Thursday, December 7, 2017

Eastern Slope Regional Airport Authority seeks removal of Lovell member

Steve Bender is the Lovell representative to the Eastern Slope Regional Airport Authority.

FRYEBURG, Maine — Members of the Eastern Slope Regional Airport Authority are seeking to remove activist board member Steve Bender of Lovell, Maine, because of his recent criticisms of the authority's executive board.

But the Lovell Board of Selectmen's chairman said Bender's term doesn't expire until next January and no action will be taken before then.

Bender made headlines in October when a town vote was held on whether to allow Fryeburg officials to sell excess airport land to Poland Spring for a bottling plant. The proposal failed by a wide margin.

Just prior to that vote, Bender accused the authority’s executive committee of conducting secret negotiations on the proposed land sale. He also charged that building a plant there could create an aviation hazard.

The executive committee consists of Chairman Don Thibodeau of Fryeburg, Vice Chairman Carl Thibodeau of Conway, Treasurer Gene Bergoffen of Fryeburg and Secretary Ed Bergeron of North Conway.

The committee is supposed to report to the 24-member authority board, with membership from Maine and New Hampshire towns, chamber of commerce, Oxford County, Maine, and Carroll County.

Bender said not only has the authority not held elections since 2014 but at a full board meeting Oct. 26, the committee had the authority vote on the slate of officers and retroactively approve actions taken since 2014.

Bender also said it’s unclear whether the authority members who voted Oct. 26 were properly credentialed as they lacked appointment paperwork from their towns, county or chamber.

Don Thibodeau said in October that the officers — the executive committee — were elected early this year and in accordance with the bylaws.

Following Bender's statements, the Sun acquired emails that airport authority members Bergeron and Rick Hiland of Albany had sent to Lovell, requesting Bender's ouster.

"I am personally getting real tired of seeing my name, and the good name of the Town of Albany, NH smeared and associated in the news media related to Mr. Bender and his nonsense," wrote Hiland on Nov. 21. "It is time that Mr. Bender is removed and a cease and desist letter be sent to him immediately!"

Bergeron wrote that Bender had been threatening to sue the executive committee and that he complains to The Conway Daily Sun whenever things don't go his way.

"I don’t believe the majority of ESAA directors agree with him based on the results of votes at our October 26th meeting," wrote Bergeron. "I don’t believe he represents the Town of Lovell attitude toward the Airport and ask that you consider replacing him with a director who will be a team participant not a self proclaimed 'whistle blower.'"

Lovell selectmen's chair Stephen Goldsmith said Bender's term is due to expire Jan. 1, 2018.

"At this point in time, we are taking no action, and Mr. Bender will remain as Lovell’s representative" to the authority, said Goldsmith.

Hiland said he believes Bender is motivated by an anti-Nestle bias. Nestle is the corporate parent of Poland Spring.

Hiland said the airport executive committee wasn't involved in any secret negotiations that he was aware of, though there were "informal discussions" with Fryeburg town officials. He said the executive authority doesn't have the power to negotiate because it doesn't own the airport land, the town does. 

"The ESAA Executive Committee were in meetings with the Fryeburg Select Board and the Town Manager regarding information requests pertaining to the airport, FAA contacts and requirements, short and long-range airport planning, where on the property could this business entity be located, and other airport-related issues, Hiland wrote in an email. "This is what the Town of Fryeburg would require of the fact finding discussion with ESAA.

"It is the ESAA Executive Committee’s fiduciary duties to accommodate the Town with this information, fact finding and discussion. It is called communications."

Hiland said that the authority is basically just a volunteer group.

"The Executive Committee members as well as the Town Representatives/Directors like myself are volunteers first and foremost, pay sucks, benefits sucks, bad publicity sucks, most of us have our own businesses to run, so time is not always a luxury when it comes to dotting the i's and crossing the t's," said Hiland.

"Is the Executive Committee and we as Directors guilty of sloppy records, calling meetings, elections, communicating, etc.? Probably yes."

Hiland said the executive committee has been doing a good job overall keeping the airport afloat.

Bender said at Tuesday night's Lovell selectmen's meeting, he was informed that selectmen were told that 12 authority members want him gone.

He was asked how many authority members there are in total.

"My answer was 'who knows, they do not have the required appointment letters,'" said Bender.

Story and photo ➤

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