AUBURN — Thirteen municipalities suing Androscoggin County commissioners for their votes on salaries and benefits have attacked the commissioners’ motion to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit, with Lewiston in the lead, was filed in Androscoggin County Superior Court in July and contends that commissioners overstepped their powers in approving the county budget by voting in higher salaries and benefits for themselves than what was approved by the Budget Committee in 2014.

The Budget Committee approved a base salary of $3,000, with no benefits. Commissioners then voted to raise the salaries to $5,000, with health benefits valued at $8,400 per year for each commissioner.

Last month, commissioners filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and a second motion to dismiss the towns’ request for sanctions against commissioners, including the return of all salaries and benefits not approved by the Budget Committee.

The municipalities are also seeking to deny having the county pay commissioners’ legal bills.

In seeking dismissal of the suit last month, commissioners claimed they did nothing improper. But, in a couple of lively written motions filed with the court on Friday, the municipalities struck back, claiming commissioners never properly explained how they are permitted to approve their own budget, or their own salaries and benefits, or how the commissioners could “order the county to pay for their personal legal expenses to the extent they were not covered by the county’s tort claim insurance.”


Lewiston attorney Peter Brann is representing the municipalities. In his objection to the commissioners’ motion to dismiss, he asserts that commissioners merely raised a series of technical procedural arguments for dismissal, “each of which lacks merit — that collectively stand for the proposition that no one can ever challenge defendants’ actions.”

Brann writes that commissioners have argued the towns’ “complaint was filed both too late and too early; that commissioners are absolutely immune no matter how much money they siphon off for themselves from the county budget; that the municipalities and their taxpayers who pay for the county’s budget have no right to challenge how defendants spend their money.”

Under commissioners’ arguments, Brann asserts, “if the commissioners decided to pay themselves each $100,000 a year, provide health and dental insurance to all of their relatives, and give themselves each a Cadillac Escalade, they can put it in the county budget, approve each of these expenditures, approve the budget, and take the money, and there would be absolutely nothing that anyone could do about it.”

Brann asks the court to ignore the commissioners’ “revisionist history” and permit the case to proceed to “force defendants to comply with state law governing the budget process.”

According to Ronald Lebel, who, along with attorneys Bryan Dench and Amy Dieterich, is defending the commissioners, the commissioners in office when the budget was approved in 2014 did nothing wrong.

Commissioners Beth Bell and Elaine Makas voted in favor of the salaries and benefits. Chairman Randall Greenwood abstained.


At issue is who has final authority over the county budget — the commissioners or the Budget Committee — under the county charter, which was adopted by voters in 2013 and revised by the Legislature in 2014.

In his motion to dismiss, Brann suggested commissioners placed their personal interests above the public interest and denied any fiduciary duty to taxpayers, which makes any actions they took void.

Taking aim at the commissioners’ request to dismiss any request for sanctions, Brann called that request “bootless” and asserted the only reason it was filed was to “delay these proceedings and drive up plaintiffs’ litigation costs. He asks the court to consider the commissioners’ lawyers’ past “scorched earth litigation approach.” He criticizes the lawyers for “besmirching the reputation of opposing counsel,” referring to himself.

No hearing date has been set on the commissioners’ motions to dismiss.

Bell, Makas and Greenwood still serve on the commission, and have since been joined by Ronald Chicoine, Sally Christner, Alfreda Fournier and Matthew Roy under the charter that increased the number of seats on the commission to seven.

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