Reconciliation was in the air, if not on the agenda, Sept. 18 as city councilors, the mayor and members of the public — parties that have been at odds for months — offered apologies, made small concessions and expressed hopes of better interactions in the future.

That didn't appear to be the case going into the meeting. A set of ground rules drafted from a recent facilitated workshop was mistakenly added to the agenda, according to City Manager Joe Slocum and Mayor Samantha Paradis. The list included a rule that would have required the mayor to speak only after city councilors had spoken on a topic.

The rule brought out several residents who gave positive testimonials about the mayor during a public comment portion of the meeting. Others saw the procedural change as an attack against Paradis, or young people, or women.

Linda Buckmaster, who got a call from Paradis before the meeting, according to an email forwarded to The Republican Journal, said the tensions between the City Council and mayor showed a failure by the council to adapt to its newest member, who represents an emerging demographic of young professionals in the city.

"It's clear from the last election that the voters wanted a change in leadership at the council. "Maybe it's not what you expected," she said, "but that's the way it is now."

Buckmaster said it's the mayor's job to "gavel down" slanderous or inappropriate comments from both councilors and members of the public, alike, and individuals' job to police themselves.

Ellie Daniels, who has a lawsuit pending with the city over the land-based salmon farm proposed by Nordic Aquafarms, said her involvement with the opposition group Local Citizens for Smart Growth has forced her to use social media more than she wants to, and exposed her to negative comments that have caused her to question whether she wants to stay in Belfast.

She lamented the lack of face-to-face conversations between salmon farm opponents and proponents. Daniels said the Unitarian Universalist Church has considered holding meetings for this purpose.

If these were to happen, Daniels said she would like to ask councilors Mike Hurley, Neal Harkness and Mary Mortier, with whom she and other salmon farm opponents have been at odds, to attend.

"I really would," she said. "I think that it would be a wonderful thing to sit and have some community meals and sit at community tables with people and talk to our neighbors."

Steve Byers, an herbalist, who introduced himself on Sept. 18 as "the guy who read the Wendell Berry poem," apologized for "misperceptions" about the meaning behind the poem. Byers' reading of Berry's "Questionnaire" at a meeting in June drew strong objections from councilors who said it portrayed them as baby killers.

Byers handed out copies of the poem, and assured the council it didn't say what they had thought.

"There's no line in there that says baby killers," he said, "but it was very much blown into a different realm. And I would like our relationship to be in a human realm where we see each other eye-to-eye, face-to-face, heart-to-heart."

Byers said the June meeting had been his first since he moved to Belfast 2 1/2 years ago. He went on to say that Paradis, during a break in that meeting, had kneeled down to talk to his daughters — "future leaders for the country and this town," he said — and made eye contact with them.

"She was demonstrating how to relate to people," he said.

City Councilor Eric Sanders spoke about a proposal by the Audubon Society to hold a forum Feb. 21, 2019, that would bring stakeholders together to talk about the Nordic Aquafarms proposal.

"The Audubon Society, from what I heard, thought it would be a good idea to maybe turn the temperature down a little bit … so people could talk," Sanders said. "I think that was basis of the Audubon Society's request is to bring the communities together."

When the council got down to discussing the proposed ground rules, it became clear that no members wanted to bar the mayor from speaking before the city councilors.

Councilor Neal Harkness said it was never a question of limiting anyone's ability to speak, only to set an order in which they speak and prevent the council from being shut out by the elected official who holds the gavel.

"It's a contentious point and a lot of people are upset and have misinterpreted what it's all about," he said. "Nowhere on this page does it say Samantha. It says 'the mayor.'"

"I'm sorry it got blown out of proportion and personalized," he said. "It was certainly not meant in a personal way."

Hurley said the topic did come up because of Paradis, who, he said, often was speaking first on subjects. However, he opposed a hard rule about when the mayor may speak.

"The best rule to me is that there should not be a rule," he said.

Paradis agreed and said she was glad to hear that councilors didn't support making the mayor speak last.

"It feels very limiting," she said, "especially when I ran on a platform of bringing everyone's voice to the table, that my voice may be limited."

Paradis apologized for the confusion that resulted in notes ending up on the meeting agenda.

"It's clear that it was unclear," she said.

The council struck the rule about when the mayor speaks and adopted the other ground rules for public participation at council meetings. The vote was 4-0-1. Councilor John Arrison, who will vacate his seat in November, abstained on grounds that he drafted the proposed rules and is "the least affected by this in the long run."