September 7, 2013

Despite vote, Bath may not release documents to public

Critics who suspended a recall effort say they thought the city had voted to come clean.

By J. Craig Anderson
Staff Writer

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click image to enlarge

A group of Bath residents is complaining that the city sold the Mid Coast Center for Higher Education, seen here Friday, August 9, 2013, for far too little. Bath officials may not release some documents related to the city's controversial sale of the former hospital, even though the City Council voted Wednesday to disclose all information about the sale to an investigator.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

Bath resident Michael Wischkaemper, a critic of the sale who was involved in the now-suspended recall effort, said he didn't know Bath officials still had undisclosed documents pertaining to the sale.

"I'm stunned that Erika Benson says there were documents (related to the executive session), because (Councilor) Carolyn Lockwood said there weren't," Wischkaemper said.

During Wednesday's council meeting, Lockwood had said the only purpose of waiving the executive session was to allow councilors to talk about it with the investigator. The city plans to hire the investigator in October. "There are no documents," Lockwood said during the meeting.

Lockwood did not respond Friday to an email asking whether she was unaware of the documents or simply meant they were not to be shared with the public.

In Benson's Aug. 12 response to the Press Herald's Freedom of Access request, she also said the city was considering withholding some documents to protect the privacy of Smith, the buyer, and the city's real estate broker, Don Spann.

"The city has had contact from lawyers representing the purchaser, Robert Smith, and the realtor, Don Spann," she wrote. "Mr. Smith's attorney has indicated to us that they are not waiving any information regarding Mr. Smith, his company or the purchase."

"Similarly, Mr. Spann's attorney has indicated that he will not be releasing information or discussing the matter unless a release by Council has been issued to resolve any confidentiality issues," Benson wrote.

Sigmund Schutz, a Portland attorney who represents the Press Herald, said neither Smith nor Spann has a right to privacy with respect to the sale because they were doing business with a public entity.

"In fact, there are no privacy rights in public records, and anyone dealing with a municipality knows or should know that such dealings are subject to the public's right to know," Schutz wrote in an Aug. 14 letter to the city.

On Friday, Schutz said the city most likely could be compelled in court to release the documents, because information discussed in the Feb. 6 executive session is no longer sensitive from a legal standpoint.

"The records would no longer be prejudicial to the city's bargaining position now that the property has been sold," he said. "I might add that the public interest weighs particularly heavily in favor of disclosure here where you have published reports of impropriety by the city in connection with the sale of public property at issue."


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

Twitter: @jcraiganderson


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