At the Pittsfield Town Council meeting Town Manager Kathryn Ruth apologized for an incident during last Tuesday’s election when voters were temporarily locked out of the town office and unable to access the polls. Councilors also swore in a new member and discussed the maintenance of private roads in town.

That all happened during a meeting Tuesday. Ruth said she and the town clerk never before had seen an election mishap like that before.

“This was something that the town clerk and I would never think would happen, and had never seen before — (the town clerk) with her 16 years of experience and my nearly 40 years as town manager. We were a little bit shocked that somebody would lock the door up and leave,” Ruth said. 

A town employee left around 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 8 and locked the building doors behind them, as that is what they do most days. The poll workers inside remained and were unaware that the doors had been locked, Ruth said.  

Ruth said that in investigating the incident there was a witness who said that no residents arrived and left before 5:15 p.m. Around 5:30 p.m., a different town employee arrived and found four residents outside the town office. That employee went inside and informed the town clerk and the doors were unlocked. 

The four residents were then able to vote and said that no one else had arrived and left while they were waiting. The polls remained open until 8 p.m. 

The town clerk spoke to the residents to determine what had happened and apologized for the incident, and the ballot clerks also apologized. Ruth said she had been able to get in contact with two of the affected voters and apologized on behalf of the town to them as well.  

The town office will adopt several measures to ensure that this does not happen again in the future, Ruth said. 

“The town clerk will be issuing another list of directions regarding the day of the polling; she will secure the device that locks the doors and there will be additional training as a correction to this incident,” Ruth said. 

At the start of the meeting, Michael Cianchette was sworn in as a councilor after winning the special election for the seat last Tuesday. He has previously served on the town council. 

“When I stepped down as mayor and councilor at-large in 2018, I challenged the council at that time to dare to ask the tough and uncomfortable questions, and to make the tough and uncomfortable decisions,” Cianchette said. “I will challenge the council to join me to do so again.” 

The seat has remained vacant since Debra Billings resigned earlier in the year due to personal reasons. The council still had enough members to conduct business, so the town waited until June to hold the special election since it would already be holding an election for the Maine School Administrative District 53 budget referendum. 

There was extensive discussion among councilors about maintenance of private roads in Pittsfield, and what, if any, role the town can play in that maintenance. 

Councilors said that they had heard from residents on Estelle Street, a private road, that they were wondering if the road could be adopted by the town, so that the town would be in charge of maintaining it, instead of the residents. 

Ruth said that this was a request the town had heard before and had looked into it several years ago. Legally, she said, the town cannot maintain private roads like Estelle Street because it would be considered using public funds for a private purpose. 

And the only way the town can adopt the road would be if the residents paid for and did the construction work to bring it up to town specifications, which can be an expensive process. 

The council discussed if it was known who held the deed to the land of the road — the residents or the developer. Ruth said that when she had looked into it before she was unable to locate the deed. 

Councilors also asked if it is a private road, can residents choose to just maintain the area of road directly in front of their property, and could they block off that section of road.  

After much discussion, the council tabled the issue, so that it could be discussed at a future meeting with residents and so Ruth could look into the current cost for the road to be brought up to town specifications. 

The council also discussed updates on upcoming road work in town, paving and the estimates for incoming funds from the American Rescue Plan. The council approved a 6% interest rate for delinquent taxes in 2021 and the due date for taxes as by the end of the business day Friday, Oct. 15. 

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