Mayor barred from representing council after op-ed alleges discrimination

Councilors reject accusation of 'sexism, ageism and bigotry'
By Ethan Andrews | Nov 28, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Mayor Samantha Paradis glances at City Councilor Mike Hurley, second from right, during a meeting Tuesday night about an opinion column by Paradis that appeared in The Republican Journal.

Belfast — Citing a lack of trust and abuse of power, the City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to bar Mayor Samantha Paradis from publicly representing the council. In a second split vote, councilors withdrew from Maine Mayors' Coalition, in which Paradis represented the city.

The unprecedented actions came at a special council meeting called on a day's notice in response to an opinion column, in which Paradis rebuked local attorney Lee Woodward for jokes he directed at the City Council on Nov. 16 during his Citizen of the Year acceptance speech at the Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce's annual awards dinner.

Woodward's jokes referred to bathroom breaks and a facilitated meeting — points on which the mayor and City Council have locked horns over the past year. Paradis called the remarks "hurtful." She went on to say that, in her year of work with the council, she has "encountered sexism, ageism and bigotry."

It was those three words, Councilor Eric Sanders said on Tuesday, that prompted him to call the special meeting. After describing, in an uncharacteristically wavering voice, how his daughter read the column and asked if the terms referred to him, Sanders read from a written statement calling the column, "offensive, laced with inappropriate innuendo, inaccurate, misleading and self-serving."

He questioned Paradis' decision to make broad accusations about the council in the newspaper rather than trying to resolve specific problems with the council itself.

"In our society, we're turning to labels instead of communication," he said. "And I find those types of words to be labels that I don't mess around with."

Councilors took turns sharing their concerns about Paradis' column and what many saw as a trend of self-centered behavior at the expense of others. Councilor Mike Hurley prefaced his comments by saying that he had worked to help elect Paradis and didn't regret it.

"None of it surprised me later to find out she was young or gay or a woman," he said, adding that it was a "cheap shot" to then be accused of bigotry.

Hurley and several other councilors revived an earlier complaint about the way Paradis runs council meetings, saying that the mayor treats them as her own forum, often speaking at length before thinking to call on council members.

Councilor Mary Mortier said she was concerned the the frequency of the word "I" in Paradis' public remarks — "There is no 'I' in the word 'we,'" she said.

Among the pointed remarks, councilors lamented that they haven't been able to find common ground with the mayor.

Councilor Neal Harkness acknowledged that, as a 63-year-old man, he might have some blind spots about gender, age and sexual orientation. But he said Paradis' column had prompted members of the public to indiscriminately call him and other councilors sexists, ageists and bigots.

"That trial by insinuation and innuendo cannot take place," he said.

Paradis would later compare the special council meeting to a trial.

Mortier said she has tried to give Paradis the benefit of the doubt, based on the differences in their respective life experiences, and has been repeatedly accused, in vague terms, of getting it wrong.

"Pointing that finger, verbally," she said, "and those three words, which are very important words in this society."

Mortier defended Woodward, whom she called "the top roastmaster in Waldo County," and noted that he had named many people during his joke-filled speech but never mentioned Paradis by name or referred to her position. Instead, she said, he made a reference to "the elephant in the room" of city government, which is why the audience thought it was funny.

"That's what bothers me here," she said. "A lack of humor, lack of flexibility."

Harkness put an encouraging spin on the same idea.

"I think you have a great future, and someday Stephen Colbert might be making fun of you," he said. "So you might want to consider that."

Newly elected Councilor Paul Dean mostly remained outside the conversation, citing his new standing, which, along with some dry comments, drew the tension out of the room long enough for attendees to let out a few chuffs of nervous laughter.

When Paradis spoke, she expressed frustration that the motion was apparently drawn up before the meeting, without her knowledge, and said it was likely to have a negative effect on city business. She defended her column as an expression of her own experience and warned that a vote on Sanders' motion would be seen as politically motivated, "as a consequence for me speaking my First Amendment rights." She encouraged councilors not to vote on the motion.

They did, unanimously approving what Hurley said he hoped would be a short-lived show of no confidence.

Sanders followed the vote with a second motion, which called for the city to withdraw from the Mayors' Coalition. Paradis appeared stunned and appealed to the council to postpone the vote until the next meeting so she could give a prepared account of the benefits of being in the organization, including potential tax relief, which was has been a top concern from constituents.

She argued, with near success, that the topic went beyond the agenda for the special meeting — after some talk of the cost of membership, Councilor Neal Harkness said it had become muddled and Sanders to offer to withdraw his motion.

