St. John Valley

Couple alleges civil rights violations in ongoing dispute with town

MADAWASKA, Maine — A Madawaska couple is considering further legal action, including a claim of civil rights violations, in their dispute with the town and some of its current and former employees and officials. 

Richard and Ann Cayer, who have had legal disputes with the town dating back more than 20 years, recently filed a declaratory judgment action against the town related to a building project the couple started in 2010.

The town issued the most recent building permit in April 2013 to the Cayers for a project at Birch Point. Madawaska’s then code enforcement officer Bob Ouellette, however, issued a “stop work order” in June of that year, because the Cayers completely removed the original structure from the property rather than renovating and expanding it as the permit authorized, according to town officials.

The court dismissed the code violation case with prejudice in September, at the request of the town. The “with prejudice” condition means that the town may bring no further legal action against the Cayers for the original alleged code violations.

“It was a good faith effort to put the past behind and move forward for the betterment of the community,” Town Manager Ryan D. Pelletier said in an April 6 email.

Since then, town and the new code enforcement officer, Andrew Dube, have declined to reinstate the original building permit. The town has declined to approve the building project the Cayers want to complete, according Dube. He added that he would be uncomfortable reissuing a permit that old and one that another CEO previously approved.

In January, at the request of the Cayers, Scott Belair of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, offered some feedback on the matter. While Belair declined to  comment of the legality of past permits the town issued or possible ordinance violations on the part of the Cayers, he wrote “… it would appear that the conclusion of these proceedings through dismissal has essentially brought the issue of a building project on Lot 468 back to a point where both parties may start fresh in hopes of moving forward.”

Belair suggested the Cayers take “an honest look” at their goals for the property and make sure they understand the differences between expansion and reconstruction projects, as the town’s shoreland zoning rules define.

Luke Rossignol, the Cayers’ attorney, filed the declaratory judgment action as a result of the town’s unwillingness to respond to the Cayers’ attempts to resume their building project after the court dismissed the case.

Rossignol described the town’s previous actions in a recent email to the St. John Valley Times as “meritless allegations of land use violations against the Cayers by the Town.”

“The Cayers complied with that stop work order, even though they believed it was without legal authority,” Rossignol said. Because the Cayers only halted the project due to the stop work order, Rossignol contends that the original permit period has not lapsed and should extend.

“We believe these violations were malicious,” Richard Cayer said last month. “They were meant to punish us, because we’re always active in town business.”

The Cayers, who routinely attend board of selectmen meetings, said the town needs more transparency in municipal government. Mr. Cayer said he believes the town’s previous actions against he and his wife were punitive in nature.

In the Cayers’ January civil complaint against the town filed in Aroostook Superior Court, their attorney pointed out that the town issued the 2013 stop work order less than a week following a petition from the Cayers to secede from the town of Madawaska. The complaint goes on to highlight multiple instances in which the Cayers claim board of selectmen and planning board members at the time acted outside of standard policy and procedure and thwarted their efforts to work with the town.

Mr. Cayer said that if the town agreed to dismiss the previous case regarding the stop work order, then he may reasonably assume there was never any violations on his part. So, he asked, why cannot the town simply renew the old permit?

Pelletier said the court nor the Cayer’s attorney have served new papers to the town since January.

“No one that works for the town or was on the board (of selectmen) today has anything to do with the decisions made at the time when those (previous) cases were filed,” Pelletier said.

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