A meeting of alleged sex abuse victims, their supporters and the Biddeford City Council has been postponed and moved to a larger venue.

The meeting, prompted by residents who collected signatures to compel the City Council to meet, was scheduled for Tuesday, but has been pushed back to May 28 because of concerns from residents about the time and location of the meeting, Mayor Alan Casavant announced Monday.

Meanwhile, the council will hold its regular meeting Tuesday without a public comment period for residents to testify about the abuse allegations or other matters not on the agenda.

The council effectively eliminated the public comment opportunity on the night of its regular council meetings after a May 5 comment period broke into shouts and tears and was abruptly ended. The council voted later that night to move the Municipal Officers Meeting – the official session normally held before council meetings that includes the public comment period – to a different night from its regular council meetings.

The May 28 general meeting is the result of a petition circulated by resident Mellisa Luedke and supporters of Matt Lauzon, a Boston businessman who went public on social media two months ago with allegations that he was sexually abused by a Biddeford police officer when Lauzon was a teenager more than 10 years ago. Lauzon and others have criticized the council for not allowing them to speak freely at council meetings. A provision of the city charter allows residents to collect 100 signatures on a petition to call together the City Council to listen to residents’ concerns.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office is investigating the allegations against the now-retired police officer, Stephen Dodd. Dodd has not been charged and has not responded publicly to the allegations. Efforts to reach Dodd and to get comments from his attorney have not been successful.

EMOTIONAL MEETINGS

Since Lauzon began posting about his allegations on social media, his supporters have spoken during two emotional City Council meetings and at a forum hosted by state Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford. Lauzon, other alleged victims and their supporters want the Biddeford police chief and deputy chief suspended during the investigation. They also are pushing for an outside investigation of the Biddeford Police Department by federal authorities.

After the general meeting was scheduled for 5 p.m. May 19, residents asked the city to change the timing so that working people could be there and asked for a larger venue to hold more people than can fit into the council chambers.

The meeting rescheduled for May 28 will begin at 7 p.m. The location has not been announced. Casavant said the city will work out logistics in the next few days.

Former City Councilor Melissa Bednarowski, who has become a spokeswoman for Lauzon supporters, said Monday that she welcomes the change in date in order to have the meeting held at a time that is more convenient for working residents and at a location that will accommodate more people. The capacity of the council chambers at City Hall is about 50, and there has been an overflow crowd at two recent City Council meetings.

However, residents and city officials disagree about whether the meeting should be facilitated by someone selected by Casavant.

Casavant announced last week that the meeting will be facilitated by John Alfano of Hunt Alfano Arbitrators, who has volunteered his time. A facilitator also was used during the city’s last general meeting, which was more than five years ago, said City Manager John Bubier.

Luedke said she and Bednarow ski notified Alfano last weekend that he would not be needed at the meeting, which they plan to facilitate.

“This is a citizens’ meeting. It’s my meeting,” Luedke said. “It was never the mayor’s job to invite him.”

But Casavant said it is his intention that Alfano will still serve as moderator because, while the meeting was called by a petition from residents, it falls under the jurisdiction of the City Council.

“This is really critical because essentially what they’re talking about is a personnel issue. That falls under certain state laws. It can’t be a wide-open discussion on anything because you have to worry about defamation of character and things of that nature,” he said. “I have to worry about the city’s liability and things that might be said. I’m not going down that road to open the city to a lawsuit because of something that’s defamatory.”

A QUESTION OF PUBLIC COMMENT

Lauzon and Bednarowski are encouraging people to attend Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting to continue to push councilors to suspend Police Chief Roger Beaupre and Deputy Police Chief JoAnne Fisk, who led the police department when Dodd was investigated for similar allegations in 2002.

Residents may not have a chance to make such statements Tuesday, however.

Normally, residents have been allowed to address councilors during a public comment period of the Municipal Officers Meeting, the separate session held before each regular council meeting. However, the council voted May 5 to hold the Municipal Officers Meeting on the first Thursday of each month, separate from the regular council meetings.

While there will be no general public comment allowed at Tuesday’s meeting, residents will be able to comment on specific agenda items, including an order to implement residency restrictions for sex offenders.

The move to restrict sex offenders from living within 750 feet of schools and playgrounds is the direct result of Lauzon’s campaign to bring attention to sex abuse victims. In a video posted online last month, Lauzon confronted registered sex offender Michael McKeown, who lives across the street from the city’s Little League fields on May Street.

Lauzon said McKeown sexually abused him when Lauzon was 13 or 14, but McKeown said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald that his only encounter with Lauzon was consensual and occurred when both men were adults.

After Lauzon’s video was posted online, the City Council voted unanimously to have the city attorney draft a local ordinance to restrict where sex offenders can live and to ask Dutremble to propose similar legislation on the state level. State law currently allows towns and cities to adopt local restrictions.

At Casavant’s request, Tuesday’s meeting also will include presentations by Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine and by school officials discussing the school department’s education on sexual assault.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian


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