov. 6. He has also questioned the rights of college students who come to Waterville from other states to vote in the city.


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