News Item: Letter from Midcoast Maine Indivisible Town Hall Committee to office of Senator Susan Collins (03-31-2017)

The following is the text of a letter and supplement sent to the office of Senator Susan Collins on behalf of the Midcoast Maine Indivisible Town Hall Committee on March 31, 2017. The subject regards a long-extended request for Senator Collins to schedule a public listening town hall for the Midcoast region of Maine.

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James Cook, Mike Kerzee, Caroline Knight and Joe Patten

Midcoast Maine Indivisible Town Hall Committee

March 31, 2017

 

Senator Susan Collins

68 Sewall Street Room 507

Augusta, ME 04330

 

Dear Senator Collins:

 

We are writing on behalf of the Town Hall Committee of Midcoast Maine Indivisible, a group with more than 800 members online and a regular physical attendance of roughly 100 constituents in our twice-monthly meetings.  As we have informed you in prior correspondence, we have no paid activists in our leadership, and our only funding comes from a jar we pass around at each meeting to cover meeting expenses.  We are locally-formed, locally-organized, independently-acting and sincerely concerned constituents.

72 days ago, we began a process of repeated requests and efforts at civil communication with your office to schedule an open, publicly-accessible listening town hall in the Midcoast region.  Unfortunately, your office has engaged in unfortunate long periods of non-response to our communications over this period, punctuated by two outright refusals of our sincere, civil requests on February 1 and March 29.

As your constituents, it is our constitutional right to peaceably assemble and petition you for redress of grievances.  Your repeated public contention that town halls are necessarily uncivil affairs in which a few voices drown out others in the audience has been countered by the multiple public listening town halls held by Senator Angus King and Representative Chellie Pingree this year, during which all voices were heard in an atmosphere of utmost civility.

We are confident that the 72 days since our first request has been a long-enough span for your office to schedule a single public listening town hall during the long recess period of April 10-21.  We consider it truly unfortunate that your offices’ repeated pattern of non-response and/or refusal has brought Midcoast Maine Indivisible to the point at which it has become necessary for us to take the following course of action:

  • In our meeting of March 29 2017, 101 actively participating constituent members selected a date for a public listening town hall of Thursday, April 20 at 6:30 pm.  We have reserved Watts Hall in the town of Thomaston as a location.
  • We cordially invite you to attend this listening town hall, which will follow the format of the recent listening town hall offered by Senator Angus King of Maine.
  • We will hope that you will attend this listening town hall event, but we will proceed with the event whether or not you choose to attend and listen to your constituents.
  • We will inform members of the media and the public of this listening town hall and invite them to attend.
  • We will inform members of the media and the public of the unfortunate circumstances of refusal and non-response that have necessitated our action.
  • We will remind members of the media and the public of the unfortunate, unkind, uncivil, and inaccurate insinuations and declarations that you have made in recent months regarding sincerely concerned constituents such as ourselves.
  • We will record the proceedings of the listening town hall event for live, public Facebook streaming. We will distribute the recording of the listening town hall event and maintain the video for public reference. We hope that if you do not attend, you will watch the video of your constituents’ questions and make a detailed, publicly visible response to each question at a future date.

Attached to this letter is a timeline of our requests, your refusals and lapses in communication, and your congressional peers’ positive participation in public listening town hall events during the same period.

As a final matter, moving forward from the April 20 town hall in Thomaston, we would like to remind you of an ongoing scheduling request to which your office has failed to respond.  Your scheduler, Paige Eggleston, has repeatedly refused to hold a town hall in the Midcoast with the justification that your schedule is full.  In response, on February 2, we asked Ms. Eggleston to indicate the first available date and time in the remaining four years of your term, since surely your schedule is not booked through the end of 2020. 58 days later, we still have received no reply to this request.  We would like to reiterate our reasonable request.  We look forward to a reply.

 

Sincerely,

 

James Cook, Mike Kerzee, Caroline Knight and Joe Patten,

on behalf of the Midcoast Maine Indivisible Town Hall Committee

 

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Timeline of Requests, Non-Response, Refusal, and Peer Inclusivity

Midcoast Maine Indivisible

March 30, 2017

 

The following is a record of our invitations, the refusals and/or non-responses by Senator Susan Collins’ office, and the concurrent positive listening town hall events held by Senator Collins’ peers in the Maine congressional delegation.

