In an apparent effort to maintain an environment at this Saturday’s town meeting that one selectmen described as “orderly” and “sane,” the board voted to disallow the presence of any signs or props inside the room where voting will take place.

After considerable discussion on the issue, the board voted 4-1 (with Chairman Aaron Fethke opposed) to keep any political or issue-related signs and posters out of the room where the business of the town meeting will be executed.

Selectmen also voted unanimously to allow a scale model of a 22.7-million-gallon liquefied petroleum gas storage tank to be displayed in the room where voters will decide the fate of a moratorium that would force an at least two-month pause in the plans of Colorado-based DCP Midstream. At the end of 2010, the company publicized its desire to construct an LPG terminal and storage tank at Mack Point, an announcement that has since been met with staunch opposition from a coalition of local residents and businesspeople known as Thanks But No Tank. Other residents have voiced strong support for the proposal.

The model in question, which has become well-known locally over the last couple of months, was constructed by Searsport resident Tom Gocze and unveiled at a January board meeting. Gocze made the model on behalf of TBNT.

The issues arose Tuesday night, after Town Manager James Gillway told selectmen that the town office staff had fielded many questions about whether signs — particularly regarding the hot button issue of LPG and a related article that would ask voters to approve a moratorium on such developments — would be allowed at the town meeting Saturday, March 10.

Gillway said the town had previously operated under the assumption that because the town meeting could be considered a polling place, there must be a minimum 250-foot setback between the voting location and the position of political or issue-related signs or props. A check this week with the Maine Municipal Association’s legal services staff, however, proved that was not the case.

“That doesn’t apply to town meeting,” Gillway said.

At the town meeting site, which in this case will be the Searsport District High and Middle School gymnasium, such signs can be displayed in the hallways outside the room where the actual discussion and voting will occur.

“They did kind of concur with us as far as having those things in the meeting room,” said Gillway of the opinion from MMA legal staff.

Gillway particularly mentioned signs that may be mounted on a post, which might be a distraction and may also prevent some voters from seeing what’s happening in the front of the auditorium.

“[MMA] basically encouraged us not to allow that in the room,” Gillway said.

Gillway said he felt that keeping signs, posters and props out in the hallways near where residents come to register to vote would be acceptable, but he sought clarity from selectmen “as to what to bring in and where to bring it.”

“My recommendation would be to keep things to the standard of what we’d normally do,” said Gillway, reiterating that signs and posters had been permitted in outside corridors in the past.

“My feeling is that in order to be fair we should disallow any signs of any kind, either side, either way,” said Selectman Roland LaReau.

On the topic of the model of the tank, which includes a miniature of the nearby Angler’s Restaurant, LaReau said he felt that would be permissible “as long as it’s factual and it’s accurate.”

Selectmen Doug Norman and Joe Perry agreed with LaReau’s position on both the presence of the signs in the building as well as permitting the presence of the model.

“I won’t object to the scale of the tank being there, but once inside the door there should be no signs,” said Perry.

“I’m worried about signs,” said Norman.

Fethke asked Gillway to expound on his reference to what has been the practice of the town in the past with similar issues.

“Has this issue ever come up?” asked Fethke.

“Not really,” said Gillway.

“It is a free-speech issue,” said Fethke, noting that if anyone is disruptive, they would be removed from the premises regardless of what the board decided on the signage issue.

Fethke said he would likely be in the minority when it was time to vote because, “I might disagree with what you say but I defend your right to say it.”

“I think the right thing to do for me is to allow it in the hallway but not inside the chamber,” he said. “… I don’t feel comfortable voting to prohibit that.”

Selectman Dick Desmarais disagreed.

“We’re not asking them to leave their mouth outside, we’re just asking them to leave their signs outside,” he said.

Fethke said he also had a problem with seeing that such a limitation on signs would be enforced.

“We’re not going to tell the police chief to take their signs away,” he said.

Resident Harlan McLaughlin said he felt the model should be allowed in the auditorium as opposed to out in the hallway because it would give voters a visual aid to use when considering how they wish to vote on the moratorium.

“A prototype is not uncommon,” he said. “Don’t we have rights as voters to be as informed as possible?”

In calling for a motion, Fethke sought clarification on what exactly the board was being asked to decide.

“I think the issue is props and non-disruptive signs,” said Fethke, adding that disruptive materials are not an issue because anything considered as such would be promptly removed. “… I don’t think we have any jurisdiction outside the building.”

Gillway agreed with Fethke’s assessment and confirmed that the board cannot dictate what is and is not permitted outside the building.

LaReau made the motion not to allow any signs inside the building.

“We have a responsibility to keep things as orderly and sane as possible,” LaReau said.

Soon after the board voted on that matter, Perry made the motion to allow the model inside the hall where town meeting will be held. Norman seconded the motion.

Just before selectmen cast their votes, Fethke asked what would happen if someone — including DCP Midstream — came forth with another model and requested that it, too, be visible at town meeting.

Gillway indicated that would be permitted, but a comment made by Belfast resident Christopher Hyk earlier in the meeting suggested that the company may not wish to do so.

Hyk said he called the DCP Midstream Denver headquarters in September with repeated requests that the company provide a scale model of the project that is being proposed.

“I was met with hostility each time I called,” he said. “… They’ve had every opportunity and have every resource to provide a model of their own.”

If the company does provide a model in the next few days, McLaughlin said he’d be fine with seeing that in the gymnasium alongside the TBNT-provided model.

“As long as it’s to scale it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “I’ll bring my ruler.”