CANTON — There will be a showdown at the Town Office on Thursday night when a group of citizen activists intend to call an unsanctioned special town meeting to fund two special investigations.
One investigation would examine what the group considers improper spending at the municipal transfer station; the other would examine fire Chief Shane Gallant's "fitness" for duty.
Chris Dailey, the businessman behind the call for this special meeting, has spent nearly $2,000 of his own money for a lawyer to draft a meeting petition and subsequent warrant articles. He said he’s doing this because “the selectmen won’t own up to their mistakes.”
He's furious that Gallant — who is also a selectman — carried a concealed weapon on a fire call in 2010. In a letter to Canton citizens, titled "Alliance for Accountability," Dailey said the chief was "flashing a handgun" and threatening an individual at that scene. Dailey also alleges that Gallant is conflicted in his position as chief, to which he was appointed by fellow selectmen on the recommendation of firefighters.
The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6. It is not supported or sanctioned by town officials, so — by state law — it will have to be convened by a notary public.
Dailey believes that whatever voters decide at the meeting is binding on the town. Don Hutchins, vice chairman of the Board of Selectmen, disagrees.
Dailey’s group, Hutchins said, “has no authority to spend municipal money from this town meeting” to hire an investigator.
Town officials are not cooperating with Dailey’s group, Hutchins said, and declined Dailey’s request to "borrow" the town clerk for the meeting. Officials also declined to waive the rental fee for use of the Town Office.
Hutchins said he planned to attend the meeting. “I support, basically, the procedures that govern this type of process" for citizens to convene a special meeting, "but I wholeheartedly do not support the articles” to launch and fund two investigations.
“I will be voting no,” Hutchins said.
Selectman Jackie Conant does not plan to attend the meeting, but Hutchins said he hoped many other townspeople will.
“There are a lot of axes to grind and for a certain amount of people who want to use tax dollars to do it is unacceptable,” Hutchins said, referring to Dailey’s group. “So, I hope people come to the meeting and vote to do what is right. I hope a lot of people come. When they hear both sides of the story, they’ll make up their mind.”
Dailey had initially attempted to have selectmen call this special town meeting and gathered more than the required 50 signatures on a petition, but selectmen declined to proceed, Dailey said, leaving him no choice but to push the agenda at the citizen level.
There are four articles on Thursday’s warrant, the first being one to elect a moderator. Dailey said he intends to nominate former Selectman Ben McCollister to the post.
The second article asks voters to consider retaining a lawyer to conduct an independent investigation of capital improvements to the municipal transfer station, and whether those improvements were “lawful and properly authorized under state law” and local ordinances and resolutions.
Dailey alleges that the town spent $5,000 at the transfer station without voter authorization. “That’s over two years of my taxes,” Dailey said, “to insulate a building they’re not going to heat.”
The third article calls for an independent investigation to determine whether Gallant violated state or local laws and ordinances in two instances, the first at the 2010 fire scene and the second in November 2011 "when a person was placed in the fire chief's vehicle in the presence of unsecured firearms." The investigation would result in a recommendation on whether Gallant is “qualified and fit for the position” and whether “he has voted or acted on behalf of the town in any circumstances since his election where he has had a legal conflict of interest,” according to the special town meeting warrant.
Gallant confirmed that he has a concealed weapon license valid in 24 states, "not to mention my Second Amendment right as an American citizen."
He does bring his handgun to fire scenes but keeps it locked in his truck, Gallant said.
In 2011, he said, he did place a man in his truck where he keeps the handgun because it was winter and the man wasn't wearing a coat. However, he said, the gun was locked up and there was a state trooper standing next to the man outside the truck. Minutes after the fire victim was seated in the truck, Gallant said, he removed the handgun in full view of the trooper.
To suggest that he threatened someone with that gun in 2010 or put a citizen in danger in 2011 are "totally false statements," Gallant said. "I have nothing to hide."
Gallant said he doesn't believe he has a conflict of interest in serving his dual municipal duties and, during the past 2½ years as selectmen, has not been allowed to vote "on something that directly benefits me," such as setting the chief's salary.
The final article asks voters to appropriate funding for the investigations from the town’s existing legal budget or surplus funds. That’s an article Hutchins believes crosses the line of whether a citizen group can spend public dollars to pursue special interests.
“There are extremely intelligent people in this town,” Hutchins said, who will come to the meeting “and they’ll see what’s going on” and reject these articles.
Gallant agreed. He plans to attend Thursday's meeting, along with his wife and what he hopes will be a good number of other residents.
According to Dailey, if the articles pass and selectmen refuse to appropriate funding for the investigations “within a month or so, we will take them to court. And, if we take them to court, they will be responsible for attorney’s fees.”
Dailey was not aware Hutchins was planning to attend the meeting, saying he didn’t think any of the selectmen would “show up because they’re getting egg on their face. They could have settled this a long time ago” by honoring the citizen petition, Dailey said.
According to the Maine Municipal Association, every town in Maine is required to undergo an annual audit and that audit is a public record. That record could include details on capital expenditures that Dailey is seeking.
Eric Conrad, director of communication and educational services for MMA, declined to comment on whether citizens could force town officials to fund investigations, but he is willing to advise town officials on what to do after the outcome of Thursday’s meeting.