Mayor hints at own problems with City Council, cites 'hostility,' feeling 'unsafe'

Council picks July 5 for meeting about civility, interactions with public
By Ethan Andrews | Jun 28, 2018
Source: File photo Belfast Mayor Samantha Paradis pictured at her first City Council meeting in November 2017.

Belfast — Divisions between the City Council and residents took a back seat Tuesday night to a rift between the mayor and councilors, as Mayor Samantha Paradis continued to defend her unpopular request for a special meeting about how councilors interact with members of the public.

The mayor's request followed tense exchanges June 6 between councilors and opponents of a proposed salmon farm. Paradis worried that residents would shy away from future council meetings for fear of being publicly dressed down by their elected officials.

Councilors balked at the call for a special meeting. But on Tuesday, Paradis held firm that it was necessary. Further, she all but insisted that it be facilitated by someone outside city government — an idea even less popular with the council than the meeting itself.

Previously, Paradis suggested Restorative Justice of the Midcoast. On Tuesday, she reported that she had contacted the group and was waiting for recommendations on possible facilitators.

Councilor Neal Harkness noted "for the record" that the majority of the council didn't want a facilitator. "But I'll bow to the mayor's wishes in the spirit of maintaining comity amongst the council and the mayor," he said.

Harkness said he "strongly objects" to using Restorative Justice, "with its connotation of wrongdoing." Additionally, he questioned Paradis' wish to have someone else run the meeting and asked what authority that person would have.

Paradis said an outside facilitator would allow her to participate in the meeting more freely.

"I have felt hostility, and at times, unsafe to really express some of the ways that I've been treated among councilors," she said. "So, a facilitator, for me, is not so I can not run the meeting. It's so I can feel safe to share how I feel."

Councilor Mary Mortier questioned whether the city's elected officials, who have "worked as a cohesive group for a number of years now," would be able to speak freely with an outside party leading the meeting.

The Ward 1 councilor added that, in her experience, a certain amount of friction comes with the territory.

"We are so much more transparent and open than previous councils," Mortier said. "I just run through my mind some of the things that have gone on in previous councils and worlds. Your mind would be boggled."

Paradis said she sees more ways the council could be more transparent.

"What's happened in the past, happened in the past," she said. "Just because it's always been that way doesn't mean it has to be that way."

Councilor Mike Hurley said he was "really shocked" to hear Paradis say she had experienced hostility as mayor and hasn't felt safe. He called it "sad and scary" and attributed it to a difference in perception.

"I've seen a lot go down in this town," Hurley, who served as mayor from 2000 to 2008, said. "Many issues. Very spirited. People have very strong beliefs about things. Have I always felt safe? Not always. Have I felt hostility? Quite often. I think that often comes with the job."

Hurley related an email from a friend who works in human resources warning that the phrase "I feel uncomfortable" often foreshadows legal action. He later requested that City Attorney Bill Kelly be present at the special meeting.

"I don't know where this is going," Hurley said, "but it's getting into uncharted territory for me."

Paradis pressed ahead, prompting Councilor John Arrison to ask if a majority of the council had agreed to use a facilitator. Paradis said it was the council's decision, but she repeated that she would feel more comfortable with a neutral party leading the discussion. Hurley said he supported it. Harkness said he opposed it but would make a concession.

Arrison looked for the third vote, and Councilor Eric Sanders, who had remained out of the conversation, gave it.

Sanders recalled butting heads with former Mayor Walter Ash in the past with no lasting harm done, but he noted that they had more history together. The work session might be an opportunity for Paradis, who was elected last November, to get to know the city councilors better, he said.

"The mayor might not like what she finds out about us," he said. "But let's give her a chance to talk."

The council scheduled the special meeting for Thursday, July 5, at 6 p.m., Belfast City Hall.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jun 29, 2018 12:56

REALLY!!!   It may have been "frank and open discussion" back then, Mr Corden, but African Americans were slaves and women were not allowed to vote back then too.   Conducting City business is much much different today.  When a person expresses feeling hostility, even more when two people do, then it becomes a management issue.



Posted by: Michael Corden | Jun 29, 2018 10:31

“Who manages this culture and how has it been allowed for so long?”  Really?  As far as I know it's called “frank and open discussion” and it’s been an essential part of New England town hall culture since the Pilgrims landed.



Posted by: from the kitchen | Jun 29, 2018 05:35

Roberts Rules have long been the fairest and most productive way to run a meeting. Use them and enforce them.



Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Jun 28, 2018 19:00

"I have felt hostility, and at times, unsafe to really express some of the ways that I've been treated among councilors," she said. "So, a facilitator, for me, is not so I can not run the meeting. It's so I can feel safe to share how I feel."

Sounds like Bill Kelly should be attending ALL the meetings!   To publicly express feeling hostility and unsafe has put EVERYONE on notice.

"I've seen a lot go down in this town," Hurley, who served as mayor from 2000 to 2008, said. "Many issues. Very spirited. People have very strong beliefs about things. Have I always felt safe? Not always. Have I felt hostility? Quite often. I think that often comes with the job."

Mr Hurley confirms this is a pattern which even he admits is and has been hostile.  Who manages this culture and how has it been allowed for so long?



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