FARMINGTON — The chairman of the Franklin County Budget Advisory Committee said emails discussing the proposed $6.82 million budget that circulated to a majority of members last month was an “illegal action.”

Wilton Selectperson Tiffany Maiuri Sun Journal file photo

Budget Committee member Tiffany Maiuri of Wilton, who is running for county commissioner, said it was not her intent to try to circumvent the public meeting process when she sent the emails June 21.

Five members, including Mauiri, had the emailed information. That number constituted a quorum for the nine-member committee and therefore would be considered an illegal meeting under Maine law because it was not open to the public.

Maiuri sent a Google Sheets budget document with an email that read: “Travis (Pond of New Sharon) and I went over the commissioners’ department to see if we could come up with a middle ground which would pass muster with a supermajority of the FC Budget Committee. Here is where Travis and I found common ground. Feel free to look over or adjust detail line items from your point of view.”

The emails were only addressed to one board member at a time.

The committee is made up of selectmen elected for three-year terms at caucuses in each of the three districts. They are tasked with reviewing the commissioners’ proposed county budget and making recommendations or changes. Once the budget committee approves a budget, it will go back to commissioners. If they want to make a change it would take an unanimous vote of the commissioners to send it back to the budget committee. It would take votes by at least six committee members to override the commissioners’ changes.

Committee Chairman Joshua Bell of Farmington, who was one of those who received Maiuri’s June 21 email, replied to it that day, writing, “We need to be careful not to discuss the budget with a majority of the committee when not at a meeting. I had a committee member reach out with this concern. It is best if we keep this as transparent as possible and have these discussions at a public meeting.”

Maiuri wrote back that she “acknowledged” it.

Bell told commissioners at their June 25 meeting that when he received Maiuri’s email, she mentioned that she and Pond had reviewed the commissioners’ department budget. At that time, he said, he didn’t know the email had been sent to other members until another committee member told him. He said he couldn’t open the Google Sheets document.

The Sun Journal obtained the committee emails through a Freedom of Access Act request.

The original Google Sheets document had a column in the commissioners department that was titled consensus reconsideration/consensus recommendation, according to a screenshot taken by committee member Judy Diaz of Jay. That document was deleted and replaced with a column titled recalculated possibilities. The amounts were the same.

In an email discussion with committee member Tiffany Estabrook of Chesterville, Maiuri wrote about some of the reductions and additions, she and Pond discussed. One would be to decrease a part-time employees line by $4,777 to make it $7,777.  Money to get a part-time employee that county Clerk Julie Magoon added to hire a part-time employee, who would be tasked to learn how the office operates in case she or another person in the office retires, was eliminated. That amount is proposed in the Google Sheets document to go from $7,098 to zero. The consensus reconsideration/possible recalculations would be to add back in $2,000 to each commissioner’s pay. It would bring the salary up to $8,000. The budget committee took a preliminary vote on June 17 to reduce  commissioners’ pay from $12,000 to $6,000. 

After the preliminary vote, the commissioners department budget was reduced from $171,569 to $153,569. If the recalculations go through on the committee’s final vote, it would be reduced to $147,694, according to the Google Sheets document. The commissioners’ budget was the only one discussed in the emails of the proposed $6.82 million budget.

Pond said last week he didn’t know Maiuri had sent their discussion on recommendations to other members until after it was done.

The committee is set to take a final vote on the budget at 5:30 p.m. July 8 at the county courthouse in Farmington.

Maiuri is running for the District 1 commission seat held by Chairman Terry Brann of Wilton, who is also running. The district represents Jay, Wilton, Carthage, Temple, and Washington and Perkins townships.

All three commissioners voiced their disappointment about the emails at their June 25 meeting.

Bell told them that when he first learned about them he thought it only involved two committee members. He realized later there were five members.

He agreed that five made it a quorum for a meeting according to state law and called it an “illegal” action. He said, “Sometimes we make mistakes. We are human.”

Brann said he didn’t want to say too much because of political reasons but thought this type of discussion should be done in public.

Commissioner Charles Webster of Farmington said he received calls from committee members and from people who were irate about what was going on.

The emails shouldn’t have been sent, he said, acknowledging it is supposed to be a public process. He accused Maiuri of intentionally trying to get a supermajority to get budget decisions passed.

“This is a case of ‘no good deed goes unpunished,'” Maiuri wrote in an email to the Sun Journal on Friday, “and there was certainly no intent to circumvent the public eye. Sending individuals the spreadsheet tool was so they had equal ability to easily calculate and see the effect changes they wanted would have on the bottom line. It’s important that we begin using modern, accessible methods at hand to dissect this budget; it’s time we move into the 21st century.”

“My hope was members would bring their calculations to our next budget meeting to discuss their point of view,” Maiuri said. “In hindsight, a more effective and less controversial route would have been to contact the committee chair(man) and ask him to send the tool to members and others.”

Listening to each other’s point of view, valuing what each person brings to the table, is essential to good governance in a democracy, she said

“Respectfully considering those whose stances differ from my own is important to me, to be receptive to adjusting proposals to find consensus, and I want to believe that’s how other members approach this process,” she said. “I have faith that other members of the committee have the same desired outcome from this budget process as I do: ensuring departments and staff have sufficient resources and pay to best serve our residents — without overburdening Franklin County taxpayers.”

On Tuesday, Maiuri clarified what she meant by getting a supermajority vote.

“To be crystal clear, my intent to muster a supermajority or even a unanimous vote has nothing to do with making any part of the budget veto-proof, which is impractical and a moot point. The commissioners have made it abundantly clear to the budget committee (on numerous occasions) that the committee votes are suggestions as they will disburse the funds as they determine a best fit for the county.  My supermajority suggestion was to show that we can compromise and find common ground which is what I believe is important in a healthy dialog and a democratic process.”

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Brann said he checked with the state Ethics Committee and was told it doesn’t have oversight of the budget committee. A request by commissioners to contact the state public access ombudsman, Brenda Kielty, was put on hold Tuesday because they wanted to wait to see what would be in the Sun Journal report on the consensus emails.

Commissioners want to ask Kielty if the emails involving a majority of committee members constituted an illegal meeting, and who has oversight of the committee.


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.