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January 26. 2013 10:04PM

Authority in Auburn: It belongs to selectmen

In August, Auburn selectmen adopted a new policy that allowed the town and its contractors to use "minimum standards of traffic control" on some roads. The intent was to allow the town to reduce its use of police officers to direct traffic at road construction sites.

That intent was so clear that police officers unionized in response to it. "I guess you could say the decision about the flagmen was the tipping point," Officer Calvin Kapos said in August. Kapos and Sgt. Charles Chabot organized the unionization effort.

The next month, Auburn police issued a citation to Advanced Excavating and Paving, the town's contracted paver, for using a flagger instead of an officer at a road work site. The officer who prosecuted the case for the department was Sgt. Chabot. In December, Sgt. Chabot said the police department wanted "the judge to interpret the ordinance" so "we'll find out exactly what the ordinance is and what it is not."

But that was clear from the start. To make it even clearer, the selectmen voted unanimously in October to declare that they meant the contractor was not obligated to use police officers for traffic control. Police not only pursued prosecution, they issued another citation.

Last week a circuit court judge agreed to the defense's request to dismiss the case because not only was there no requirement for the contractor to have a police officer directing traffic, the contractor did not even have to use a flagger, as that exceeded the "minimum standards" language in the ordinance. The town administrator praised the decision and said it reinforced the selectmen's intention.

As was obvious from the start, the police had no case against the paving company. This was a last-ditch effort of the department to bypass the selectmen to save the officers' special duty pay. Badges, though, are no substitute for election to office by the people. That officers used their law-enforcement powers to drag people into court for the purpose of undoing the duly enacted will of the elected board is stunning and cause for great concern.

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