BUCKFIELD — After an hourlong and sometimes heated discussion, selectmen charged Town Manager Cindy Dunn on Saturday to further investigate with the town’s attorney potential issues with a selectman serving as a ballot clerk.

The topic was brought up by resident Vivian Wadas at the March 22 selectmen meeting after the board appointed Democratic ballot clerks at their previous meeting, including Selectman Maida DeMers-Dobson.

“I in no way intended to imply whatsoever that there was any wrongdoing on any selectman’s part,” Wadas said Saturday. “It’s about incompatibility of offices more than a conflict of interest issue. There isn’t an implication that Maida is doing anything wrong by being a ballot clerk. It’s the two offices she holds.”

At the last selectmen meeting, DeMers-Dobson agreed to resign as a ballot clerk but did not after Dunn offered to research the matter.

“I felt it important to investigate even further,” Dunn said Saturday.

In an email to Dunn, Susanne Pilgrim of Maine Municipal Association’s Legal Services Department, wrote there was no law specifically prohibiting a selectman from also serving as a ballot clerk for municipal elections or election clerk for state elections. Normally, Pilgrim said, she would advise against a selectman becoming an election or ballot clerk because the positions are usually appointed and compensated by selectmen.

“In my view, that would probably make the two positions legally incompatible,” Pilgrim wrote. “However, in a town manager municipality, the manager usually appoints all single officials normally appointed by the selectmen, unless a local ordinance has changed that rule. … I think the selectman would have to abstain from the compensation discussion and vote.”

Dunn said Saturday the town does not have a local ordinance pertaining to the issue.

“On the other hand, if the selectmen do in fact appoint these positions and determine their compensation, I would advise the selectmen not hold the position,” Pilgrim wrote. “If there are plenty of candidates, all risk can be avoided entirely by just not using a selectman as a ballot clerk.”

Dunn said she suspected that back in the day ballot and election clerks were not paid and were considered volunteers,  so selectmen appointed them and this practice carried forward.

“From this point forward, because they are town employees, it will be done by the town manager,” she said.

Newly elected Selectman Warren Wright said he thought selectmen shouldn’t be the first choice for election or ballot clerks, but could be used if no one else was available.

“There is an element in what you’re saying there’s dishonesty for citizens in town who serve on dual committees,” DeMers-Dobson said to Wright. “The reason I appreciated Cindy’s research is sometimes we get comments from citizens and when we don’t research, we limit our options.”

Wright said that he didn’t say there was any dishonesty and noted Dunn’s statement that it’s difficult finding ballot and election clerks to staff the polls.

“I think that the linchpin of the whole thing is: If there are plenty of candidates. We’re a small community; we don’t have plenty of candidates,” Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Cheryl Coffman said. “I think this puts us in a bad position. I think the town manager/town clerk should be allowed to call to meet the needs of whatever needs to happen.”

More discussion ensued and Dunn recommended to the board to request DeMers-Dobson’s resignation letter so there could be no issue of incompatibility of office or conflict of interest in the future, including the potential for the town to get sued. Wright made that motion, which didn’t receive a second and died on the floor.

Coffman made a motion for Dunn to get more legal advice, regarding whether or not the town could be sued and more specifics about this situation regarding the incompatibility of office and setting compensation. Dunn asked the board if she could contact the town’s attorney. Selectmen agreed.

“It is unfortunate that we have this contention that has pushed us into this point, but if it has, we need to clear it,” Coffman said.

Wright and Coffman voted for the motion and DeMers-Dobson abstained.

The topic will be addressed at a future selectmen meeting.

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