On Monday night, a meeting of the Peru Board of Selectmen sounded more like WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” than a municipal business meeting.
When the board attempted to discuss a proposed ordinance that would prohibit town employees from holding elected municipal office, a screaming match broke out.
In the end, two selectmen got up and left, and the chairman adjourned the meeting without finishing the agenda.
This isn’t the first time debate on this ordinance got heated, but it was certainly the most volatile.
Last month, Chairman Tim Holland presented his fellow selectmen with a proposed ordinance for the June referendum because, he said, he had heard concerns from residents about Kathy Hussey serving as a selectman and also as a paid employee of the town.
Folks were concerned, Holland explained, about Hussey’s potential conflict of interest in considering issues of importance to the town that may affect her personal situation.
Hussey doesn’t like the ordinance. She accused her peers of drafting it behind her back and has made it clear that she has never voted on an issue that presented a conflict of interest.
On Monday, when the issue came before the board again in anticipation of the June vote, residents started screaming at Holland in frustration.
He called for a recess and, when reconvening the meeting, said he would entertain one question at a time.
Instead, the shouting resumed.
Selectman Ed Ferland had already left the meeting, and Selectman Laurie Ann Milligan then got up and left.
Holland adjourned the meeting after resident John Witherell — who is running for selectman — told Holland, “Tim, this is really sleazy. I’m really pissed off, and you can go to hell.”
One is that these kinds of ordinances, rules or charters are fairly common. In Auburn last year, two teachers sought election to the City Council, but the city’s charter does not permit elected officials to work for city departments, including schools.
The charter was updated in 2005 to add this restriction specifically to avoid conflicts of interest, so the teachers had to choose between elected office and their employment. They both chose employment.
The second is that a meeting of the Board of Selectmen is a business meeting of that board. It is not an opportunity for the public to interact with elected officials, under the law, only for the public to observe the business being conducted.
Holland can — and perhaps should — quiet all discussion at the board’s business meetings. That’s not the way it has been done in Peru, which favors a more informal approach to town business, but if meetings cannot be held without public interference, the board may be compelled to quash public discussion to get its work done.
The ordinance at the center of the fight is a bit convoluted, taking 83 words to say this: Someone who works for the town can run for election to the Board of Selectmen or finance committee but, if elected, they have to resign from their town job.
Seems pretty simple.
Voters have the power to decide the fate of this ordinance at the polls next month. And there’s no need for anyone to go all the way to hell.
Sun Journal, Lewiston (May 26)