AUBURN — City Councilor Mike Farrell said Friday he hopes to put an end to controversy between himself and the local firefighters' union by releasing the emails they've been seeking.
Farrell also said he's now sworn off using his email account to do city business.
"Unfortunately, it will be harder for my constituency to reach me," Farrell said Friday. "I've learned this law can be abused and costs the city a lot of money. I will fight for my city every time. Emails could be detrimental, and therefore are not worth the risk."
The Auburn Professional Fire Fighters Local 797 filed a suit requiring councilors to make all emails concerning the Fire Department's operations public after councilors criticized the practice of using fire vehicles for errands.
Union President Craig Bouchard said Friday that he has not seen any documents and does not know yet if they fit the union's criteria. He declined to comment until he and other union members had a chance to read them.
"We'll review the documents and see where we can go from there," he said.
Farrell initially refused to give his emails to the firefighters' union until they paid for the time needed to collect them. Maine's Freedom of Access Act laws do allow people meeting access requests to charge a reasonable fee. Farrell said he was charging the union $40 — $10 per hour for five hours work, with no charge for the first hour.
The union responded by suing Farrell, Mayor Dick Gleason and the rest of the City Council and City Manager Glenn Aho.
At Monday's City Council meeting, Farrell told Bouchard that he would take the union president into the room behind the council chambers and show him his email account then and there, free of charge, if the union dropped the suit.
Bouchard declined, but suggested Farrell forward his emails to Aho, who would send them to the the union's attorney.
Aho said that was done Friday afternoon. Aho also said Councilor Dan Herrick and his wife checked her computer and found no relevant emails. Herrick has maintained that he does not use email at all, and especially not for city business.
Farrell is now requesting the union pay $30 for the time he spent gathering the emails. He has said he would donate the fee to the city's Community Development Department, but said he would forget the fee if the union drops the suit.
Now, Farrell said it's up to the union.
"I kept my end of the bargain," Farrell said. "Will he keep his, yes or no?"