NEW GLOUCESTER — The term- limit ordinance passed by voters at last May’s town meeting didn’t survive a full year: The select board voted 3-2 Monday night to find it legally invalid.

Select board member Stephen Hathorne, who helped lead the initial term-limit effort and registered one of the dissenting votes at the April 2 meeting, said he was “absolutely disgusted” by the move.

“To me, this is a cold slap in the face to the voters,” Hathorne said. “The people wanted it, and the people who didn’t want it just changed the vote of the people, and it stinks.”

Selectman Joseph Davis also voted against invalidating the ordinance.

Voters at the May 1, 2017, meeting voted 66-44 in favor of the ordinance that limited select board service to three consecutive three-year terms, and required members to be off the board for three years before running for it again.

While the term-limit issue was not slated to be on Monday night’s agenda, Town Manager Carrie Castonguay suggested adding it to the agenda at the onset of the meeting after receiving a legal opinion from the Maine Municipal Association.


“I do not think that this ordinance is effective,” MMA staff attorney Rebecca McMahon wrote in an April 2 email to Castonguay. “A town cannot establish a term limit for the Select Board through ordinance, that can only be done through charter.”

The town of New Gloucester does not have a charter.

In an email sent to select board members about an hour and a half before Monday night’s meeting, Castonguay recommended that the board follow McMahon’s opinion provided earlier that day and invalidate the term-limit ordinance.

Selectman Steven Libby made a two-part motion that night to invalidate the ordinance based on MMA input and to direct Castonguay to consult town attorneys at the Portland-based firm Bernstein Shur.

Libby said by phone Wednesday that if lawyers at Bernstein Shur differed with MMA’s opinion, the issue could come back to the board for reconsideration.

Libby has served on the select board for two decades and was slated to be termed out next year under the ordinance. He raised concerns about the impact of term limits last year and brought up the charter issue at the 2017 town meeting.


He said that waiting for Bernstein Shur’s opinion before voting on the ordinance would have been complicated by the April 13 deadline for nomination papers. Libby said not acting on MMA’s opinion would have denied due process to board Chairwoman Linda Chase as a potential candidate.

“If we held off, we would have been withholding information from Linda Chase, who could be a candidate,” Libby said. “In my opinion, we had information that said that the ordinance should be invalidated by the board.”

Chase, who was set to be term-limited this year under the ordinance, also voted to find it invalid, as did Selectman Lenora Conger. Chase had already taken out nomination papers to run for the board again before the ordinance was voted invalid.

She said in an interview last week, “Yes, allegedly I’m termed-out,” and indicated that she was waiting to see whether a citizen petition would materialize to overturn the ordinance.

Castonguay said that she reached out to McMahon about the ordinance after Chase came to her with a question from a citizen.

Chase said Monday night that she brought the issue to Castonguay to discuss how to strengthen the ordinance “so the town wouldn’t necessarily have to go to court, which the selectmen have the right to do.”


“I’m the one who’s termed-out,” Chase said Monday night. “I didn’t want people to think that it’s me saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t want to be termed-out.’”

She said her conversation with Castonguay was about “how to protect the town.”

Hathorne said by phone Wednesday that there are “many concerned citizens” following Monday night’s vote, and that there is an effort to explore the possibility of getting an injunction from a judge to uphold the ordinance.

“Recall is not off the table,” he said.

Hathorne, who is running for re-election this year, asked Monday night about a separate legal opinion on the term-limit ordinance provided to the town last January by a lawyer at Bernstein Shur.

That opinion, which attorney Philip Saucier gave to then-Town Manager Paul First, acknowledged some gray area surrounding the term-limit issue.


“Although it is reasonable for the Board of Selectmen to place the petitioned article on the next warrant, I did want to note that it is not clear under Maine law whether a town without a charter may enact term limits for municipal officers,” Saucier said in his January 2017 email.

Saucier, who leads Bernstein Shur’s municipal and government services practice, cited the same statute as McMahon that references a charter. But unlike McMahon, he did not explicitly say that he believed the measure to be invalid.

“On the other hand, the Court has held that under home rule the Legislature has not implicitly denied any power granted to municipalities unless the municipal ordinance in question would frustrate the purpose of any state law. To my knowledge there is no case law directly on point; however, the Law Court will liberally construe grants of initiative and referendum so as to facilitate, rather than to handicap, the people’s exercise of their sovereign power to legislate.’ ”

Hathorne had wondered whether MMA or Bernstein Shur was “the ultimate justice in this” and said that the more than 400 signatures on the initial citizen petition supporting term limits “speaks volumes.”

“State law speaks volumes as well, Steve,” responded Libby.

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