Council confronts 'authoritarian,' 'kindergarten teacher' mayor

Officials agree to terms for delayed special meeting on council conduct
By Ethan Andrews | Jul 06, 2018

Belfast — The mayor and City Council on July 3 continued to clash over a request by Mayor Samantha Paradis to hold a special facilitated meeting about how the city's elected officials interact with each other and the public.

The meeting had been scheduled for July 5 but was delayed by the search for a neutral facilitator with the right credentials to appease all parties involved. On Tuesday, the mayor and council picked former Portland City Councilor and Mayor Pamela Plumb from three potential facilitators.

City Manager Joe Slocum said Plumb probably wouldn't be available until late August, but the council and mayor seemed content to wait, or as Councilor Neal Harkness said, "everybody chill out until August."

"This is an issue on which there are very strong feelings," Harkness said. "I have some extremely strong feelings about what happened, and I'm putting them aside because we need to move forward. Here we are having a civil, respectful discussion, so we can do it."

Paradis said she didn't mind waiting for a meeting with Plumb. "I think we're going to be surprised at how well that meeting goes," she said.

The mayor called for the special meeting in June after verbal exchanges between city councilors and the public, but she has been vague about what she expects to accomplish. On Tuesday, she referred to "working agreements" about how meetings are conducted, which she later described as "ground rules," and said she would like council meetings to end by 10 p.m.

The group settled on the broad terms of the special meeting, but councilors wanted to know what regular meetings would look like in the meantime.

Councilor Mike Hurley panned the "arbitrary" 10 p.m. end time for meetings and blamed long-running meetings on the hourly five-minute breaks instituted by Paradis when she took office. He suggested dropping the first, taken at 8 p.m. Paradis countered that health research connects regular breaks with better decision-making.

Harkness argued that the group is getting along worse with the breaks. He suggested a single break as a compromise. Councilor Mary Mortier added that the breaks have often run longer than five minutes and occurred at unnatural times in the meetings.

"I feel like we're in kindergarten," she said. "I feel like you're the new kindergarten teacher and we're sitting in your kindergarten room. And whether it's the breaks, whether it's raising our hands, there's a number of things, and I find it very irritating. I find it extremely disrespectful."

Paradis said the topic should be put on hold until the facilitated meeting.

"And until then I will continue to have five-minute breaks every hour," she said.

Hurley interjected with a "small point of order." The council decides how it wants its meetings run, he said, and asks the mayor to preside over them.

"I'm not comfortable with the way this discussion is going," Paradis said.

Hurley moved to drop the 8 p.m. break and got a quick second.

"This conversation feels very hostile," Paradis said. "I'm not comfortable with it."

"I don't feel hostility," Hurley said. "Certainly not coming from me. But I feel an excessive authoritarian instinct on your part of a consensus situation. I'm dismayed also that you have this instinctive desire to impose your position. And I think that is really sad and dismaying. That is not what's called consensus and it is not what's called communication."

Hurley added that he had polled the other councilors. "Not one of us hears from you," he said. "You don't talk to any of us."

Paradis and Hurley continued to spar with neither giving ground until Mortier moved for a vote on the question of dropping the 8 p.m. break. Hurley tried to withdraw his motion but was told that the motion had come from Councilor John Arrison, at which point he sided with the recommendation to table the motion, proposed by Councilor Eric Sanders, who has taken on the role of peacemaker in the recent clashes between the council and mayor.

The remaining three councilors weren't sold on waiting. Arrison said the council "has worked wonderfully well for 3 ½ years," and has been "largely very civil."

Harkness told Paradis that he feels she is unwilling to consider any compromise.

"I did not want to have a meeting," he said. "I compromised. I did not want to have a facilitator. I compromised. On this issue of the break, I'd just as soon not have breaks. I can run out to the bathroom and come back when I need to. I offered a compromise. All compromises have been rejected."

Paradis said the breaks are necessary for her, because as the presiding officer she can't leave in the middle of a meeting.

The motion to drop the 8 p.m. break got affirmative votes from Mortier and Arrison, but was defeated by abstentions from Councilors Harkness, Hurley and Sanders.

The vote was followed by a five-minute break, after which the council went into executive session on a real estate matter.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jul 06, 2018 12:14

LOL



If you wish to comment, please login.