Flare-ups and throw-downs between city councilors and opponents of a salmon farm proposal prompted Mayor Samantha Paradis on June 19 to call for a special workshop for councilors to consider how they interact with the public.

Paradis further asked that the meeting be facilitated by someone from Restorative Justice of the Midcoast, an organization that brings criminals together with victims to atone and reconcile in mediated “circles.”

"I was quite appalled at what happened at our last meeting," she said. "And in the future, if such behavior were to happen again, as the chair, I will call the (council) member to order."

Paradis asked that the council move forward with a "code of tolerance and love," and create and environment in which the public feels like it can participate. She added that she would like council meetings to end by 10 p.m.

The conflicts started after Nordic Aquafarms announced plans in January to build a $150 million land-based aquaculture facility to raise Atlantic salmon on 40 acres along Little River in Belfast. The majority of the proposed site lies on land owned by Belfast Water District. Prior to going public, representatives of Nordic Aquafarms met behind closed doors with the City Council and the Water District Board of Directors to negotiate a purchase and sale agreement.

While closed-door meetings are common between municipal officials and businesses weighing their prospects here, some residents accused the council of striking a back-door deal with the Norwegian company. Others objected to what they viewed as a rush to rezone the Water District property to allow the salmon farm.

Tensions mounted at an April 17 public hearing that included two hours of testimony by members of the public against a zoning change that would open the door for the salmon farm. The council unanimously approved the contested amendment, leading some members of the public to jeer the council from the audience.

On June 5, a Waldo resident read a poem that equated the council’s support for the salmon farm with killing babies, and Councilors Neal Harkness and Mike Hurley said they’d had enough. The councilors hit back hard, accusing the man, and another unaffiliated opponent of the salmon farm, with spreading misinformation and attacking the council indiscriminately.

On Tuesday, Hurley rejected Paradis' view that the council needs to work on its relationship with the public.

"You raised a difficult subject," he said. "I think I would have preferred to have that conversation in private first. I didn't get that opportunity."

Hurley said he’s been "attacked constantly” on social media for supporting Nordic Aquafarms, been called a liar, been accused of taking money from Nordic Aquafarms and had his head Photoshopped onto a dog to portray him as a lapdog of the aquaculture company. He noted that Paradis isn’t active on social media.

“If you haven’t seen that stuff, you might not feel the pressure that I’m feeling,” he said.

Hurley went on to lay some of the blame for the tense exchanges at the June 5 meeting at the feet the mayor, who he said should have kept speakers on the subject at hand and called the meeting to order when salmon farm opponents interrupted Hurley with shouted rebuttals from the audience.

"It's really hard to get up there and speak, and people should be treated with respect, but when people start shouting from the back of room, they should be gaveled down," he said.

If anyone needs a Restorative Justice circle, he said, it's the salmon farm opponents.

“They’re the ones who put my face on a dog,” he said. “I didn’t do that to anybody.”

Harkness agreed with Hurley that any efforts to enforce civility should be done “on all fronts.”

Additionally, he voiced concern that opponents of the fish farm would be “given standing” at the meeting.

“I’m happy to talk to anyone,” he said. “But the idea that people are going to declare themselves the voice of the city and sit down with us as peers … I reject that.”

Councilors Mary Mortier and John Arrison said they didn’t want an outside facilitator. Paradis said she wants to participate in the meeting without having to run it, as well. City Manager Joe Slocum offered that the meeting could be an informal work session.

“You have them all the time,” he said. “You sit around in a circle and talk to each other. You’ve always been able to do that without having an independent person.”

Paradis held firm on wanting a facilitator. Councilor Eric Sanders supported it on grounds that the mayor should feel like she can participate freely.

The council scheduled the special work session for July 10 but remained split on whether there should be an independent moderator.