Hardball in Hancock Co.

This ad appeared in the Ellsworth American, which is published weekly, on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 6, six days before the statewide primary elections were held.

The ad escaped my notice until I wrote this story about Phil Roy, the chief financial officer of Hancock County who was hired by and reports directly to the county’s three elected commissioners. People I interviewed for the story brought the ad to my attention. The ad is referring to Roy where it alleges that there are “improprieties in the county’s financial office.”

Only one commissioner, Chairman Steve Joy, was facing a primary challenge in the June 12 Republican primary. Joy has been the most vocal defender of the commissioners’ financial stewardship and the job Roy has done for the county. The ad proved ineffective in his race. Joy won, defeating a fellow Ellsworth resident, City Councilor Matthew Boucher, by a 720-539 vote margin.

Joy didn’t hold his tongue when the ad above appeared in the American. Because he could not get a response printed in the weekly paper before the June 12 vote, he sent a letter to the editor to the Bangor Daily News on June 7. The letter, about the county’s finances, was published in the BDN’s Monday, June 11 edition.

“Your tax dollars are safe,” Joy told Hancock County residents in the letter. He encouraged anyone with questions on the issue to email him at sejoy@aol.com.

County government, with different elected officials running different departments, is an odd thing. In Hancock County, besides the quasi-state positions of district attorney and probate judge, there are seven officials elected directly by the voters, three of them being the commissioners. The four others – Sheriff William Clark, Registrar of Deeds Julie Curtis, Registrar of Probate Bonnie Cousins and Treasurer Janice Eldridge – all put their names on the ad shown above.

None of the elected officials can fire each other. When disagreements arise (such as when Roy tried to confiscate Eldridge’s keys to the county’s financial records) they usually are aired in public. The commissioners have the final say over the county’s $6.9 million budget and have given Phil Roy a lot of authority in determining how the county finances should be handled. How Roy’s actions as CFO affect some county departments that are run by some of its elected officials has been the major point of contention between commissioners and other county officials since Roy was hired in January 2009.

I have covered Hancock County government for more than 10 years and have seen a fair number of very public arguments between county officials. Sheriff Clark has been the most vocal critic of the commissioners during that time and even filed suit against them in 2002 when they refused to fund an assistant administrator position for the county jail, the operation of which is overseen by Clark. The sheriff lost that lawsuit.

This is the first time I can recall ever seeing a paid advertisement in which some county officials call upon voters to cast others out of office. Joy has no declared Democratic opponent in the upcoming general election in November, but still there is a contested commission race. Incumbent Fay Lawson of Tremont, a Democrat, is being challenged for her seat by Republican Fred Ehrlenbach of Trenton. So it is possible we will see the ad shown above printed in newspapers again before the year is out.

In the meantime, Roy’s activities are expected to draw more public attention when the FAA releases its findings on his handling of the county’s airport funds last year. Commissioners expect to hear from FAA on the issue later this summer.

Bill Trotter

About 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. He writes about fisheries, marine-related topics, eastern coastal Maine communities and more for the BDN. He lives in Ellsworth. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.