Waterville City Manager Mike Roy recently took to the press yet again calling a challenge to the Colby College votes and Freedom of Information requests “a clear pattern of harassment.”

Not so fast, Mr. Roy.

The Freedom of Information Act allows the general public to request elected officials’ emails and their content. It is a window into your government’s actions. It creates transparency. Stalinist regimes came into fruition by limiting information to the public. Watervilleleaks is a Facebook page dedicated to the publication of information received through FOIA requests.

It was FOIA requests that exposed Nazi war criminals receiving Social Security and the discovery of thousands of defective military vests. But Roy labels FOIAs as “harassing” — let that sink in.

It is an expectation that residents can freely file FOIAs without fear of repercussions. In Waterville, the names of the filers along with the information requested were splattered across the local newspaper. In an obvious attempt to stir the pot in the community, Roy states, “I hope that Waterville taxpayers are paying attention to the cost of this kind of thing.” To be clear the cost of the FOIAs was billed out to the filers.

During last year’s mayoral recall, neither the city manager or the council questioned the cost associated with legal fees. There were also costs associated with adding the recall question to the ballot, and to the business community when the reputation, stability, and future of the city was in turmoil.

So what’s in a little information? Well you would be surprised. The first FOIA randomly filed by residents revealed that Roy gave $27,000 of taxpayer money away without the required approval from the council. Roy later admitted that the decision should not have been made without council approval and this left some councilors agreeing that transparency is needed. Two councilors later voted against renewing his contract, and the $27,000 was immediately returned to the Waterville taxpayers.

In light of the above information I paid for and filed my own FOIA request. Communication between Roy and prominent local business and political activists depicted political candidates in a disparaging and derogatory light. It is my understanding that the charter has strict rules against political action from the city manager.

It is not surprising that political diversity and action in Waterville is met with resistance and intolerance  from the establishment. A toxic environment also came into our elections when a divisive, negative flyer was distributed against a candidate. They knew it was wrong, as the authors and distributors hid their identities from the community.

As to the issue of the challenged ballots, 14 percent of the ballots were disqualified when Waterville residency could not be proven. This is significant as elections in Waterville have been won or lost by just one or two votes. Additionally as many as 200 voters potentially could have voted in the wrong ward, from the wrong address, and for the wrong candidate. These concerns had been raised before the ballots had been cast and had the city administration been proactive the entire issue of challenged ballots would have been avoided. In my opinion the ballot challenge was justified, and next election P.O. boxes will not be used.

This is not the first time that the city manager has flirted with the political landscape. When pesky residents actually started showing up at council meetings he aligned himself with the Councilor Lauren Lessing.  A new policy was born aimed at limiting content and duration of speech during city council meetings. It was completely un-American. The hammer came down on their scheme when the attending city lawyer advised the cohorts that the policy infringed on the First Amendment and free speech. The policy was then rescinded.

The silencing of residents at council meetings had more to do with squashing over 850 residents who were revolting and repealing Roy’s budget, a direct consequence of ignoring the property reevaluation for decades. Maybe it was because residents publicly questioned his competency, or because residents protested his purple garbage bag tax. Or it could have been when residents brought up conflict of interest concerns, or when residents exposed bogus budget numbers that the state of Maine amended at their end.

Having reflected recently on Memorial Day, it is my duty to honor all those who gave their lives. My column honors their sacrifice. Their sacrifice is eternal; city managers come and go.

 

Julian Payne is a resident of Waterville.


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