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Mayor asks council to workshop attitude toward public

Heated exchanges over salmon farm prompt call for reset
By Ethan Andrews | Jun 21, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews City Planner Wayne Marshall introduces zoning changes for Nordic Aquafarms at an April 17 meeting that left many in the packed house of opponents feeling like they were being ignored.

Belfast — 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.

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Comments (5)
Posted by: from the kitchen | Jun 25, 2018 17:38

NIMBYs unite and form up.  You can beat this thing. Mayorette Sam has opened the door for you.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jun 23, 2018 23:23

All the more reason to attend the workshop.  Your service to the City was much more professional then the level it has stooped to now Mr Marshal.  Thank you for your years of service, as every public servant should have the ability to bite their lip.  After all being a public servant is just that, servicing the public.  The City council expects and demands the Belfast Police Department to treat every one with dignity and respect.  Even though there are some people in the public they rather not. Should the Belfast police start to emulate the attitudes of the City Councilors?  They are called "leaders of the community" right?

Posted by: John E Marshall | Jun 23, 2018 16:04

Having been the subject of verbal attacks as a MSAD 34 Board member and as Chair of the Planning Board for 9 years, it's hard to not defend yourself and respond to citizens who feel it is their right to be abusive to public servants. Mike has contributed enormously to Belfast and has a right to defend himself.

Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jun 22, 2018 11:32

"I understand people are suspicious of government. They should be. Especially these days."  Mike Hurley, Belfast City Councilor

"In a few weeks there will be an open house again at 43 Congress St. We are clearing out the rubble to make it safe to walk around. You’re all invited to see what you missed out on. Until then, don’t forget: there’s a new sheriff in town."  Mike Hurley, Belfast City Councilor

I certainly hope "the new Sheriff in town" plans on attending the "workshop"

The Mayor has recognized things are sliding off the tracks and requested someone from Restorative Justice to come and facilitate.

The City "Manager" who according to Websters  (a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization)  Has allowed this to get to this point where the Council feels the Belfast Citizens should NOT be “given standing” Neil Harkness , at the meeting.

Going into the tourist season I have no doubt anyone desiring to relocate to Belfast might second guess their decision seeing the City Government being this derailed.


Congratulations to the Mayor for trying to get things back on track.  She is dealing with a real cancer attitude from Councilors who think they are "the new sheriff in town" or that citizens are the little people and below the people that represent them.  For a Councilor to think that a citizen should not be "given standing" needs to remember it was that same person that might have voted for them!  Stick to your guns Mayor, as your City manager is allowing these actions to continue.  The elections this year replace the voting majority of the council.  That way if the facilitator doesn't work, 4 1/2 months could be an entire new list of representatives of the voting majority.  Why are they afraid of an independent becoming involved?  Is there something hidden that will come out?

Posted by: Ronald Huber | Jun 22, 2018 08:00

This is quite timely!  Councilor Hurley, despite his protestations to the contrary,  has become quite  the embarrassment.   I hope everyone who has been attacked by  Mr. Hurley attends  and brings their  collection of his  slurs and personal insults.

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