MECHANIC FALLS — Town officials spoke publicly Monday for the first time since the Sun Journal brought to light a series of Mechanic Falls election irregularities, including  a 2018 election to replace a town councilor whose term was not up yet.

“All I know is I took out election papers, I filled them out properly and I was elected to a three-year term,” said Town Council Vice Chairman Wayne Hackett, who was elected to replace Louis Annance last summer even though Annance still had a year left on the council.

It remained unclear why no one noticed the election problem until several months later, in March, when Town Manager Zakk Maher emailed the council about it and warned them that it “could be messy and unpredictable from a legal point of view.”

It also remained unclear who knew what, when they knew it and why no town officials apparently made the situation public in the five months they have known about it.

“Why did the board at the time not choose to disclose that information to the taxpayers of this town, that there was a huge, egregious error (in the election)?” asked resident Aaron Ouellette, who sat among the standing-room-only crowd at Monday’s town council meeting.

“When we found out about it, we were like, ‘Holy cow, how could that happen?’ Then, ‘What do we do?'” Councilor Nicholas Konstantoulakis said. “There’s no precedence for it before and it was embarrassing. And Mr. Hackett was already on.”

Ouellette said he understood embarrassment, but he could not understand why residents were never told.

“Can anybody please explain why nobody’s conscience thought it wasn’t important to tell the taxpayers of this town that an egregious error was made?” Ouellette asked.

“I have no idea,” Hackett said. “Maybe because they didn’t want to embarrass the town clerk. Maybe.”

“So you’re saying this was the town clerk’s issues?” Ouellette said.

“Oh, it was her responsibility. She’s the elections clerk,” Hackett said, nodding. “Oh, yeah, she brings it forward to the town manager.”

When asked whether the 2018 election problem had ever been discussed at a public meeting after its discovery in March, Hackett contradicted earlier statements that it had not. He also seemed to blame Maher — the town manager the council had voted to rehire just 15 minutes earlier — for keeping any discussion behind closed doors.

“You’d have to go back through the (meeting) video recordings of four months ago, five months ago, whenever it was found out. It might possibly be on that. I don’t remember if Zakk turned the camera off or not. He’s the one who turned it on and off,” Hackett said. “I know there was a discussion about it.”

Hackett said he thought he remembered a discussion about someone offering Annance his seat back and Annance saying he did not want it.

Although that 2018 vote violated the town’s charter — the legal document that governs the town — and both Maher’s email to the council and experts who spoke to the Sun Journal said the situation is potentially problematic for the town, Mechanic Falls’ lawyer Jack Conway insisted to the crowd the election was not illegal, just that “there was a mistake made.”

He bristled when a resident repeatedly referred to it as illegal.

“I think it disparages people,” Conway said.

While Maher was not at the Monday night meeting, his lawyer, Adam Lee, was there. Lee said Maher may be talking with Conway, the town’s attorney, about the town’s election problems, now that Maher will be back on the job.

“Obviously, that seems like something that might be an ongoing issue,” Lee said.


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