News in brief: Citizens file lawsuit over waterfront Mere Point land
A newly formed nonprofit group has filed a suit against the town of Brunswick for rejecting a citizen’s petition that called for Brunswick to vote on maintaining a waterfront property on Mere Point Road to turn it into a public park, reported the Bangor Daily News.
According to the Brunswick Citizens for Collaborative Government and Brunswick residents Robert Baskett and Soxna Dice, who filed the suit in the Portland Superior Court, the Brunswick Town Council based its decision to reject the petition and ultimately sell the property on incorrect legal advice given by Brunswick town attorney Stephen Langsdorf.
At a town council meeting in early February, Langsdorf explained that the Brunswick charter does not require the council to accept the petition, which would move the issue of the waterfront property to a referendum. In a referendum, the entire town of Brunswick would vote on whether the town should sell the property.
At that same meeting, the council debated the property’s value and accessibility as well as the need for increased public access to the coast. Revenue for the town and questions about the property’s merits were cited as reasons to sell.
Last September, the council held a contentious 5-4 vote to sell the property. According to Langsdorf, the vote to sell counted as an executive order, and the provision of the town charter on petitions calling for referendums only applies to town ordinances. Langsdorf also said that the town fulfilled the citizens’ right to petition the government by hearing the petition.
“The council is under no constitutional obligation to accept the petition’s demands,” he said.
As the citizen representative at the February meeting, Dice said that this was a misinterpretation of the town’s charter. According to Dice, the charter binds the council to accept the petition and hold the referendum.
The legality of the petition has been an long-standing issue since well before the February vote to reject the petition. Langsdorf filed a memorandum last November advising the petitioners that there were significant legal questions about the petition under the town’s charter. Despite these hesitations, the citizens continued their work gaining signatures. When the petition was submitted to the town it had over 1,100 signatures, the most on any petition in town history.
Brunswick acquired the property last year after its previous owners failed to pay property taxes for nearly a decade.