However, Mortier refused to withdraw her second and it went to a vote, passing 3-2, with Harkness opposed and Dean joining him after initially abstaining.

Paradis immediately issued an open appeal, asking anyone concerned about the city leaving the coalition to share their concerns the next regular council meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 4.

While the decision to leave the coalition was straightforward, the meaning of the council's first vote, to bar the mayor from speaking on the council's behalf, was unclear as the meeting adjourned Tuesday night.

Councilors said it was not technically a "vote of no confidence." Rather, they framed it as a last-ditch effort to rein in a runaway mayor. Paradis and a contingent of her supporters in the audience saw it as unwarranted punishment. Each side accused the other of escalating tensions at the expense of city business.

Many of the 35 people in the audience were supporters of Paradis. The meeting did not include the usual public comment period, prompting some attendees to deliver comments from their seats. After the first vote, Joanne Moesswilde, a recent City Council candidate, stood and said, "I stand with the mayor." A dozen others stood briefly in solidarity.

After the meeting, audience member Ethan Hughes, who recently moved to Belfast, said he came to the meeting to support open dialog and dissent. Instead, he witnessed what he saw as a double standard from councilors.

"I just saw the council basically attack someone who shared their personal experience, as I've seen other council members do in their letters to the editor," he said.

Kit Thomson Crossman, an acquaintance of Paradis', called the council's actions "outrageous" and said the members acted like children whose toys had been taken away.

"They ambushed her with this," Thomson Crossman said, adding that councilors misunderstood Paradis' account of experiencing sexism, ageism and bigotry.

"It's a different thing to say I have experienced these things than it is to say somebody is those things," Thomson Crossman said, suggesting that the slights may have been unintentional. "In this particular climate, you can't say that a female mayor is not experiencing sexism."

Hurley, who was standing nearby, made a pointed comment to Thomson Crossman, then said he was disappointed with Paradis.

"Rather than inviting people to show up to protest, it would be a lot better to deal with the issue," he said.

Paradis confirmed to The Republican Journal that her account of experiencing sexism, ageism and bigotry was partly directed at the the council, but said she has experienced other instances outside City Hall in her capacity as mayor. She did not say what those were.

The mayor expressed hope for a quick return to regular city business.

"I feel like it was a politically charged motion meant to symbolize their objection to my sharing of my experience," she said.

City Councilor Eric Sanders reads from a prepared statement Nov. 27 during a special council meeting he requested in response to an opinion column by Mayor Samantha Paradis. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
City Councilor Mary Mortier listens to discussion Nov. 27 at a special meeting called in response an opinion column by Mayor Samantha Paradis. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Audience members stand in support of Mayor Samantha Paradis Nov. 27 after the City Council voted to bar her from publicly representing the council. (Photo by: Ethan Andrews)
Comments (4)
Posted by: Alexander Forbes Emerson | Nov 29, 2018 10:11

I voted for her, and have made lots of other mistakes in 71 years.  I apologize.



Posted by: Steven Hutchings | Nov 28, 2018 11:16

in the world of adults when an individual is hired or elected there is an assumption that they know what they are doing and if not then they learn from more experience members by sitting back and listening, learning, and asking questions. The system or job doesn't stop or change gears waiting for you to catch up.  On the other hand how many of us have experienced a "newbie" coming into a situation and they assume they know what they are talking about and feel the need to magnify their ignorance by telling anyone that will listen how valuable their limited and minimal experience is.

In this case the major assumption is that the position of mayor although in some cases ceremonial, still requires the ability  to listen and develop meaningful relationships with all types of citizens.

Samantha uses the office as a personal pulpit to talk about her feelings, her lifestyle, her pain, the people that have insulted her psyche, etc  Not exactly what I want in any civil leadership position. My mistake was voting for a kid in adult clothing.



Posted by: MARY JEAN CROWE | Nov 28, 2018 10:35

The sudden actions of the council last night are shameful and punitive.  Samantha Paradis is unlike any previous mayor. She represents a new generation, a new energy that we should embrace, if not celebrate. Everyone in this politically 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. There are many citizens who voted for Samantha and sharply disagree with the council, who continues to sew diviseness, whether at open meetings or behind closed doors. This deliberate discord can only have far-reaching negative effects on the city.  The actions of the council have indeed spawned a sad day in Belfast.

 



Posted by: Martha H. Ortmann | Nov 28, 2018 09:40

First amendment rights are to be protected. One is not protected from the consequences or outcomes of using that right.



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