Alna Second Selectman Doug Baston recently blamed local private schools and their faculty for a “secret campaign” to oust a fellow selectman and compared voters who backed the campaign to anti-Semites and white nationalists.
“I think if those schools had a significant number of anti-Semites or white nationalists, they would do something about it. I consider exploiting a pandemic just a little ways further down the continuum,” Baston said during a selectmen’s meeting Wednesday, April 8.
The selectmen met via videoconference. Some residents in attendance criticized Baston’s comments.
“It doesn’t make sense to me for us to be condemning people for their private votes,” former Second Selectman Ed Pentaleri said.
Pentaleri said he did not vote in the March 20 election. With no contested races on the ballot, the selectmen discouraged turnout to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Jon Luoma, another resident, said he didn’t vote either.
“Doug, I don’t think you’re doing our town a service by creating what amounts to an enemies list here of people who had concerns and expressed them at the ballot box,” Luoma said.
“You’re creating a division here, especially by comparing people to white nationalists or something like that. That’s over the top,” he said.
“Well said,” Pentaleri said in response.
In the March 20 vote, First Selectman Melissa Spinney won reelection with 48 votes. She was the only candidate on the ballot, but Les Fossel, a former second selectman and state representative, received 28 write-in votes.
Another six votes were invalid. According to Town Clerk Liz Brown, the votes were invalid because the voters did not check the box next to the write-in option.
Baston first blasted the results at the open town meeting the next day, March 21.
“Fellow residents turned out in a secret campaign, in an uncontested election, in the middle of an epidemic, trusting that their friends and neighbors would stay home, and wrote in Leslie T. Fossel. Every single one of them – Leslie T. Fossel,” Baston said at town meeting. “I find that despicable.”
Fossel has said he did not seek office. He said a few weeks before the election, someone asked him if they could write his name in. He agreed and provided his full name, but that was the extent of his involvement.
During the selectmen’s meeting April 8, the board’s first meeting by videoconference, Baston brought up the results during the public-comment period and defended his comments.
At town meeting and the selectmen’s meeting, Baston said he believes the effort to unseat Spinney had to do with discontent about a 2018 vote to restrict K-8 school choice in Alna.
“I don’t really think we can just pretend that didn’t happen, because over the last 10 days, I’ve communicated with at least 20 people who are very, very angry,” Baston said.
“My own personal opinion, we need to engage the private schools better than we have in the past,” Baston said.
Baston said the town does not hear from local private schools. By comparison, the public Edgecomb Eddy School, which has some students from Alna, sends a representative to a selectmen’s meeting each year.
“We deserve to be better treated by those schools than we have in the past,” Baston said.
Baston said at least four teachers “were involved in this last little debacle,” referring to the election.
“I think the only way we are going to break this cycle of vindictiveness is if those schools step up and take some responsibility for behavior,” Baston said. “If they are going to be touting that they create a community, then they have to do the hard work that’s involved in a community, and that means stopping this.”
Resident Maria Jenness expressed concern about attempting to connect the results of a secret-ballot election with certain people and institutions.
Jenness agreed that the town should have good relationships with the schools Alna students attend and Alna taxpayers help fund, but said “placing blame or some sort of accusation on the institution” for election results is concerning.
“I would challenge that,” Baston said. “I think if those schools had a significant number of anti-Semites or white nationalists, they would do something about it. I consider exploiting a pandemic just a little ways further down the continuum.”
Pentaleri and Luoma then responded with criticism of Baston’s comments.
Spinney and Third Selectman Greg Shute were both present, but did not address the election results or Baston’s comments.
The selectmen are applying for a $2,000 Assistance with Specific Know-how grant from the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission. The funds would pay for an expert to analyze two solar proposals before the town.
“We just feel like we need some outside expertise, some engineering, some economic analysis, to decide which is the best option,” Baston said.
The options are a municipal project and a project in partnership with the local school district, RSU 12.
Head Tide Dam project
According to Third Selectman Greg Shute, repairs will be completed at the site of the Head Tide Dam. Some of the cable railing on the new viewing platform has come loose and some erosion has taken place near the bottom of the new stairs to the water.