RUMFORD — A Dixfield man is taking on the largest Eagles Club in Maine by launching a crusade to outlaw smoking at the private organization.

The Eagles are about people helping people by raising money and giving it away through donations to charities they’ve selected, whether they are nationally or locally funded. The Rumford Falls Fraternal Order of Eagles also does substantial volunteer work in the River Valley area, helping various groups, children and communities.

Steve Swan said his membership in the Rumford club cleared on Sept. 24. Soon afterward, he ran afoul of the club’s rules when he took to social media to protest the club’s Oct. 8 vote allowing smoking to continue.

“When I became a member, I wasn’t given any paperwork as far as by-laws, rules or anything,” Swan said Saturday. “I have asked for copies of them via certified mail a couple of times, but I have not received any response.

“So I knew nothing about the Eagles’ procedures,” he said. “I just knew that the way the smoking vote was conducted was unfair.”

Eagles President Becky Gallant, club trustees John Perry and Ed Fontaine, club secretary Ed Provencher and club officer Randy Gallant, Becky’s husband, said otherwise on Saturday. Of the group, Provencher is the only smoker.

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Swan’s issue smoldered for a few days after the membership vote on Oct. 8. State law says the Eagles must hold this vote every three years.

Maine restaurants and bars went smoke-free Jan. 1, 2004. All Maine non-hospitality workplaces followed suit on Sept. 12, 2009. It was an unexpected boon for the Rumford Eagles.

“The first year that they actually banned smoking in bars, I think we had over 300 people join our club the first year,” Provencher said. “It was unbelievable.”

According to Maine’s Workplace Smoking Act of 1985, qualifying clubs could allow smoking at their businesses as of Sept. 1, 2006, if they met a list of requirements.

Among these, policies concerning smoking must be mutually agreed upon by the employer and all employees. If only one employee votes against allowing smoking, that kills the right for three years until the next vote.

Provencher said the club, which was established in 1905, has 12 employees, and all 12 voted by secret ballot on Sept. 3 to allow smoking.

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Members of clubs also have to vote by secret ballot every three years on whether to allow smoking. With members, majority rules. Regarding the vote, members can’t be subjected to undue influence.

Provencher said the Rumford Eagles Club has 1,471 members. Of those, 147 voted Oct. 8. The tally was 102 for smoking, 45 for no smoking.

Swan said that per Maine law, all members of a club have to be notified of upcoming voting. He doesn’t believe the club notified all of its nearly 1,500 members. He wants a revote after all have been “properly notified,” even if it means sending paper ballots to all of them. He also said he believes voters were intimidated.

“The vote was held in the smoky and unhealthy Social Room of the club where prospective voters were subject to being intimidated by the smoking members of the club,” Swan said.

Rather than take up the matter with Eagles leadership, Swan went public.

He launched a Facebook page and, on Thursday, an online petition drive for signatures to force the revote. The petition can be viewed by going to www.iPetitions.com and searching for the title, “Petition for a Smoke-Free Rumford Falls Eagles.” His Facebook page can be found by a search of the title.

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“So I established a Facebook page for a place for others to complain to the leadership about the way they misconducted the vote,” Swan said.

Perry said they didn’t “misconduct” the vote. They followed state guidelines as they always do. The club placed an ad in the local newspaper 30 days in advance of the vote. They also placed a notice on a board at the club and posted it on the club’s Facebook page.

Perry said he was “pretty sure” that more than 1,000 people are connected to that page. Becky Gallant said many members shared the notice from the club’s Facebook page, and by word of mouth.

One problem is that many members live out of state and don’t participate in club functions, but they continue to send in their dues, she said.

“We have roughly between 120 and 200 people who come in here every day, depending on what day it is and what we have going on,” Perry said. “And every one of them knows it’s a smoking club.”

A sign inside the street entrance on the door to the lounge states that it’s a smoking club.

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“And basically, we have hundreds of people who belong to the club — why, I have no idea — because they just pay the dues,” Perry said. “They don’t bother even coming here.”

Swan next submitted a letter to the editor of the Rumford Falls Times that was published on Oct. 29.

In that letter, the Dirigo High School graduate said that on the day of the Oct. 5 vote, he happened to speak with an Eagles employee. Swan said the employee told him that they didn’t favor allowing smoking at the club but believed if they spoke or voted against smoking, they would be ostracized and possibly fired.

“The primary problem is that the activity of smoking tobacco in the club has caused many nonsmoking members to either stop participating in the club, quit the club outright, or not renew their memberships,” Swan wrote.

Additionally, he said that allowing smoking is preventing many prospective members from joining the club.

“In essence, the smoking members have hijacked the club and, by doing so, are ensuring that their unhealthy, life-threatening practice will continue,” Swan wrote. “… It could be a wonderful bar/nightclub if the insidious practice of tobacco smoking were outlawed.”

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Fontaine said the club has installed air exchange systems that cost thousands of dollars to rid the building of smoke through an exhaust system.

“And we will be getting and installing another one, but it ain’t that bad,” he said.

Fontaine disputed Swan’s assertion that smoking keeps people from joining the club.

“Since Mr. Swan has started this, we have had a lot of new members join,” Fontaine said.

In the Rumford Falls Times’ Nov. 5 edition, Becky Gallant rebutted Swan’s letter. She accused Swan of fabricating accusations that he posted on the club’s Facebook page.

“After it was removed, you continue to slander myself, our fellow members and the organization as a whole,” Becky Gallant wrote.

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She reiterated what Perry said, that they did notify membership of the Oct. 5 vote. She said club smokers are in the minority and have not “hijacked” the club, nor have employees been forced to work in a smoking club.

On Saturday, Becky Gallant said she didn’t know which employee Swan claims to have spoken with on Oct. 5.

“I can’t elaborate on that because it’s invalid. It’s none of our business,” she said.

Fontaine said they’ve never threatened to fire any employee should one vote against smoking.

“We don’t have a history of firing people here,” Perry said. “We have employees who have been here for 25, 30 years.”

Continuing his crusade of trying to force a revote last month, Swan contacted the Attorney General’s office and the Maine Center for Disease Control.

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He said that in return, Eagles leadership suspended him for 90 days — without due process or a hearing.

“I was made to take an oath at my initiation, but I have never seen a copy of what I swore to,” Swan said. “I was suspended from the club for violating my oath not to speak badly about another member.”

The Gallants, Perry, Fontaine and Provencher confirmed Saturday morning that the trustees had indeed suspended Swan. But they declined further comment on what they say is an internal matter.

“We cannot elaborate as to why,” President Gallant said.

Provencher said the Attorney General’s office sent a woman who works there but is with the CDC. He said the office got a complaint and had to follow up on it.

“All I know is that after I got done talking with her, she was going to contact (Swan),” Provencher said. “If she needed any more questions answered, she said she’d call me back and she hasn’t, and it’s been well over a month.”

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Timothy Feeley, a spokesman for the AG’s office, declined to elaborate on the inquiry into Swan’s complaint.

The national Eagles club has advised the Rumford club leaders that Swan’s petition has no bearing or leverage.

Undeterred, Swan said he will await action from the CDC and attorney general, before continuing his barrage.

“Depending upon their actions, I will decide whether or not to seek Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in court on behalf of myself and the nonsmoking members of the club!” he wrote on his petition’s Facebook page in response to Becky Gallant’s rebuttal.

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