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Monroe rejects corporate personhood

by Ethan AndrewsRepublican Journal
June 16th, 2010

In a move that supporters say would protect the town against corporate exploitation, Monroe residents at the annual town meeting June 14 approved a new ordinance that denies the rights of personhood to corporations.

Resident Seth Yentes said the new law was similar to "rights-based ordinances" enacted in Shapleigh and Newfield last year in response to concerns from citizens that water extraction by Nestlé, the parent company of Poland Spring, was threatening a natural resource in the community.

Yentes said there was no corporation currently asserting itself in Monroe, "but it's giving us a foundation to jump off of if somebody wanted to come in and extract water from our town," he said. "... It's really about local control and democracy and I think it's a great idea."

The "Town of Monroe Local Self-Government Ordinance," as the new law is called, goes against state and federal laws that affirm and protect the rights of corporations as though they were people. This conflict was cited in an opinion from the Maine Municipal Association solicited by town officials, which stated that the ordinance overstepped the bounds of local governance.

The legal issues with the ordinance would "create serious doubt as to its validity and enforceability if approved by the voters," the opinion read.

Some in attendance expressed concern that the ordinance would put further restrictions on businesses in an already harsh economic climate.

"There's all kinds of laws against them already," said Bill Nunn. "This doesn't even make sense."

Alan Beecher likened the restrictions to those placed on nonresidents at town meetings — they may speak, but only if residents vote to allow it.

Beecher said the ordinance would guard the town against challenges from Central Maine Power, which is owned, he noted, by a larger company, Iberdrola, based in Spain. The utility recently notified the town of approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for upgrades to CMP's bulk transmission system. Beecher said the utility planned to do $17 million worth of work in Monroe.

Fire Chief Ken Clements said he didn't know if it was a good ordinance or not, but he didn't see the point of passing it if MMA thought it couldn't be enforced. Beecher responded that MMA had the interests of municipalities in mind, but not necessarily the interests of people.

Yentes said he had heard from the other towns that had passed similar ordinances that legal expenses to fight a corporation could cost $400,000. By contrast, his sources said, the costs would be closer to $5,000 with the ordinance in place.

When his figures were challenged, Yentes called for a vote by secret ballot. The ordinance was approved 40 to 28.

Ordinance Text - pdf file