September 19, 2013

Bath lets go of secrecy on sale of ex-hospital

By J. Craig Anderson canderson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

In its third vote on the issue in less than a month, the Bath City Council decided Wednesday to release to the public all information related to the city's sale of a former hospital building.

click image to enlarge

In its third vote on the issue in less than a month, the Bath City Council decided Wednesday to release to the public all information related to the Mid Coast Center for Higher Education, seen here Friday, August 9, 2013.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

However, Bath City Manager Bill Giroux said the only document previously withheld from the public was a one-page memo that included some lease information about the building's tenants.

The council's decision reverses two earlier votes, one on Aug. 21 to keep secret all documents and discussions related to an executive session about the sale, and a second vote on Sept. 4 to reveal the information only to an investigator the city plans to hire.

The earlier votes sparked criticism from a small but vocal group of residents who have questioned why Bath officials sold the former Mid Coast Hospital on Park Street without listing the property for sale publicly.

The critics launched a recall effort against five of the nine councilors in August but later suspended it.

During Wednesday's special meeting, Councilor David Sinclair said a third vote to make public all executive sessions, emails and memoranda related to the sale would put to rest any insinuations that city officials were trying to hide something.

"It's an emotional topic and we just need to get past it," Sinclair said.

Giroux advised the council that their vote would result in the release of one previously undisclosed document, of which he had made copies to distribute at the meeting if the council voted to do so.

Councilor Mari Eosco said before the vote that the memo should be made public, given its innocuous nature and the controversy it has generated.

"Let's just go for broke, and let's just release the document," Eosco said.

The document itself was drafted Dec. 19 in preparation for an executive session.

It includes details about the four largest tenants of the former hospital, now an office building called Mid Coast Center, showing that the tenants pay a total of $456,000 a year in rent.

Mid Coast Center, given to the city and converted into an office building, was sold in April to Phippsburg developer Robert Smith for $799,000.

Critics of the sale have complained that the city did not solicit competing bids, and that the building was worth significantly more than its sale price.

The Bath Assessor's Office website lists the property's value as $6.5 million.

Bath officials chose to withhold some of the documents, arguing that they were not public because they pertained to an executive session to discuss the Mid Coast Center sale.

In the end, the council voted three times on whether to waive secrecy rules related to the executive session.

The first vote, on Aug. 21, resulted in a 7-1 decision against waiving the rules.

Several residents complained, and a recall effort was launched against five of the nine council members -- those who opposed waiving the secrecy rules and are not up for re-election in November.

On Sept. 4, the council held a second vote after Eosco moved to waive the executive session label so the council could discuss it with an investigator.

The council then voted 6-2 to discuss details of the executive session with the investigator.

Wednesday's decision to make the information public included three votes, one to make any meetings or executive sessions related to the sale public, one to release all documents related to the sale and a third to make public any emails or other correspondence related to the sale.

The measures passed 6-2, 6-2 and 8-0, respectively.

 

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

 

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