Town Administrator Michael Henderson talks about permanent records during an interview in the records vault of the Dresden Town Office on Friday. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

DRESDEN — When attorney Ed Dardis was making his case before the Dresden Appeals Board in December, he questioned the validity of the town’s Land Use and Planning Ordinance, because no record of it being enacted could be found.

Dardis is representing Heather Beasley, owner of the Ballard-Milligan Gravel Corp., on which town officials served a stop-work order in July.

At the time, Town Administrator Michael Henderson said he had found gaps in the town’s records, particularly before 2000. That meant that some of the requested materials weren’t available.

But this week, Henderson said missing town records had been found in the town vault, where they had been stored securely.

It was, he said, a mistake of poor organization.

This book, with results of an Oct. 22, 1992, town meeting where a land-use ordinance passed, is seen Friday in the records vault of the Dresden Town Office.

First Selectwoman Trudy Foss, who had served as the town’s administrative assistant for nearly three decades, was able to point out the location of the records.

“I heard him talking to somebody about it at the office one day, that we didn’t have records,” she said earlier this week at a Board of Selectmen meeting. “I said ‘what do you mean you don’t have any records?'”

Foss asked Henderson to show him where he was looking, and she told him to turn around and look at a lower shelf, where the permanent records were stored.

“There were records that we had that we didn’t know we had,” Henderson said at the meeting. “We assumed they were somewhere, but we couldn’t find them, so we’re really happy that we have found all of them.”

Earlier this week, Town Clerk Hannah Kutschinski spent a day pulling records and binders out of the vault as the first step to reorganizing the town’s permanent records.

Dresden Town Clerk Hannah Kutschinski sorts through town documents Wednesday while reorganizing the town vault. Kennebec Journal photo by Jessica Lowell

But there’s more work to be done. Some documents filed in the vault don’t belong there, and others have been kept longer than the state records retention law requires, Kutschinski said. To make sure that disposable records are not kept longer than necessary, she was marking folders with disposal dates.

Henderson said the town’s vital statistics are stored in books, and binders contain road reports, and they were not clearly labeled. Some of the books that were thought to be missing were actually not far from the vital records books that are used regularly when people request copies of marriage and death certificates.

Henderson said organizing the vault had not been a priority among all the other town business that’s conducted. Before July, residents had complained about the lack of time that town office staff had to conduct business, as well as complete required training, prompting a change in the structure of the town office staff.

At a special town meeting last March, residents voted overwhelmingly to eliminate elective town clerk and treasurer positions, and to create a town administrator position and hire permanent office staff. Alongside this change, town office hours were also changed.

“I would rather be wrong and have everything, than not have anything,” Henderson said.

Any information contained in the books that was requested through freedom of access requests has been forwarded on to the town’s attorney, who will in turn, forward it on.

“We’re not trying to keep any information from anyone,” Henderson said.

The Dresden Appeals Board is scheduled to continue its consideration of Beasley’s appeal at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday at Pownalborough Hall, at the intersection of Patterson and River roads.

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