The City of Ellsworth is facing a lawsuit for its decision to move its police station. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

ELLSWORTH, Maine — A city councilor and a group of local commercial property owners have filed a lawsuit against the city over how it chose a new location for its police station.

The city’s decision to lease a former hardware store on High Street violates the city’s procurement policy of requesting bids for supplies, services, materials and equipment that costs more than $15,000, according to the plaintiffs. The projected combined cost of making improvements to the building, located at 416 High St., and of leasing it for 20 years is nearly $4 million.

The City Council was presented with a proposal for leasing the building at its Oct. 17 meeting and voted 5-2 in favor of signing the lease. Councilors Steve O’Halloran and Casey Hanson voted against the proposal, saying they had concerns about the projected cost of renovating and leasing the former hardware store.

O’Halloran is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Hancock County Superior Court. Other plaintiffs include Union River Associates Realty Holdings LLC, Chase Inc. and Willey & Grant LLC, all of which own commercial property in Ellsworth.

The plaintiffs allege that the city did not give proper public notice about the proposal before the council voted on it. No details about the city’s plans to lease the building were publicly released until Oct. 14, three days before the council voted on the matter.

“The public interest of the residents of Ellsworth requires that Defendant Ellsworth follow its notice requirements and its formal bid process to enter into a twenty year lease for a municipal building and a contract for public improvements,” the plaintiffs wrote in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs also have asked the court to declare the lease, which the city signed on Nov. 7, “null and void” and to issue a temporary restraining order that prevents the city from moving ahead with the lease or with making nearly $870,000 worth of improvements to the building.

Glenn Moshier, who serves as Ellsworth’s city manager and police chief, did not return messages Wednesday seeking comment on the complaint.

Brett Baber, a Bangor lawyer who is representing O’Halloran and the property owners in the suit, said the city violated public notice requirements by being too vague with the listed agenda item on the council’s Oct. 17 meeting. The item simply said “discussion and potential action on relocating the Ellsworth Police Department” but said nothing about where it might move to or how much money it might cost, he said.

Baber said that he thinks little, if any, work has begun on making improvements to the site. He said he hopes a judge will issue a temporary restraining order on the project soon.

“I would hope by early next week,” Baber said.

Despite the lawsuit and criticisms from others about how the lease decision came about, many local residents and city officials seem to support relocating the police station from City Hall.

The concept of moving either the police department or fire department has been discussed for years by city officials but, until the city’s public safety building committee came up with the current lease proposal, none of those discussions generated a concrete plan.

As the city has held off on deciding what it might do for its police and fire departments, the current police department offices have grown more cramped, making working conditions substandard, according to police Capt. Shawn Willey.

There is little parking outside City Hall for cruisers, and a severe lack of storage space in the police station’s offices. Officers occasionally have to process and test seized drugs in its cramped kitchen space, and there is little privacy for conducting interviews on sensitive topics, Willey has said.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....