Raised voices

Recently we made the rare decision to report on an executive session of the City Council based on what we heard from outside the Council Chambers. Executive sessions are not open to the public, but the conversation was heated for long stretches and easily intelligible from the hallway outside the room where members of the public typically wait during closed door sessions.

We reported that voices were raised between developer Paul Naron and city councilors, who were arguing about the city's demand for a permanent easement through Naron's waterfront property. But this characterization was incomplete at best. City Manager Joe Slocum disputed it at the following council meeting, saying no voices were raised between councilors and Naron. Mayor Samantha Paradis defended our original reporting, saying that if the raised voices weren't between the city officials and Naron, she didn't know who else it would have been.

While the meeting was unquestionably a heated stand-off between Naron and the City Council — to the point Naron walked out and cursed the city officials to a reporter — the loudest exchanges were between Paradis and City Councilors Neal Harkness and Mike Hurley, who came to figurative blows over the now-familiar disputed territory of meeting procedure, specifically, who should be allowed to speak and when.

Shortly after the crescendo, we started recording the ambient sound in the hallway, knowing that it might be necessary to back up our decision to report on a meeting that was officially held behind closed doors. On reviewing the tape, we heard Naron speaking informally, against the established rules of order, and Paradis attempting to reel in the ensuing chaos to the apparent consternation of Naron, as well as Harkness and Hurley, who barked at her for not calling on them to speak.

Slocum's rebuttal of our reporting may have been an attempt to support new drafts of proposed rules of order that Paradis went on to reject as "a thinly veiled resolution … to again limit when I can speak at meetings," but he was correct to say that our account was misleading.

The absence on Feb. 19 of Councilor Eric Sanders, for whom the council tabled discussion of the new rules of order, might have spared the city another blow-up. In the meantime, we hope the council and mayor can find their way around what increasingly looks like a vain power struggle between a mayor, who wants greater standing than her position provides, and councilors, who are perhaps too accustomed to being the loudest voices in the room.


Safety first

Thorndike volunteer firefighters were wrong to walk off the department last week.

Four regional public safety organizations broached concerns about safety, communication and department members’ qualifications to run a fire scene with a letter written to selectmen in that town.

We have no doubt these four groups have serious concerns and have no personal vendetta against any specific member of the department. Writing a letter to town officials is not something any of the groups would take lightly; nor should the firefighters and residents of the town take their concerns lightly.

Firefighting is an inherently dangerous job. It is important to have someone in charge who understands that danger and supports proper training on the specialized equipment. Yes, fire departments are in desperate need of manpower — especially volunteer departments like most in Waldo County — but safety, not egos, must come first.

Thordike volunteers brought forth safety concerns of their own with a letter to selectmen, citing a need to replace aging equipment — another perennial problem for small volunteer departments. But they also demanded reinstatement of one person.

We aren't in favor of passing judgment on people based on past mistakes, but in this case, again, safety should be the first consideration. Maybe that means more training. Maybe that means dissolving the entire volunteer department. Maybe that means reinstating everyone who walked out. Maybe that means purchasing newer equipment.

We don’t fault firefighters for supporting one of their own, but neither side is served by refusing to have a constructive conversation, which appears to be the case in Thorndike.