STANDISH — The Nov. 14 Town Council meeting in Standish could be a crowded one now that the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has encouraged its members to attend in support of a proposal from the Standish Fish and Game Club.
“We need your help in beating back the Anti-Second Amendment crowd,” reads the message from SAM Executive Director David Trahan, which he said was sent Nov. 6 to SAM members around the state.
The message was also posted on SAM’s Facebook page, where it is co-signed by Standish Fish and Game Club President Greg Sirpis. Sirpis is also vice chairman of the Standish Town Council.
The effort to galvanize Maine sportsmen comes as the council continues to consider a proposal from the Fish and Game Club to build an outdoor sporting facility on land that would be leased from the town.
A council vote to move the club’s proposal forward was delayed in September and then withdrawn completely in October amid uncertainty and questions surrounding the plan. Sirpis, who proposed the agenda item, also made the suggestion to withdraw the plan from council consideration during the Oct. 10 meeting in order to regroup with his club.
“Once I have an opportunity to meet with the Fish and Game Club, we’ll come back with a new order, and we’ll make sure that the public has plenty of notice,” Sirpis said in October.
Concerns about the proposal raised by some Standish residents include the fact that the club, which aims to lease town-owned land for its facility, requires its members to also join the National Rifle Association and SAM.
“The Standish Fish and Game Club is trying to lease land from the town of Standish to build shooting ranges and teach people how to safely use firearms. Everything was going fine until some Standish residents learned that the club requires their members to be members of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the NRA. They are demanding the club change their by-laws and end this requirement,” reads the message from Trahan and Sirpis posted on Facebook.”This is nothing more than anti-gun zealots trying to force this small private sportsman’s club to stop affiliating with parent organizations that can help them be successful!”
The tone of the message represents a significant shift from what Trahan said in an interview with the Lakes Region Weekly in early October. He said then that “if they’ve got concerns and it’s causing problems for Standish, we’ll work with them to make it right.”
Trahan explained the divergence in tone Monday, saying that “a lot has changed” and that he didn’t previously realize the extent to which SAM was being brought into the debate.
“I kinda feel like we were poked in the eye with a stick,” Trahan said.
However, Trahan said he plans to attend the Nov. 14 meeting, where he hopes to help Standish residents learn more about SAM, answer questions and clarify the role that his group plays in supporting other clubs around the state.
“I think SAM’s part in this can be resolved pretty easily,” said Trahan, who again stressed that SAM does not force local clubs to require SAM membership. “We don’t want to pick a fight with the people of Standish.”
This is not the first time that SAM has put a message out encouraging its members to attend a Standish Town Council meeting. The group also did so in 2015 when the council was considering a proposed firearms ordinance. The meeting reportedly drew an overflow crowd of about 125 people, including many vocal gun owners.
Sirpis has said that it was after that 2015 meeting that he and others got together and decided the town should have a fish and game club.
Longtime Town Manager Gordy Billington, who plans to retire at the beginning of 2018 once he has helped incoming manager Kris Tucker transition into the job, said he thought the 2015 meeting was a productive one with its large turnout and he hopes next week’s meeting can be productive as well.
Selectboard Chairwoman Kimberly Pomerleau said Tuesday that she had heard about the SAM message, but had not read it. She did say that the Fish and Game Club topic would be on the agenda for Tuesday, Nov. 14.
Pomerleau said that she continues to support the club’s proposal, but has had concerns about requiring NRA membership.
Councilor Isabel Higgins, who has previously expressed support for the proposal generally while calling it a “work in progress,” said she hopes next week’s meeting can be a productive discussion that gives more clarity to the club’s plan.
“Before people can comment on this or make a decision, we need to see what the concept is,” Higgins said.
“I would rather see a full room than an empty room because we need public input,” she said.
When asked about how his joint message with SAM came about, Sirpis said Tuesday that he had reached out to Trahan about the Fish and Game Club issue.
He declined to say more about next week’s meeting.
“Come to the meeting on Tuesday night, and I’m going to lay everything out,” Sirpis said.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.