Freedom selectmen in for a showdown

Recall vote June 11
By Fran Gonzalez | Jun 07, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Freedom Selectman Steve Bennett holds up a spreadsheet outlining expenditures, demonstrating selectmen's efforts to provide transparency, while Selectman Ron Price looks on during an informational meeting June 6.

Freedom — Residents at Thursday night's informational meeting sought clarity on the petitioned recall of two of Freedom's three selectmen. If passed in the referendum election Tuesday, a recall potentially could shut the town down for nearly a month.

Some residents, it seemed, left the two-hour meeting without having their questions fully answered.

At the May 6 selectmen's meeting, petitions were presented to recall Selectmen Steve Bennett and Ron Price on several charges — accusations that they deny but which ultimately will be voted on June 11.

Most of the 40-plus residents who attended the meeting weighed more heavily toward supporting the two selectmen, and at several points were "preaching to the choir" with praise and accolades for both men. Few who signed the petition seemed to be in attendance.

One resident, Laura Greeley, has been a constant throughout all of the proceedings, asking selectmen to take better care of Mitchell and Goosepecker Ridge roads. She runs a daycare with several children under her care with severe allergies, and contends that in an emergency, an ambulance could not reach her home.

She questioned the logic of spending funds to purchase the Skidgel property, a ramshackle eyesore in the center of town, instead of putting money into impassable roads.

She said, "I think selectmen are putting people at risk."

Price said selectmen were "trying to go with our money where it will do the most good."

Selectmen Brian Jones said he suspected the "condition of one of our gravel roads this mud season" was the true reason for the recall effort.

In a letter to Freedom voters about the impact on town services if a recall were to happen, Jones said, "...we’ll only be able to pay the state, the school, and wages and salaries. So, essentially, we’ll shut down all of our municipal services: trash pickup, road work, maintenance of our recreation fields, and so on."

At the meeting Thursday, Jones said there would be a special town meeting on June 19 to see if there is "a will among the citizens" to raise and appropriate additional money to rebuild Mitchell Road. There would be information for property owners to calculate the impact on their taxes, he said.

One resident asked if the road rebuild project would go out for quotes, to which Jones replied that, as the town has its own Public Works department, the project would be done in-house.

Another resident noted, "I don't think it will get a favorable vote if Travis (Price, Public Works director) charges $25 to $30 a foot."

In all, Ron Price said, 5,800 feet (a little over a mile) of Mitchell Road would need to be rebuilt.

Price was then asked if his son Travis receives more overtime hours since the town purchased an excavator, another contentious topic.

"No," Price replied. He went on to say Travis is an hourly employee who makes $24 per hour, and when he works overtime he receives $30.

He compared his son's salary with that of a Regional School Unit 3 school teacher who he said gets paid $55,000 a year plus holidays.

"We're not paying him enough," Price said.

The school budget referendum and recall election will take place June 11, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Freedom Election Hall next to the Town Office.

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