BETHEL — Board of Selectmen Chairman Don Bennett said this week he expects former Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant to stop attending meetings of Bethel’s Marijuana Committee, which Gallant chairs.
Town Manager Christine Landes said Wednesday she had not received a letter of resignation from Gallant, and that her only communication with him had been via an email he sent Monday to the committee members recommending they elect a new chairman.
Gallant and 10 others were appointed to the panel last summer. He was elected chairman shortly thereafter, Landes said.
The committee is charged with gauging public views on recreational sales and proposing rules on the regulation or prohibition of businesses that sell, grow, manufacture or test recreational marijuana products in Bethel.
The legalization of recreational marijuana was approved in a statewide referendum in November 2016.
The Bethel committee, composed of people who both support and oppose recreational marijuana, has met monthly since last summer.
In December, Gallant resigned as sheriff after accusations of sexual misconduct involving subordinate employees, according to the Sun Journal. In March, a Jay man filed a notice of claim seeking damages against Gallant and others, claiming Gallant “sexually assaulted and continues to harass, torture and to solicit the claimant for sexual contact,” according to the Sun Journal.
At the April 18 committee meeting, a majority of committee members voted to meet weekly to cover the detailed issues involved. Gallant opposed it, citing the time commitment.
On Monday, Bennett said that Gallant recently told him he “would not be coming to any more meetings” of the committee, citing the frequency of them.
Also on Monday, questions were raised by Bethel residents on social media regarding whether Gallant should have been allowed to continue in his capacity on the committee these past months, in light of the issues surrounding his resignation as sheriff. An article on Gallant and the committee was published April 29 in “The Bollard” publication of Portland, prompting the online discussion.
Late last year, according to Landes, “a couple of” committee members had asked about Gallant continuing on the panel. Landes said she and Bennett discussed it and concluded Gallant’s problems did not relate to his service on the committee. She said she had not heard complaints from anyone else.
Bennett, who has attended most of the committee meetings, said he had felt Gallant, due to his law enforcement background and experience running meetings, continued to be an asset to the committee. Bennett also said he had not heard any complaints from residents about Gallant “in relation to his work done on the committee.”
But with the recent public discussion, “you have to listen to your constituency,” Bennett said. He said that had Gallant not already said he would stop participating in meetings, he (Bennett) would have seen the new development as a reason to stop, because it would now likely interfere with the committee’s work.
Gallant did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Bethel residents will vote on a proposed moratorium on recreational marijuana/medical marijuana caregiver retail stores at the June 13 town meeting. The 180-day moratorium is intended to give the committee time to craft proposed local regulations for townspeople to vote on before the Planning Board is approached by applicants.
It originally addressed only recreational sales, but after discussion by the committee on the status of regulation of medical marijuana retail stores, Landes said she consulted town attorney Mary Costigan for clarification, and the medical retail stores language was added. An exemption for existing caregivers who operate out of their residences was later included.
State legislation has also been in the works that would change the laws on medical marijuana.
Former Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, left, and volunteer Matt Jabaut of the American Legion Department of Maine, participate in a military veterans event in November 2017. (Sun Journal file photo)