THOMASTON, Maine ― Voters in Thomaston went to the polls Tuesday to vote on whether to dismantle their own police department and shift coverage to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
But Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll said if Thomaston does vote to be covered by the sheriff’s office, he doesn’t know what that would look like on a day-to-day basis; town officials never sat down with him to have that conversation.
“I’ve heard the question numerous times, ‘What does that [sheriff’s contract] mean?’ Today I can tell you nobody knows,” Carroll said at a Thomaston select board meeting Monday night, 12 hours before the polls opened.
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Carroll said he has sent numerous requests since December to town officials — including select board members and the former town manager — in hopes of arranging meetings to discuss what Thomaston wants and needs in terms of police coverage.
In a draft contract, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office has proposed offering Thomaston four full-time sheriff’s deputies to cover the town of about 3,000 for an estimated annual cost of $450,000. But Carroll said there is much more that needs to be fleshed out.
“As the sheriff to you and the rest of the people in Knox County, I don’t feel I’ve been afforded the opportunity to discuss what the needs, wants and desires are for Thomaston and the contractual agreement with the sheriff’s office,” Carroll said.
The sheriff’s concerns come on the heels of a tumultuous time in Thomaston town government. Last month, longtime town manager Val Blastow unexpectedly resigned citing a “toxic work environment” and accusing a new select board member of trying to “get rid” of him.
The resignation spurred concerns from townspeople about how town government is running. Carroll’s statements that town officials ignored his requests to meet to discuss police coverage further compounded those concerns.
“What happens if the town votes against [keeping] the police department? You don’t have a plan in place … You guys are supposed to be the leaders of this town and to completely disregard the sheriff’s advisement to go and talk to him is a little bit unbelievable,” resident Charlie Frattini sad. “For you not to make a priority of that is embarrassing.”
[A small Maine town can’t hire cops, so it might just close its police department]
Several attendees at Monday’s meeting expressed concern over having to vote on an issue without having all the information. However, Peter Lammert, who chairs the select board, said it was too late to remove the referendum from the ballot.
“The only thing that the public has been provided are numbers,” resident Cindy Lang said. “We’re not getting information to make an informed vote.”
According to Carroll, Lammert sent an email in late April expressing that he didn’t know what the $450,000 draft contract from the sheriff’s office included.
A list of emails provided by Carroll to the Bangor Daily News indicates that he made six attempts to set up a meeting with town officials to determine specific coverage parameters.
In an April 25 email to town officials, Carroll wrote, “I see there is still a question of ‘what’ you are getting for the $450K, and I completely understand, but my response is in frustration that I have repeatedly asked to meet since December 17th over this issue. I have copied the requests and dates and it seems we’re getting down to ‘crunch time’ and the selectboard feels they are lacking answers. I understand we’re all busy, but I honestly want to help in any way and have offered such.”
Carroll said two select board members and one budget committee member responded to the April 25 email, “apologizing and agreeing a meeting was needed and that they understood my frustrations,” but there was no response for a meeting to be set.
On Tuesday, Lammert said in hindsight there should have been a community-wide meeting to discuss the coverage the town would get from the sheriff’s office. He added that he is not comfortable with the amount of information voters have as they head to the polls.
However, he didn’t have an answer for why town officials never took Carroll up on his offer to meet and discuss coverage more in depth.