By Bill Pearson, Piscataquis Observer: DEXTER, Maine — The town's municipal personnel policy regarding carrying firearms and other weapons was so restrictive it prohibited police officers from possessing guns when they entered the town office, police department or other town-owned property. The Town Council voted 4-3 on Sept. 13 to amend the policy to allow on-duty police officers to carry weapons onto all municipal property.
In June the council voted 6-1 against a proposed amendment to the personnel policy that would have made it less restrictive for town employees to carry weapons on to municipal property. The proposal was defeated by 6-1 vote. Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs had drafted that proposal in an effort to "even the playing field" for municipal employees who were prohibited from possessing weapons on town property while nonemployees faced no restrictions.
A revised proposal was created by council members, who eliminated the loophole concerning on-duty law enforcement personnel from carrying weapons on town property but still imposed restrictions on municipal employees.
Councilor Steven Gudroe, who participated in drafting the revised amendment passed last week, believes the new policy is in line with similar ones enforced by other municipalities and the state of Maine. Gudroe indicated that as a state employee he was allowed to have a firearm in his vehicle, but he wasn't allowed to bring it into any state buildings.
"The law has recently changed to where I now can have a weapon in my vehicle, but I've never been able to carry one into my office," Gudroe said. "The town of Dexter has never allowed weapons on their property, the state of Maine hasn't allowed them, so I don't see where this is a real big change."
Briggs agreed that the policy needed to be amended. Under the previous policy, she would have been required to fire the entire police department for carrying weapons into a municipal building.
But the town manager doubted the intentions of the four councilors who supported the revised policy.
Briggs believes the intent was to affect only two municipal employees: Cemetery Maintenance Department Head Duke Leighton, who is also a part-time Dexter police officer, and herself, who carries a Taser.
In June, she initially proposed amending the policy to eliminate the loophole regarding the town's police officers and allow department heads to possess weapons if they were properly licensed. Briggs indicated that the changes in the revised personnel policy are not solely to eliminate the loophole, but rather for the four councilors to orchestrate a personal attack against Leighton and herself.
"You don't want to hear this, but I'm going to say it. This is being done in this manner to harm only two municipal employees, but it's going to end up putting all of them in danger," she said.
Briggs wanted department heads to have the option to carry weapons on the job site because interactions between town employees and the public are becoming more volatile. She also wanted town employees to have the same right to possess a weapon on municipal property as the public does.
Police Chief Kevin Wintle said he understood the security concerns town employees have about dealing with angry citizens, but he added that town employees were better off with protecting themselves with Mace and pepper spray.
"I work for the town manager, the public and the town council. So the town manager probably isn't going to like what I say," Wintle said. "I've given it a lot of thought, but in my professional opinion, I think the town office employees would be safer with a panic button than a gun."
Councilor David Clukey is also a former police chief. He voted for the new policy along with Gudroe and Councilors Rick Goodwin and Missy Smith. Clukey said municipal employees' weapons could end up being used against them if they weren't properly trained.
In other action, the council voted unanimously to defeat a proposal to allow all-terrain vehicle traffic from Liberty to Russ streets. Local merchants were in favor of the proposal to create more traffic to their stores. But several residents complained ATV traffic was already causing havoc in the neighborhood and the proposal would only make traveling along Liberty and Rust streets more dangerous.
The council will have a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25, to discuss amending the zoning regulations for the land purchased by Gerry Marshall for his Abbot Hill properties.
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