The vice chairman of the Hermon Town Council publicly confronted a resident during last week’s council meeting, making what multiple observers said was a threat to knock the man’s teeth out after the man previously accused the councilor of lying to the public.
The interaction, which was partly caught on video of the April 11 meeting, came as councilors were leaving their regular chambers for a closed-door session to discuss the future of the town’s cash-strapped volunteer ambulance service.
Council Vice Chairman Doug Sinclair Sr. directed his apparent anger at Tony Reynolds, a former town councilor who is among the Hermon residents who have become frustrated that councilors still haven’t approved a long-term funding plan to support the ambulance service.
On March 30, Reynolds co-signed a letter to the Town Council that accused an unidentified councilor of lying during last year’s budget negotiations. According to Reynolds, the councilor said that he and two other councilors had met with representatives of the ambulance service when they had not.
That “flat-out lie” helped delay any serious consideration of a resolution to the service’s problems, the letter said, to the point that they’re still not resolved. In an interview, Reynolds identified the councilor as Sinclair.
Last week, as councilors were leaving their chambers to discuss the ambulance service, Sinclair was the last of the group to stand up from his chair, according to official video from the meeting that’s available on the town website.
As Sinclair walked out, he appeared to turn to Reynolds, who was sitting in the audience and facing away from the camera. Sinclair then left the video frame, but the audio recording captured a conversation between two men that happened at the same moment.
“Are you going to call people liars?” one man asked.
“You are a liar,” the second man said.
The first man responded: “Call me a liar, you might be buying some new teeth.”
It’s not clear from the video who made the statements. But in an interview, Reynolds identified the first man as Sinclair and the second as himself. Two members of the council, Steven Thomas and Jeanne Jacques, both confirmed his account.
The video then shows that Sinclair walked close to Reynolds and spoke with him some more before leaving the room, but the rest of the audio recording was less clear. The whole interaction lasted less than 30 seconds and ended when councilors left for their closed-door executive session.
Reynolds said that he did not take Sinclair’s statement about his teeth seriously — and even laughed about the fact that he had been to the dentist earlier that day.
But he, Thomas and Jacques all said that the comment was inappropriate and signaled a new low in what should be an open, substantive conversation about how to help the Hermon Volunteer Rescue & First Aid Squad.
“I was just shocked,” said Reynolds, who is also the outgoing chairman of the Hermon School Committee and plans to run for council again this spring. “That’s not what you do when you’re the vice chair of the Town Council. That’s what’s so disappointing.”
Near the end of the meeting, another Hermon resident, Don Pelletier, stood up to address the Town Council during a public comment session and said, “I was just wondering what the council rules are for councilors who threaten their taxpayers.”
Council Chairman Timothy McCluskey thanked Pelletier, who also co-signed Reynolds’ March 30 letter to the council. But no councilors responded to him during the meeting.
Sinclair did not respond to messages seeking comment.
At issue is the fate of the Hermon rescue squad, which is an independent, nonprofit entity that has not received steady funding from the town since 2010.
The licensed ambulance service has multiple vehicles and providers trained to the paramedic level. It makes about 900 calls a year and has 30 members, according to its website. It provides emergency care and transport in Hermon, Etna and Stetson, along with transfers and mutual aid to other communities in the Bangor region.
But the organization has struggled to pay its expenses with the revenue that it collects from ambulance passengers, donations and other services, and had $300,000 in debt as of last year, according to previously published reports.
Town documents show that its total expenses in 2017 were $245,712, including $133,208 paid in stipends to members of the service. But its revenues that year were just $234,072, leaving an annual shortfall of $11,640 on top of earlier debts.
Given those problems, a group of citizens has been calling for the Town Council to come up with a long-term funding plan to ensure 24-hour emergency care remains based in the town.
Three other Hermon officials did not respond to requests for comment about the ambulance service or the April 11 meeting: Town Manager Howard Kroll, Council Chairman McCluskey or Councilor Steve Watson, who helps run the ambulance service.
Both Thomas and Jacques said they are part of a minority of councilors who want the town to develop a long-range funding plan for the service immediately, but that in the past year, the town has only agreed to raise about $50,000 in stopgap funds.
Thomas said the service needs about $200,000 from the town annually to stay afloat.
They also both expressed frustration that some members of the council have insisted on discussing the ambulance service during closed-door executive sessions, such as the one that happened last week.
Officials must cite a legal reason to enter executive session, but the practice has left the public in the dark and frustrated citizens who are trying to follow the process, they said.
“It’s clearly politics at play here,” Thomas said. “It’s a shame. This is something that has to be done.”
Now, a group of residents will try to force action on the ambulance service by circulating a citizen referendum, Thomas said. He also expects that residents will raise the matter at the next council meeting April 25.