China TIF committee spends lots of time on legal issue of remote meeting policy

by Mary Grow

Members of China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee spent much of their Aug. 23 meeting trying to understand the state-required policy on board and committee meetings that are not entirely in-person.

Pre-Covid, Town Manager Becky Hapgood explained, the state right-to-know law assumed, and required, that when a board or committee met, members and the public were in the meeting room interacting face to face.

During the pandemic, emergency provisions allowed remote meetings. The emergency has expired, and the legislature has passed a law returning to almost the pre-Covid normal. However, there are now two exceptions, Hapgood and TIF Committee member Jamie Pitney explained:

An entire board may meet remotely in an emergency, like a pandemic or a blizzard; and
A member, with notice to the chairman who in turn notifies as many other members as possible, may participate remotely in case of “illness or temporary absence that causes a board member significant difficulties in travel.”

The Maine Municipal Association distributed information to municipalities that Hapgood said repeated the legislative wording and said that each separate board and committee must adopt the policy, or something similar enough to be legal.

A member participating remotely who qualifies for one of the exceptions to personal attendance is counted as part of the quorum and may vote, Hapgood said. If the TIF Committee did not have a remote meeting policy and a renewed shut-down prohibited in-person meetings, the committee could not meet.

Qualification to participate remotely was the issue. There was consensus that someone who tried to Zoom in because he or she did not feel like driving to the meeting, or because he or she had child-care responsibilities at home, did not qualify.

When TIF Chairman Tom Michaud is spending the winter in Florida, there was agreement he has difficulty traveling to a meeting in the China town office. But, Pitney, pointed out, Michaud chooses to go to Florida; so maybe he should not be allowed to participate remotely.

Committee members debated a hypothetical case: a committee member calls the chairman to say he or she has to work late, either can drive to the meeting but is unlikely to arrive before it adjourns, or can Zoom in from the office. They did not decide whether the situation authorized remote participation.

Despite the lack of clarity, TIF Committee members adopted the policy on a 6-0 vote.

They spent less time on tax increment financing business. Hapgood said the state Department of Economic and Community Development has not yet approved the amended TIF program local voters adopted at the June 8 town meeting, so no money has been disbursed under it.

No accurate fund balances are available, because the audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30 is not finished.

The causeway project is done and paid for, Hapgood said, except for one minor step that cannot be done until late in the fall. She updated board members on the single outstanding loan from the Revolving Loan Fund that is part of China’s TIF.

Michaud’s wife Marie has resigned her secretarial duties; when no one volunteered to replace her, Michaud proposed members take turns preparing minutes, starting with himself. He also asked for a vice-chairman to run meetings when he is unavailable. James “J. J.” Wentworth was elected unanimously.

The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 20.


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