Rumford town meeting voters reject funding domestic abuse organization

RUMFORD — Crazy.

That's how police Chief Stacy Carter described Tuesday's town meeting vote that rejected donating $4,000 to Safe Voices by a vote of 546-708.

Formerly known as the Abused Women's Advocacy Project, Safe Voices is an organization that deals with domestic violence in the River Valley area and Oxford, Franklin and Androscoggin counties.

Tuesday's vote came amidst a rising trend of domestic violence assault complaints in Rumford.

“Five hundred and forty-six to 708; crazy,” Carter said late Thursday afternoon after calling Town Clerk Beth Bellegarde to learn how people voted on Article 28.

The article asked if Rumford should raise and appropriate $4,000 for Safe Voices for fiscal year 2011-12.

The article didn't spell out the acronym AWAP, so Carter surmised that maybe they didn't recognize the new name.

Defeating the article meant there would be no appropriation. The Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee recommended approving it.

Voters approved $205,277 in donations to other social services, but the only items they defeated were the Safe Voices article and the proposed wind ordinance.

Directors of the 34-year-old AWAP changed the organization's name last year to Safe Voices, because it's uplifting, gender neutral, short and easy to remember, they said.

Its mission is to support and empower those affected by domestic violence and engage the community in creating social change in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, its website states.

“We work hand in hand with (Safe Voices),” Chief Carter said. “I mean we do the enforcement stuff, but the victims need the support and people to help them through the process.”

Safe Voices “provides support groups, they provide housing and assist in their basic needs, and they're very strong in education to the communities,” he said.

“They're a vital part of dealing with domestic violence. I just can't understand why it got voted down.”

Town Manager Carlo Puiia said Wednesday that he, too, couldn't understand why.

“I was disappointed,” he said.

Puiia called the vote “ironic,” because before the polls opened on Tuesday morning, news broke about the murders in Dexter of kindergarten teacher Amy Lake, 38, and her children Coty, 13, and Monica, 12. They were shot to death by Lake's estranged husband and the children's father, Steven Lake, 37, of Harmony, who then shot himself to death, state police said.

Additionally, Carter said that only a week prior, news broke about a domestic violence murder in Winslow.

In that incident on June 6, state police said Nathaniel Gordon, 32, chased his wife, Sarah Gordon, 30, with a handgun down Marie Street before shooting her several times in front of a neighbor's house.

Police said he then fled in her car down the Maine turnpike with police in pursuit, before shooting himself to death.

Carter said that in 2009, Rumford police handled 66 domestic violence calls. That number increased to 77 in 2010. For this year, as of Thursday, they'd handled 40 such calls.

But where Rumford's fiscal year goes from July 1 to June 30, Carter said he reports the domestic calls his department handles on a June to June fiscal year basis. So from June 2010 to June 2011, he said they've had 91 domestic violence calls.

“In Rumford, we've always dealt with more than a fair share of domestics,” he said.

“I can think of a weekend or a three-day period just a couple of months ago that we had 9 domestic violence assaults in a three-day period. Just those numbers alone are staggering.”

“It's something that we respond to on just about a daily basis,” he said.

“We, the Rumford Police Department, and local law enforcement agencies and the (Oxford County) Sheriff's Department all belong to the Oxford County Domestic Violence Task Force, and Safe Voices is an integral part in keeping that going.”

On Wednesday, Rumford police arrested two men following unrelated domestic violence incidents.

Nathan Arsenault, 28, and Richard Degen, 42, both of Rumford, were each charged with domestic violence assault, Detective Sgt. James Bernard said on Wednesday.

Arsenault was released on $1,200 unsecured bail, but Degen was taken to Oxford County Jail in Paris after failing to post bail. They are to be arraigned Aug. 2 in Rumford District Court.

“It's not very often that we get two domestic violence arrests in a day,” Bernard said.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Jeff Bailey's picture

Extremely Disappointing

As a teacher in the River Valley Community there is nothing but positive praise to be heard about Safe Voices. I cannot tell you how active this organization has been in helping students identify and respond to unsafe relationship. This is a critical skill that changes lives. I certainly hope that it was simply the name that threw people off. If so, I would challenge the River Valley community to donate directly to the cause or use your time to organize a fund raising effort. I for one will contribute what I can. I understand that these are tough times, but this cause is without a doubt for the betterment of all in the community.
-Jeff Bailey
Mountain Valley High School Teacher

Jeff Bailey's picture

Extremely Disappointing

As a teacher in the River Valley Community there is nothing but positive praise to be heard about Safe Voices. I cannot tell you how active this organization has been in helping students identify and respond to unsafe relationship. This is a critical skill that changes lives. I certainly hope that it was simply the name that threw people off. If so, I would challenge the River Valley community to donate directly to the cause or use your time to organize a fund raising effort. I for one will contribute what I can. I understand that these are tough times, but this cause is without a doubt for the betterment of all in the community.
-Jeff Bailey
Mountain Valley High School Teacher

 's picture

IT's all in the name

There should have been a note that this is AWAP, but with a new name, Safe Voices, then more than likely it would have passed.

Who was responsible for the wording of this article?

 's picture

Not sure why this is news

So the Rumford voters didn't rubber-stamp everything that their selectmen recommended. What else is new? We've been back and forth on this one in Farmington. Some people feel that private organizations should be supported by individuals who choose to support them, rather than by taxes. I would guess that's why many voters didn't opt to have Safe Voices supported by tax money, but the SJ reporter could have asked a few if s/he had wanted to know.

MARGARET TYLER's picture

Domestic Violence

Well Rumford maybe we'll see your towns name in the paper ,like other one's we've seen latley.

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