Saco officials accused of ‘corruption’

Saco officials accused of ‘corruption’
Saco resident Inga Browne speaks at Tuesday night's meeting at Saco City Hall. PHOTO BY RANDY SEAVER
Randy Seaver, Contributing Writer

SACO — More than 60 Saco residents attended a special meeting Tuesday to publicly air their grievances and concerns about a proposed housing project on Lincoln Street.

The two-hour meeting was at times emotionally charged. Many of the residents expressed anger and frustration directed toward city officials, including members of the Saco Planning Board, City Attorney Tim Murphy and the city planner.

The meeting was organized and run by Save Saco’s Neighborhoods, a grassroots organization that collected enough signatures to force the special public meeting to air their concerns.

More than 60 people attended Tuesday night's meeting at Saco City Hall. RANDY SEAVER PHOTO

Mayor Bill Doyle and all members of the Saco City Council attended the meeting, but only as observers.

Bill Kany, a Saco attorney, served as moderator of the meeting. He said he was affiliated with the group because of his own concerns about the review process of the proposed development.

“We are not here tonight for a witch hunt,” Kany told the crowd. “And we are not here to drag anyone’s name through the mud.”

According to Kany, 172 citizens signed a grievance petition to address concerns about conflicts of interest, bias and failure to follow established protocols and ethics during the planning board’s review of the Lincoln Village development.

The proposed Lincoln Village development is designed as a mixed-residential project containing 332 residential units on a 57-acre parcel that abuts the Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on Lincoln Street.

“Public discourse is the cornerstone of our democratic process,” Kany said, urging people to keep their comments civil and respectful.

During his opening remarks, Kany used a courtroom analogy to illustrate what he described as a clear conflict of interest between City Attorney Tim Murphy, and Joyce Leary Clark, a member of the Planning Board. Kany said neither Murphy nor Clark revealed that they work together at the same Saco law firm.

Because Murphy was advising the planning board, Kany said Clark should have recused herself or at least should have publicly disclosed her professional relationship with Murphy.

Several residents who spoke during the meeting expressed serious concerns regarding the proposal’s impact on traffic that is already congested in the neighborhood.

Chelsea Hill, a Bradley Street resident, became choked up during her remarks, wiping away tears as she described her frustration about state and local officials who “minimized” her concerns about traffic in the area. Hill said a pedestrian was injured last year by a careless motorist.

“There have been 143 accidents in our neighborhood,” Hill said. “These are dangerous conditions. I’m a mother. I have been called names and people have made jokes about me because I speak up about my concerns regarding traffic.”

Inga Browne, a Simpson Road resident, described Saco’s planning board as “very problematic.” She said other planning boards in southern Maine have much more “robust and public participation rules.”

Kelly Archer, the mother of City Councilor Marshall Archer, said Saco is suffering from “endemic corruption.”

“I love Saco,” Archer said. “But we need a stronger code of ethics. We don’t deserve to have our concerns dismissed.”

Archer said Save Saco’s Neighborhoods spent “thousand of dollars” for their own, independent traffic study of the area.

Father Basil Arabatzis, the parish priest of Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Saco, said the proposed project was clearly inconsistent and not compatible with the surrounding residential neighborhood.

“Approving this project would create a city within a city,” Arabatzis said.

Mayor William Doyle said he is sympathetic to the concerns raised during the meeting, but said that neither he nor the city council could do much about an issue before the planning board.

“I didn’t know what to expect tonight,” Doyle said. “I understand their frustrations, but there is not anything the council can do.”

When contacted by Saco Bay News, Joyce Leary Clark stated that her partnership at Murphy’s law firm was listed on her 2018 application for the planning board. She also said she has disclosed that information at “numerous meetings.”

The Saco Planning Board is scheduled to meet October 5 to vote on final approval of the project.

Randy Seaver can be contacted at [email protected].

Editor’s Note: Randy Seaver is the stepbrother of Saco City Councilor Jodi MacPhail.