AUBURN — Two Auburn farmers are claiming they were left off a new Agriculture Committee for previously criticizing the city’s effort to modernize zoning rules.

Former mayoral candidate Joe Gray and farmer Michelle Melaragno, who were among seven applicants for a new Agriculture Committee, said this week that despite being qualified, they believe they were left off the committee due to how outspoken they have been over new zoning rules in the agricultural district.

The City Council approved five appointments to the new seven-member committee last week. Gray and Melaragno were among only seven qualified applicants — an eighth application was automatically out of consideration due to not being an Auburn resident.

“The two loudest people opposed to the findings of the last (agricultural) committee are not on the new committee,” Gray said this week. “It’s just vindictive and petty.”

A member of the Appointment Committee denied that any decisions were made based on favoritism.

During last week’s City Council meeting, Councilor Holly Lasagna made a motion to enter into an executive session to discuss the appointments, including why two positions were left unfilled, but did not receive the required number of votes.

Councilors Leroy Walker, Brian Carrier and Stephen Milks, who make up the three-member Appointment Committee, voted against the motion.

“It is very concerning to me that the Appointment Committee has made this rejection of our applications,” Melaragno said this week. “As you know, (Gray) and I have been outspoken about our desires and protection of the (agriculture zone), so I can only deduce that we are being punished as a retaliatory measure. We are being discriminated against due to being verbal citizens of Auburn, not because we lack the experience necessary for this committee, and not because there were an excess number of applications.”

The council voted unanimously last week to appoint David Bell, Scott Blanchard, David Griswald, Kathy Shaw and William Sylvester to serve on the new committee.

Walker said Thursday that the Appointment Committee, which last met May 13, spent roughly an hour in executive session discussing the appointments.

“Anytime you put boards together, it’s tough to make the mechanism work right,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. No one was left out because they couldn’t do the job or because we didn’t like somebody.”

He said the decisions were made based on where people live in Auburn, as well as their expertise and skills. He said if all seven applicants were chosen, it would represent “too many from the same area” of Auburn, perhaps giving them unfair leverage over the committee.

Walker also said that once the committee convenes, the five members could vote to appoint two additional members.

When Lasagna asked to further discuss the issue last week, Mayor Jason Levesque told Lasagna that it wasn’t on the agenda, and that she should instead request a workshop discussion during a future meeting.

Lasagna said Thursday that, along with Councilor Belinda Gerry, she has since requested a workshop on the appointments. Gerry had also questioned why all seven positions weren’t filled.

Lasagna said she wants to “better understand the underlying rationale for the particular choices made for the (Agriculture) Committee.”

Levesque said in an interview Thursday that his recommendation “is to hold off a bit” on the workshop while the city conducts a review of all its boards and committees, but added, “if we have time to do it, we will.”

Asked about the decision made by the Appointment Committee, Levesque said decisions are often made over the best fit on a particular committee based on an applicant’s qualifications.

He said if there are candidates that they don’t believe are “the right fit” or won’t be beneficial to the committee, “it’s better to leave (the positions) open.”

Levesque appointed Walker, Carrier and Milks to serve on the Appointment Committee following the inauguration this year. It’s the second time committee appointments have turned controversial since.

In January, shortly after the Appointment Committee was formed, the City Council voted down the appointment of Matt Leonard to the Planning Board due to concerns over his campaign for political office and business ties to Councilor Milks.

Gray said this week that after he wasn’t selected, he reached out to all three members, but only received a response from Walker.

Lasagna said she’s hoping a future workshop can also discuss ideas “about how the Appointment Committee is formed and if there might be innovative ways to ensure that the voices of all council members are represented when making committee appointments.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: