SANFORD — Councilor Victor DiGregorio vowed Tuesday to continue to attend council subcommittee meetings, saying he believes it is his right to do so.

His presence at a subcommittee meeting last week meant four councilors were in the room, constituting a quorum, so the meeting was canceled.

“I want to know everything about everything,” said DiGregorio at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “I have a right to attend any meeting I want to, and I’m going to.”

Later, he qualified that remark, saying if it turns out he is legally in the wrong, he’ll back down.

Mayor Tom Cote pointed out that if DiGregorio continues to work independently, “we can work as a council to deal with that,” but wasn’t specific.

“My hope is we can all work together,” the mayor said following the meeting.

The council voted to reaffirm a clause in the council’s Rules of Procedure and Order of Business that speaks to committee appointments. They pointed out that DiGregorio voted in favor of those same rules in January, when he first took office ”“ which he acknowledged. But when the vote was taken to reaffirm the rules Tuesday, DiGregorio opposed it.

Sanford City Council has used a subcommittee process for several years to examine some issues before they’re brought to the full council for action. The meetings are open to the public, and City Manager Steve Buck said, are posted 24 hours ahead of time. Some subcommittees are on regular schedules ”“ the property subcommittee meets at City Hall at 3 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, while the zoning subcommittee meets 9 a.m. on the second and fourth Thursday ”“ the weeks when the full council doesn’t meet. Subcommittee meetings are typically held in the city manager’s conference room and consist of the three councilors assigned to the committee, the city manager, staff whose department is associated with the topic at hand, along with any members of the public who may have brought an issue or project forward.

DiGregorio’s attendance came up when the council’s Public Safety Subcommittee worked on policies concerning ambulance billing, policies that were brought to the council for approval Tuesday night after several subcommittee sessions. DiGregorio didn’t favor the proposal at hand, and attended the subcommittee meeting to press his case, for the most part doing so when one of the three councilors on the subcommittee was absent. But his attendance July 30 constituted a quorum because all three councilors were present, so the meeting was canceled.

Councilor Fred Smith said he likes the subcommittee process. A member of the public safety subcommittee, Smith agreed not to attend at one point so DiGregorio could do so.

“The integrity of our local government depends on our subcommittees being a minority,” said Smith. “And I hope all councilors abide by it.”

He said government moves slowly and that the subcommittee process helps move issues along, with the subcommittee weeding out information and presenting “a good compromise” to the full council for its consideration. Smith said he doesn’t favor back room deals or anything that looks like one.

Councilor Joseph Hanslip said the subcommittee process has stood the test of time during his 10 years on the council, has allowed for transparency, and for members to vet issues more thoroughly.

“It has largely been a good process and I am glad we are reaffirming it,” Hanslip said. “I am not aware of a single instance when public business has been done behind the scenes. That doesn’t happen in the city of Sanford at least not for the past 10 years.”

Cote said subcommittees will not meet if a fourth councilor is present. “This is standard government procedure,” he said of the subcommittee process

DiGregorio said he doesn’t want subcommittees to be closed.

Councilor Alan Walsh said they aren’t.

“We don’t have closed subcommittee meetings,” he said, an assertion backed up by City Manager Steve Buck.

“The last thing I want is bad relations under the Freedom of Access Act,” said Buck.

Buck pointed out that the news media has attended some subcommittee meetings.

Walsh said the meeting are posted as public meetings and not council business meetings.

DiGregorio protested he isn’t told all that is going on. He said he has sought a legal opinion from the Maine Municipal Association on the subcommittee issue. The council has also asked for a legal opinion of the matter. Neither opinion was available at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I am not going through another meeting like this, said Walsh near the end of the meeting.

Cote agreed, pointing out that the rules of procedure have been voted twice, time was lost when the subcommittee had to be canceled, and money spent for legal fees.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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