EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Resident Linda Osborne counts at least 21 children who live within her neighborhood, all of them no more than two blocks from the residence of a former Massachusetts man who is a registered sex offender.
“This to me is a serious safety concern for our children. I know we can’t deny him the opportunity to live in our town but we need some” protection against sex offenders, Osborne told the Board of Selectmen this week.
Selectmen informally agreed to begin crafting a town sex offender ordinance at their next meeting, on Feb. 23, Chairman Mark Scally said.
“It really irks me that they are allowed here,” Scally said Monday. “We have to keep people from coming here just because of cheap real estate” available around town.
“The movement begins now. We will work on the ordinance. We have strength in numbers,” Scally added.
The Maine Sex Offender Registry listed on Tuesday one offender living in East Millinocket. According to the list, Eric English, 42, was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor and gross sexual assault in Maine and four counts each of rape and incest out of state. Neighboring town Medway listed six offenders and nearby Millinocket had 10.
Selectmen described English as a former Massachusetts resident who moved into town within the last month after someone else bought the house he lives in. English had been in East Millinocket for a few weeks before town police were alerted. When he received the alert, Police Chief Cameron McDunnah immediately notified a local newspaper, which printed a brief article about English that week.
Osborne said the article wouldn’t reach enough people and that McDunnah should have done more, although selectmen said that McDunnah isn’t required to take any actions to notify residents.
The number of municipal sex offender ordinances in Maine was not readily available. Eric Conrad, communications director at Maine Municipal Association, estimated that dozens of municipalities have them. Mattawamkeag and Lincoln are the closest towns to East Millinocket with ordinances. Bangor, Hampden, Searsport and South Portland are among the communities that have enacted them since 1999, according to a search of newspaper records.
Passed in 2013, Bangor’s ordinance bans sex offenders convicted of Class A, B or C sex offenses committed against a child under age 14 from moving to within 750 feet of a publicly owned property frequented by children. Bangor gives an offender who violates the ordinance 25 days to vacate the residence. The city had 194 offenders listed as of Tuesday.
State law prohibits municipalities from enacting ordinances that exceed the 750-foot boundary. The state had 3,189 residents who were convicted sex offenders on its registry list as of Tuesday, a state official said.
Lincoln, which had 16 offenders registered on Tuesday, enacted an ordinance in 2006 that forbade sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of schools, state-licensed day care or preschool centers or within 1,000 feet of libraries, public parks, movie theaters or public playgrounds. The ordinance created an additional 1,000-foot boundary around those perimeters in which offenders could not loiter or stay except as part of “legitimate activity.”
To comply with state law, the revisions Lincoln councilors approved in 2009 reduced the 1,500-foot boundary to 750 feet and restricted its application to schools or town-owned playgrounds where “children are the primary users.” They also eliminated the 1,000-foot “legitimate activity” clause.
Lincoln’s ordinance carries a $100 a day fine for violations. Fines issued via the ordinance are not to exceed $1,000, police said Tuesday.
Millinocket leaders considered an ordinance in 2006 but rejected the idea because police doubted its enforceability. Forcing sex offenders out of areas near schools and playgrounds just makes them problems for residents of other parts of town, councilors said at the time.
Opponents of the restrictions, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, have argued that residency ordinances do little to make children safer.
Representatives of the organization have said most sex offenders know their victims and perpetrate the crimes in private homes rather than prey upon unknown children at schools or other high-traffic facilities, making a residency rule at best ineffective and at worst an infringement upon the rights of sex offenders.