KENNEBUNK — A public hearing on a proposed emergency management ordinance will go to the voters Nov. 3, following a public hearing that saw a local resident question the wisdom of placing the town manager at the helm of the emergency management team’s organization, administration, and operation.  

Resident John Costin, noting that Town Manager Michael Pardue, is a candidate for the Maine Senate, said if elected, Pardue could well be in Augusta on Senate business if an emergency were to happen. 

Under the proposed emergency management ordinance, the town manager, or a designated acting town manager, would have the power and authority, upon consultation with the chair of the Select Board, or other members of the Select Board in the absence of the chair, to issue a proclamation of an emergency whenever a disaster or civil emergency exists or appears imminent. 

No state of emergency may continue for more than five days unless renewed by the Select Board, according to the proposed ordinance. Emergency powers would allow the town manager to prohibit or restrict the movement of people and vehicles in town; the movement of people in hazardous areas; order evacuations from hazardous areas; suspend an ordinance in place if it would hinder or prevent action in coping with the emergency, and obtain supplies and request aid from the state. 

Town officials have said the proposed ordinance gives them the authority to deal with emergencies and spells out the process of doing so. 

Costin has been a vocal critic of the prospect of Pardue serving in the Senate while employed as Kennebunk town manager and developed a petition asking the Select Board to replace Pardue’s contract with one that would have him resign if elected, among other provisions. The petition has 824 online signatures. Costin said others have signed hard copies 

The petition has apparently gained no traction with the Select Board. 

Pardue, a Republican, and Democrat Joe Rafferty are in the Nov. 3 contest to represent Senate District 34, which includes the coastal communities of Kennebunk and Wells, and the inland towns of Acton, Lebanon, North Berwick, and part of Berwick. The current senator, Robert Foley (R-Wells)  is not seeking re-election. 

Costin likened the proposed emergency management ordinance to the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, where he said a fail-safe mechanism didn’t work because of design flaw. 

“It … places the town manager at the center of decision making,” said Costin, adding if elected it is possible that Pardue would be out of town “for about six months.” 

“I think to suggest the ordinance as written is appropriate for this time and circumstance is to double down on the denial of the town manager potentially serving in the Senate,” Costin further opined. He said if the board sent the matter to referendum, he’d begin gathering signatures to overturn it. 

“This is a bit of disinformation on the part of John Costin that has been waged against this community for the better part of seven months,” said Select Board Chair Blake Baldwin, who added he’s talked with the current serving senator for the district who told him the position doesn’t take six months of the year. 

It’s a two-day- a-week job, and even then, not a full two-day-a-week job,” said Baldwin. “The reason the board approved the appointment of the town manager (is that) we have a citizen Legislature … the notion he won’t be in town six months of the year is false.” 

Resident Rachel Phipps noted the Legislature may be part time, but that she had never seen the town manager position listed as part time.  

“It is a full-time job with a full-time salary. That is the problem,” said Phipps.  

Baldwin noted the proposed ordinance does not reference a specific person, but the office of the town manager. 

Costin interjected at one point, but was ruled out of order. 

Baldwin noted Costin’s passion for the First Amendment, but said that he has an “appallingly intolerant attitude” toward others exercising their rights under the amendment. 

There was further talk about the length of time people were given to speak during public hearings.  

Phipps, who is married to Costin, called the five-minute limit on public comment per individual “outrageous.”  

Citizens are the top legislative body of this town. We are citizens trying to speak,” she said. 

Baldwin offered a motion to extend Costin’s time, but there was no second and the motion died. 

No other members of the public spoke about the proposal during the hearing, which was part of the online Select Board meeting. 

Select Board Vice Chair Wayne Berry recalled several years ago when a railroad bridge developed an issue, and the town manager at the time was out of town.  

“We managed to get it under control (with the aid of fire, police and other personnel),” said Berry. “(An) emergency management ordinance would have helped with giving a procedure.” 

The board voted to send the matter to the voters Nov. 3, with a recommendation it be approved. 

Pardue’s three-year contract extension, which begins July 1, was signed by the Select Board on Jan. 7. Among other provisions, the contract notes Pardue is “encouraged and authorized to run” for office. The contract provides for an operational plan if he is unavailable due to legislative service and notes that his legislative salary would constitute an offset against his town of Kennebunk salary. 

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