AUBURN — A question of how Mayor Jonathan LaBonte and another city councilor obtained contract information regarding L/A Arts, which City Councilor Tizz Crowley said was not shared with her, convinced Crowley to file a formal Freedom of Access Act request for that document.

Crowley said she filed the request with acting City Manager Howard Kroll just after midnight Tuesday morning, on the heels of the council’s vote not to pay an L/A Arts invoice for $12,691.

“I had asked for copies of any bills,” Crowley said. “If L/A Arts is due money, you would think they would have submitted bills. There was one for $17,000 that did not match any signed contract and was not approved by the finance director. There were no other invoices that I was provided, just that one.”

Crowley requested all emails addressed to or from the LAArts.org Internet domain with LaBonte, City Councilor Mary LaFontaine, former City Manager Clinton Deschene, Economic Development Specialist Alan Manoian and any other city councilor or paid city staff member.

“It seems that some people had been in communications with L/A Arts and had not disclosed it,” Crowley said.

L/A Arts had asked the Auburn Council to pay $12,691 for consulting work on raising money to restore a city statue of Edward Little and how to raise money to preserve historic bells removed from New Auburn’s St. Louis Church over the past year.

Advertisement

The group also helped develop a strategic plan to bring a series of sculptures to downtown Lewiston and Auburn.

Crowley and Councilors Robert Hayes, Leroy Walker and Belinda Gerry all voted against paying the invoice at the Monday night City Council meeting, defeating the plan to pay L/A Arts.

Crowley said she’s willing to pay the arts group a portion of the money, but only as a consultant and not as an arts group.

“I want the money we set aside for arts to go to any arts for programs,” she said. “That means concerts or shows or speakers or an activity in Auburn.”

Crowley said LaFontaine and LaBonte made reference to a memo of understanding between the city and the arts group that Crowley had requested several times, but had never seen. She filed her freedom of access request Tuesday to find out how other councilors had received it and to see if she had missed other L/A Arts information.

LaFontaine said she had seen the memo but did not recall where. She said she thinks it may have been given to councilors in an executive session on Jan. 26 or Feb. 9 — meetings that Crowley did not attend.

Advertisement

“In my perception, there was nothing to hide or alter or anything going on behind the scenes that would create any suspicion or sense of wrongdoing,” LaFontaine said.

LaBonte said he respected Crowley’s right to have the information, but said the formal process was not necessary.

“There is no grand conspiracy,” he said. “The FOAA laws are FOAA laws and she will get the emails she requested. I’m just not sure it’s a constructive way to handle these issues.”

But Crowley said she also believes that LaBonte and city staff are keeping tabs on Crowley, or least her requests for information. She said she made a less formal request for financial data on the city’s ice rink via the city’s website. She received an answer, not from city staff, but from LaFontaine.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but clearly people are watching my stuff,” Crowley said. “I was looking for information I’d requested before and when you are missing documents that people have, I’d like to know why.”

Crowley said she filed a FOAA on Feb. 14 to determine how LaFontaine learned about her request for arena financial information.

Advertisement

LaFontaine said she is not checking up on Crowley or any councilor.

“I think we as a council have been trying to make sure our communication is open and we are making the best use of staff time, and that things are being done above board,” LaFontaine said. “Are we concentrating on issues that are important — policy and direction for the city? The staff’s job is day-to-day operations and if we are asking too much of them they cannot do their jobs effectively.”

On Tuesday afternoon, LaBonte, who is employed as director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management, took his complaint about Crowley’s public records request to his personal Facebook page, noting it was his first FOAA request as Auburn’s mayor.

He wrote that the request was for communications he and another councilor had with L/A Arts and “I guess we are about to be outed for our engagement with the arts community.”

He wrote it was a “sad day” that Crowley felt the need to file the request “over a very modest request for partnership” with the arts group.

The ensuing posts were largely supportive of LaBonte, critical that Crowley didn’t take a more direct approach and just ask for the documents. Others pointed out that FOAA is a standard tool to gain access to public records that had otherwise been denied, and a couple of people expressed support for Crowley’s move after she’d exhausted other routes.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.