Rockland councilor, former mayor spar over closed-door sessions

William Clayton
William Clayton
Posted Sept. 04, 2014, at 6:52 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 04, 2014, at 7:47 p.m.
Elizabeth E. Dickerson
George Chappell
Elizabeth E. Dickerson

ROCKLAND, Maine — A former mayor who is seeking to return to the City Council criticized a city councilor, saying she has violated the requirement that discussions held in closed-door sessions remain confidential.

William Clayton attended Wednesday night’s council meeting and said that the action by one of its members was potentially harmful to the community. While he did not name Elizabeth Dickerson during his statements at the meeting, he acknowledged afterward that he was referring to her posts on Facebook about council discussions made in executive sessions.

He referred specifically to comments she made on the social media website after she left a closed-door session on Aug. 26, during which the council discussed whether to hire a private firm to help search for a new city manager.

The councilors came out of that executive session and then in public session voted 3-1 to hire Dacri & Associates of Kennebunkport for $17,000. Dickerson left the meeting before the vote.

She posted on Facebook that evening about the meeting.

“Tonight I walked out of Rockland City Council because I couldn’t support spending upwards of 17 grand on a manager search. If I had stayed, I didn’t have the votes and my continued presence would have been a tacit approval. Rockland take back your city!” Dickerson stated in her post.

As citizens voiced support for her stand on her Facebook page, Dickerson went on to detail and criticize the positions taken by other councilors during the executive session.

In response to Clayton’s criticism of her, Dickerson said Thursday that when there is important information to be given to the residents of Rockland, she will do it. She said she went public about the search expenditure because she felt that the other councilors had made up their mind before the meeting. She dismissed Clayton’s position that she was damaging the city by speaking out about what was discussed in closed-door sessions.

“Executive session is not the same as the witness protection program,” Dickerson said.

In October 2013, Dickerson went public with her concerns about what she said were city councilors’ improper discussions about moving City Hall during an executive session the previous month.

Mayor Larry Pritchett said Wednesday night that he will not comment about Dickerson’s claims of what was said during an executive session. He said, however, that there is a procedure established by city ordinance pertaining to what councilors should do if they want to reveal information from an executive session. He said she could have simply made a motion at a meeting to reveal the information and the council would make a decision in public.

“What is said in executive session should stay in executive session,” Pritchett said.

Clayton has taken out nomination papers to return to the council. Dickerson is not seeking re-election to the council, and her term expires in November. She is seeking re-election to the Maine House as a Democrat. Clayton is listed on the Knox County Republican website as the contact person for the Rockland Republican Committee, but Clayton said he has not been a member of the Rockland Republican Committee for more than four years.

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