  • January 19, 2017 (71 days ago): Midcoast Maine Indivisible cofounder James Cook sent an invitation by e-mail to Senator Susan Collins’ scheduling director Paige Eggleston at scheduling@collins.senate.gov, following the explicit instructions of Senator Collins’ staff members in Maine and Washington, DC offices.  The message explicitly requested a “publicly announced and publicly accessible meeting in person” with Senator Collins in the Midcoast Maine region and explicitly asked for a response.
  • January 30, 2017 (60 days ago): James Cook sent a follow-up message reminding Ms. Eggleston of the submitted request and noting that no response had been forthcoming. Another request for a response was made.
  • February 1, 2017 (58 days ago): Ms. Eggleston sent a response indicating that “I apologize, as I am unable to set up this meeting at this time given the Senator’s previously scheduled commitments.”
  • February 2, 2017 (57 days ago): James Cook responded to Ms. Eggleston’s e-mail message, cc-ing Patricia Aho, asking the following two questions and explicitly requesting a response. To date, no response to these questions has been provided:

o   “Is there any date in the next six months during which Senator Collins would be available to meet with me and a group of fellow citizens in a public setting in Midcoast Maine, announced in advance, with attendance open to all Mainers?  If so, please contact me to make arrangements.”

o   “If Senator Collins’ schedule is so booked for the next six months that she cannot accommodate a single meeting with a group of fellow citizens in a public setting in Midcoast Maine, please inform me of that fact and also please let me know the first date for which Senator Collins is available during the remaining four years of her term.”

  • February 15, 2017 (40 days ago): James Cook drove to Senator Collins’ Bangor office noting a lack of response to the town hall forum request and again requested communication.
  • February 17, 2017 (42 days ago): James Cook drove to Senator Collins’ Bangor office after receiving an invitation to meet with staff member Carol Woodcock.  Ms. Woodcock politely but firmly indicated that there will be no public meetings in Midcoast Maine with Senator Collins.  When asked if any staff member would be willing to attend a town hall in Senator Collins’ stead, Ms. Woodcock replied in the negative.  Ms. Woodcock offered only the possibility of a single meeting, on only a single subject, for only 6-8 Midcoast Maine residents (less than 1% of Midcoast Maine Indivisible members), in the geographically distant Bangor office, with only a small number of permitted questions, with all questions submitted in advance.
  • March 5, 2017 (25 days ago) both Representative Chellie Pingree and Senator Angus King held town meetings that were open to the public.  In Senator King’s listening session format at USM that day, every person who wanted to ask a question or make a comment was able to do so, and Senator King listened to two full hours of questions and comments before making responses.  A variety of positions representing the full range of the political spectrum was allowed to be aired without censorship or incivility. Representative Pingree’s event of the same day in Augusta similarly allowed open participation without incivility or censorship.
  • March 14, 2017 (16 days ago): despite a pattern of non-response and rejection by Senator Collins’ office, Midcoast Maine Indivisible reacted positively to the success of the listening town halls held by Senator King and Representative Pingree.  In its regular meeting, Midcoast Maine Indivisible decided to invite Senator Collins to a public listening town hall identical in format to Senator King’s event.   Between March 14 and March 21, a subcommittee of Midcoast Maine Indivisible formulated an open, welcoming invitation to Senator Collins that was specifically focused on the upcoming April 10-21 Senate recess.
  • March 19, 2017 (11 days ago): Representative Chellie Pingree successfully held another open, publicly-accessible town hall. This event also occurred without incivility or exclusion.
  • March 21, 2017 (9 days ago): Midcoast Maine Indivisible representative Joe Patten delivered Midcoast Maine Indivisible’s invitation to Senator Collins’ staff.
  • March 27, 2017 (3 days ago): Having received no response, Joe Patten contacted Paige Eggleston’s office and sent her another a copy of the written invitation from March 21.
  • March 28, 2017 (2 days ago): James Cook drove to the Augusta office of Senator Collins and submitted a letter.  This letter detailed the pattern of non-response and refusal by Senator Collins’ staff on the issue of a town hall and explained that without an offer for an open, publicly accessible listening town hall from Senator Collins’ staff by 5 pm on March 29, Midcoast Maine Indivisible would be placed in the reluctant position of scheduling a listening town hall for Senator Collins without her staff’s input.
  • March 28, 2017 (2 days ago): Paige Eggleston writes to Joe Patten and James Cook, indicating that “I apologize, as the Senator will unfortunately be unable to attend due to previously scheduled commitments.”  Ms. Eggleston indicates that she is only willing to set up a video conference in which 6-8 individuals would have the privilege of participation.  This number represents less than 1% of Midcoast Maine Indivisible members, excluding 99% of membership and all other members of the Midcoast Maine public who might choose to attend.
  • Ongoing (currently 71 days): Senator Collins’ staff continues to refuse to respond to Midcoast Maine Indivisible’s request for the first available date in Senator Collins’ schedule during the remaining four years of her term in office.