The Supreme Court heard the oral arguments March 7 on an issue that began with the acquisition of 946 Mere Point Road by the Town of Brunswick.

The case, brought via appeal from the Maine Superior Court, pits a group known as Brunswick Citizens for Collaborative Government against the town. The citizens argue that Town Council’s decision to decline a referendum on the future of the Mere Point property, despite a petition signed by enough residents to normally force a referendum, overreached their authority.

The property in question, which the town acquired from Richard Nudd due to unpaid taxes in 2011, was the subject of intense debate for months. Despite owning the property for many years, the town’s normal process of selling the property was delayed for unknown reasons and only started in earnest in 2016.

The road to selling the property took some unexpected turns through the years the town owned it. At one point, a man claiming to be Nudd’s stepson tried to purchase the property. Later investigation revealed that the man had no relation to Nudd.

A meeting in September 2016 added another twist when a lawyer Andre Duchette came forward and said he was representing Nudd and was willing to pay the entire sum of back taxes owed, which amounted to over $60,000.

Questioning by council revealed Duchette was hired by and was acquiring the money via a third party that the lawyer refused to name. Council, suspicious of a “bait-and-switch,” refused to accept the offer.

Throughout the decision making process over the property’s sale, several residents and some councilors advocated for retaining it, so it could be turned into a public park. Council ultimately voted 4 – 5 against the park, and then 5 – 4 to sell the land.

It was eventually sold in June 2017.

Attorney David Lourie, representing Brunswick Citizens for Collaborative Government, said while the sale of the land makes the petition moot, it doesn’t alleviate the petitioners issues

Lourie claimed during oral argument that the council’s decision to ignore a petition by citizens could have a “chilling effect” on future petitions, as it raises fears that the council could ignore any petition. “The council is binding the voters instead of the voters binding the council.”

Brunswick’s Town Attorney Steven Langsdorf countered the argument, saying that the town’s charter has always been clear that an order of the council cannot be petitioned against by the residents. He warned the petitioners back when they first started that what they were petitioning for was likely going to be thrown out by the council.

“As a matter of courtesy, I let them know, and I asked the clerk to provide information to the petitioners to say we will issue the petitions to you; you have the constitutional right to come forward with a petition, but I’m going to tell you now, before you go out and do all that work, as the town attorney, that I do not believe that is the proper procedure under this charter,” he said.

Langsdorf added that the wording of the petition clearly showed the citizens were trying to overrule the council’s order, even if the petition was written as an ordinance. “You can’t just call something an ordinance when all it clearly is is an overrule of the order which just occurred. They didn’t even try to dress it up. This was quite simple, ‘retain this property, and study how to use it as a park.’”

Justices questioned Lourie on his reasoning behind the decision having a “chilling effect” on future petitions. Justice Ellen Gorman pointed out that Langsdorf warned petitioners that the decision was likely to be thrown out by the town council, yet they still collected signatures.

According to a clerk with the Supreme Court’s office, it’s impossible to predict when a decision will be published. “It could be anywhere from two weeks to two years. We do not know until the day we get that decision.”

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