Wednesday, March 12, 2014
BATH — The group that said it would try to recall five Bath city councilors suspended its effort Thursday, a day after the council reversed its earlier decision to withhold from an investigator some details about the city's decision to sell a former hospital.
Three Bath residents who have criticized the sale -- Larry Scott, Michael Wischkaemper and Jim Strickland -- began gathering signatures last week and said they had collected about 400.
Scott sent an email to the council Thursday saying the group would no longer pursue the recall effort.
"Our interest, concern and actions were only based on the answers, or lack thereof, by our elected officials," he wrote. "Our next step is to suspend our collection of signatures on the recall petitions."
Bath officials sold the former Mid Coast Hospital on Park Street, now a multi-tenant office building called the Mid Coast Center, for $799,000 in April after receiving an offer from a Phippsburg-based developer, Robert Smith. They never listed the property to solicit competing bids.
Critics say the property was worth at least $1.1 million. The Bath Assessor's Office listed the value at $6.5 million.
The sale sparked a public outcry, particularly among Scott, Wischkaemper and Strickland. The three residents have repeatedly criticized and questioned the council about its actions since the sale.
On Aug. 7, the council voted unanimously to appoint an independent investigator to interview city officials about the sale, gather all relevant documents and produce a report to be made available to the public.
Two weeks later, the council voted 7-1 not to reveal to the investigator what was discussed in an executive session about the sale on Feb. 6. That prompted the critics to initiate the recall effort against five of the nine councilors.
On Wednesday, the council took a second vote to "waive" the executive session. The vote was 6-2 in favor of disclosing the details of the closed meeting to the investigator. Councilors Steve Brackett and Sean Paulhus voted against the measure.
Council Chairman Bernie Wyman does not vote unless there is a tie.
Councilors who voted to waive the executive session cited public strife and negative media coverage as reasons for the reversal.
Wischkaemper, Scott and Strickland were seeking recall elections for Councilors Paulhus, Wyman, Carolyn Lockwood, Meadow Merrill and Andrew Winglass.
Three other councilors whom the critics opposed, Brackett, Leverett "Tink" Mitchell and Mari Eosco, are up for re-election in November.
The other councilor, David Sinclair, was not targeted because he had criticized the city's handling of the sale and called for greater transparency.
In Thursday's email, Scott expressed sympathy and admiration for the councilors.
"The council is moving in the right direction, and we wish to thank them and show our support for their efforts," he wrote. "Being a city council member is a difficult job, and anyone who watches last night's meeting on video will understand that they spend a great deal of time and effort dealing with issues no one else would have the patience to handle."
It was clear from Scott's email that the council's critics had taken their share of heat from other residents about the recall effort. They also had been accused of trying to organize a boycott of businesses owned by councilors who had voted against what they wanted.
"We have been called names and accused of lying and trying to destroy Bath," he wrote. "That couldn't be further from the truth."
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at: