Council calls special meeting over mayor's rebuke of local attorney

Newspaper column reopens old wounds at City Hall
By Ethan Andrews | Nov 26, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews City Council members and Mayor Samantha Paradis, pictured at a facilitated meeting in August that provided the raw material for a joke at the annual Chamber of Commerce awards dinner.

Belfast — The City Council dropped a planned work session on the development of Belfast Yards to hold a special meeting Tuesday, Nov. 27, about an opinion column penned by Mayor Samantha Paradis that appeared in last week's issue of The Republican Journal.

City Councilor Eric Sanders said he requested the meeting, which requires approval of three council members, after reading the column and seeing portions that appeared to be directed at the City Council.

"I think it's important to discuss it sooner rather than later," he said, adding that the council was already planning to meet for a work session. "It's kind of a big deal in the town, (the fact) that everybody is talking about it."

In the column, published Nov. 22, Paradis called out local attorney Lee Woodward for making light of a facilitated session she convened earlier this year and the ensuing debate about her authority to run council meetings.

"... that anyone who needed to use the bathroom could get up and do so at any time and he would do the same," Paradis wrote. "He mentioned if he needed to use the bathroom, Councilor Mary Mortier could take his place."

Woodward delivered his remarks at the annual Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce awards dinner, where he was named Citizen of the Year.

According to Paradis, the attorney and longtime town meeting moderator, "said he saw the Belfast City Council was in attendance but said he did not have the time to serve as a facilitator."

Paradis described the comments as "hurtful" and stood by her attempts to change the tenor of council meetings, which said had become unwelcoming to the public. She described, in more detail than she has previously, the conditions that prompted her to call in a facilitator.

"At one meeting a male council member addressed a female constituent from across the table with verbally aggressive behavior; this same council member frequently keeps an open switchback knife on his desk," she said. "This behavior is something that I cannot tolerate and at the time I was unsure of how to respond."

Paradis said her efforts to make council meetings more welcoming are informed by being a survivor of physical and sexual assault.

"You see, Mr. Woodward, your comments were inappropriate and not funny," she wrote. "In the last year I have been carving out and fighting for every inch of the seat I sit in at the center of the Belfast City Council. I have encountered sexism, ageism and bigotry. I left the Belfast Area Chamber dinner when everyone stood up to applaud for you and cried on my way home."

Other attendees of the chamber dinner, including several councilors, described Woodward's comments as off-the-cuff but good-natured.

"Lee didn't know he was going to get the award," City Councilor Mike Hurley said. "A lot of time when people don't know what to say, they come up with something that gives them time while they think of something."

Hurley, who identified himself as the councilor with the open knife on his desk — "so I could open a granola bar," he said — anticipated that the special meeting would begin where the facilitated session earlier this year left off. At that time, several councilors charged Paradis with overstepping her authority as mayor and giving her own comments priority over those of the council.

"The mayor's been on board for over a year," he said, "and my experience is it's getting worse."

In the past, much of the sparring between the mayor and council has happened at regular council meetings, but councilors contacted by The Republican Journal said they supported rescheduling the workshop to meet a week earlier.

"We didn't feel like it could wait that long," Councilor Mary Mortier said.

Speaking on Nov. 26, Paradis said she was copied on Sanders' email to the council seeking backing for the special meeting, but said there was no agenda attached. She did not see the agenda until the council had agreed to hold the meeting, she said.

Several councilors said the topic was hashed out in phone conversations.

A copy of the email thread obtained by The Republican Journal shows the four councilors voicing support for Sanders' request for a special council meeting but includes just one passing reference to "the op-ed" and no discussion of the reason for the meeting.

Paradis ultimately asks, and Sanders tells her it's to discuss her column.

"I'm not sure what to expect," she said.

The City Council meets at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 27, at City Hall, 131 Church St.

Mayor Samantha Paradis, photographed during the cocktail hour that preceded the Nov. 16 Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce awards dinner. (Courtesy of: Rachel Epperly Media)
Comments (5)
Posted by: Michael Corden | Nov 28, 2018 10:19

Grow?  The problem is that she imperiously maintains her self righteous demeanor and deflects all sound criticism.  She shows no ability to grow.  She is the mayor who would be queen.

Posted by: MARY JEAN CROWE | Nov 27, 2018 23:38

Samantha Paradis is unlike any other previous mayor. Samantha represents a new generation and a new energy that we should embrace, if not celebrate. Everyone in this tragically divided city would be better off if our councilors would adjust their tone and support Samantha as she grows into the job, rather than attempting to undermine her authority. It's a new day in Belfast, and thankfully Samantha has stepped up to play a role. We should be grateful for her service.

Posted by: Jennifer Hill | Nov 27, 2018 19:37

the citizens of Belfast, Maine elected this woman as Mayor and it is up to the Belfast City Councilors to work with her - they did not appoint her and she is not subject to their censure - she has the right to speak out just as we all do!

Posted by: Martha H. Ortmann | Nov 27, 2018 11:33

I feel sympathy for Mayor Paradise who appears to have been badly harmed in the past. I feel sad for Attorney Woodward whose special recognition was marred by Mayor Paradise's op- ed. I am sure he intended no harm. Local politics are often the fodder for banter. Politics are not a good venue to heal wounds. (Understatement considering our national political debates!). I do hope Mayor Paradise can reach a point where she can grow a thicker skin and not take discourse and debates so personally. Even if one does not agree with every city council decision, the council members work hard and for the most part amicably.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Nov 27, 2018 07:15

Ethan, it is possible to add the mail thread you refer to in your article please.

If you wish to comment, please login.