Ad to repeal Lewiston housing project violates city, state laws

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LEWISTON — Newspaper advertisements urging voters to repeal a downtown housing project have run afoul of the city and of state law.

Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett said he has notified supporters of city ballot Question 1 to remove the city’s official seal from their advertising.

The advertisements, urging voters to repeal the City Council’s approval of Phyllis St. Laurent’s housing development, appeared in the Sun Journal on Oct. 28 and 29 and in the Oct. 30 edition of the Twin City Times, a weekly newspaper.

“It appeared to imply that the city was taking a position, in particular a yes vote on the referendum,” Barrett said Friday.

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He said the advertisements ran afoul of Maine Revised Statutes Title 30-A, Section 2006 “Misuse of Municipal Seal.” Those using the seal must first get permission from the city clerk.

Barrett said that permission was not granted. He said he contacted Doris Pelletier, who placed the ad, and the newspapers. The Twin City Times has agreed to remove the city seal from the electronic versions of the newspaper, Barrett said.

“I anticipate that lots of people don’t know that they require permission to use the city seal,” Barrett said. “I don’t know that it’s been a problem historically, because until there were websites and electronic media it was not easy to do that. But these days, it’s in electronic form and it’s pretty easy to find and to copy it.”

Pelletier said she did not intend to run afoul of state law. She drew her ideas for the advertisement by hand and gave it to the newspapers.

“I just drew a circle at the top,” she said. “I’m not that good at drawing, and I didn’t mean to do anything wrong. I gave both newspapers the same ad. Whatever happened from there, I had nothing to do with it.”

City councilors approved developer Phyllis St. Laurent’s project in the spring, but a group of local landlords collected enough signatures to force a public vote. Voters will decide at the polls Tuesday, Nov. 4. 

St. Laurent hopes to build three buildings on eight lots, with 32 off-street parking spaces and a large green space among the buildings. There would be 29 units with a total of 77 bedrooms.

Her apartments would replace buildings she owned at 149 Bartlett St., and 110 and 114 Pierce St. that were destroyed in a rash of fires downtown in May 2013.

It would be a $5 million project with subsidized rents and federal Section 8 housing vouchers tied to the development. The project would be aimed at families making 60 percent of the median income, about $33,700 for a family of four.

staylor@sunjournal.com

Supporters of the Lewiston housing development and members of the downtown advocacy group the Visible Community have planned a rally at 10:30 a.m. Monday along the Pine Street side of Kennedy Park to demand an apology for the advertisements. Speakers are set to include members of the Lewiston City Council, fire victims and neighborhood residents.

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