The Winslow Town Council is considering a proposal to hold its meetings twice a month, rather than just once, in an effort to promote greater transparency and build up public trust. The Winslow Town Office is shown in August.  Scott Monroe/Morning Sentinel file

WINSLOW — Less than a week after residents voted to oust three of Winslow’s seven town councilors, the new town manager is pushing the Town Council to hold more public meetings in order to rebuild public trust.

Town Manager Ella Bowman during a council meeting Monday proposed the idea of convening the council twice a month, rather than just once. The move is intended to quiet what Bowman described as “the wrath of critical public opinion.”

“I think it just sends a nice, clear message of transparency, and I think that that’s something that I really want to push,” Bowman said Tuesday. “Winslow is a great town and we’ve had a rough patch over the last summer. Now it’s time to pull things back together.”

The meeting was Bowman’s first as Winslow’s manager and the council’s first since Councilors Joseph “Rocky” Gravel, Jerry Quirion and Chairman Peter Drapeau lost their bids for reelection. Residents, candidates and administrators alike agreed that a lack of public trust was one of the biggest issues in this year’s council elections.

The council in recent months has faced claims of “secret meetings” by councilors; scrutiny over the departure of the previous town manager, Erica LaCroix; complaints of a hostile workplace within the town’s newly formed public safety department; and a townwide revaluation that drove an increase in property tax bills.

Bowman proposed beginning the bimonthly meetings in January, when newly elected councilors Frances Hudson, Michael Joseph and Adam Lint begin their terms. She hopes holding more meetings will increase public participation in town politics.

Advertisement

“I’ve worked with many towns and I know there aren’t too many that are just going once a month,” Bowman said at Monday’s meeting. “I think two is a healthy way of doing things, and is more transparent … It’d give a chance for the public to participate a little bit more than what they’re currently able to.”

The plan generated a lengthy discussion, with Drapeau raising questions about the costs and logistics associated with holding meetings twice as often, but said he didn’t think it was the current council’s place to decide when the next council should convene.

“I’m on my way out,” Drapeau said. “I think that’s up to the people that are staying — the people that have been elected. If I were staying, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but it’s going to cost more money. You’re going to have to pay twice the amount to the councilors.”

Winslow councilors each are paid $50 per council meeting, Drapeau said.

Hudson, who was sitting with Joseph and Lint at the meeting, raised concerns about the administrative procedure behind holding more meetings. She questioned whether the council could provide adequate notice to the public with more frequent meetings, and asked if councilors would “have to go if they don’t want to.”

Town Attorney William A. Lee III said new councilors could “decide that that second meeting is going to be different in structure and form than the first meeting” if they preferred.

Advertisement

In other business Monday night, the council promoted Mike Murphy to deputy fire chief, considered adopting a new composting program, and heard updates on extensive renovations being made to the town’s lone wastewater pump station.

Presenters from Wright-Pierce, an engineering firm in Topsham, provided an update on the changes being made to the Chaffee Brook Pump Station. The facility, which processes much of Winslow’s sewage and wastewater, was built in 1970 and has not been updated since 1998.

Public Works Director Paul Fongemie said Chaffee Brook experiences roughly three or four “overflow events” each year, in which as much as 30,000 gallons of mixed sewage spills out of the facility and into the Kennebec River.

“In terms of the wastewater system in Winslow, it’s the most critical piece of infrastructure the town has,” Corey Lewis, an engineer on the project, said Monday. “There are a number of issues that were identified. The bottom line is that there’s lots of deferred maintenance.”

Although Fongemie previously estimated that the project could be completed by summer 2024, an extensive federal permitting process delayed the project by nearly a year while engineers worked to minimize disruption to fish habitat in the Kennebec River. Lewis said construction on the site now is scheduled to begin in spring 2025.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: