AUBURN — Attorneys for the Androscoggin County commissioners have once again asked the superior court to dismiss a complaint filed by 13 Androscoggin County towns, arguing the towns do not have standing to file a civil complaint against commissioners. They assert that standing belongs to voters.

Commissioners, through their attorneys, also argue that the towns’ complaint was filed too late to be valid, and that the towns cannot seek sanctions against commissioners who were not serving on the commission at the time of the vote that is the subject of the suit.

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 compensation cuts to a base salary of $3,000, with no benefits. Commissioners instead voted in smaller cuts to a base salary of $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 responses filed in Androscoggin County Superior Court, commissioners’ attorneys Ronald Lebel and Amy Dieterich argue there can be no case against four commissioners named in the lawsuit because they were each elected to serve after long-seated Commissioners Beth Bell and Elaine Makas voted in the spring of 2014 to raise their salaries and benefits over the amounts recommended by the Budget Committee. Commissioner Randall Greenwood abstained from that vote.

Commissioners Alfreda Fournier, Ronald Chicoine, Matthew Roy and Sally Christner were sworn into office on Jan. 8.

Two footnotes on the response to the towns’ motion for sanctions against all seven commissioners notes that the towns’ attorney, Peter Brann, “cites no legal authority in support of his apparent belief that guilt by association is a valid cause of action in Maine,” and that Brann “offers no explanation how defendants Alfreda, Chicoine, Roy and Christner could ‘re-affirm’ action that they had never ‘affirmed’ in the first place.”

Commissioners’ attorneys have also responded to the towns’ motion to dismiss the case, pointing out discrepancies in dates of the vote in dispute and the later amendment to the charter that commissioners argue gives them final authority to approve the budget.

Commissioners point out that the towns have not challenged the validity of the legislation amending the Androscoggin County charter, which included an amendment “to provide that the Budget Committee only approves the final proposed budget to be submitted to the board for its approval, rather than adopting a final budget that is transmitted to the board.” And, the amended charter also contains language requiring the commission — not the Budget Committee — “to vote to adopt the final budget.”

Not challenging that document, commissioners argue, means the towns acknowledge that the Budget Committee only approves a proposed budget, and the “Board of Commissioners is legally empowered by the charter to both modify and approve a final budget.” That concession, commissioners argue, proves “fatal to plaintiffs’ (the towns) claims.”

Among other responses, the commissioners noted that the towns do not have standing to sue on the issues raised. It is the voters, commissioners said, who have standing under Maine law.

The commissioners have asked the court to dismiss all claims against them.

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