Government Spotlight

Colby unfazed, board moves on to other business with good news at the end

|Debra Smith|

The New Gloucester Board of Selectmen started their December 28th meeting with a motion, by Linda Chase, to censure George Colby’s comments after the Pledge of Allegiance on December 3rd. Colby wanted to know what this statement means. Chair Karen Gilles explained that the other board members are disagreeing with his statement and it will be part of the official record. “Okay,” responded Colby, but no reflection or statement of apology was forthcoming.  Colby read a definition of racism, and directed a question to town manager Brenda Fox Howard; “I would like to know exactly why that comment was considered racist.” Fox Howard explained that it was offensive to many and could be construed as bias. The town’s attorney had advised removal of the offensive language from the meeting video “to mitigate the upset and angst of citizens.” Four board members voted to support their statement with Colby abstaining.

During public comments by several residents, Pamela Slye condemned the board’s action, saying it violated Colby’s First Amendment rights. Phil Vampatella wanted to know if the board’s intent was to “censor” or “censure” Colby. Diana Dow wondered that too. Board members appeared confused. Penny Hilton explained that “censure” is to express extreme disapproval of a statement, while a “censor” is a person who enacts censorship, to black something out, “which could pertain to the editing of the video.” Near the end of public comments, board vice-chair Chase confirmed that she meant “censure.”

Several speakers condemned Colby’s statement. Tom Jordan spoke directly to Colby stating that his comments reflected “a worldview that is deeply troubling,” …if there is no sincere, thoughtful apology, I will vigorously support the recall.” 

See Emily Bader’s article for more details.

With no resolution or closure, the board moved on to other business.

Hiring process for fire & rescue and the library
Fox Howard reported on the hiring process for the fire & rescue chief and the library staff. She hopes to have all three on board in February. Tammy Donovan will be on the interview panel for the chief job, along with two people from within the department and a chief from another town. There are many candidates for the library positions and she hopes to open the library by February.

Mutual aid compact
The town manager also described a new Southern Maine Mutual Aid Compact organized by Greater Portland Council of Governments to create a support network for smaller communities. Ted Shane, the public works director, sees it as a ‘win-win” opportunity, like the mutual aid agreements that we have with other towns for fire and rescue and plowing. Fox Howard had sent out detailed information to board members. There were questions about how to budget for this. Shane noted that “it’s a learning curve: it could cost nothing, it could mean that we have to put in $5,000.” Others wondered about how to deal with varying pay rates, and what New Gloucester has to offer other towns. Fox Howard explained that if we’re going to work with another town, we’d be in touch with them. We do this already with fire and rescue. The board approved 4 to 1 with Colby opposed.

Fire & rescue chief job description
Bragdon objected to the fire and rescue chief job description, which the board had planned to workshop. His concerns were about the qualifications needed (that a paramedic license should be required), and a residency requirement. Colby remarked that when the town voted for a full-time department, that included a paramedic director. Bragdon said he’d been looking at time sheets and “two shifts in the past two weeks were not covered by a paramedic.” Acting chief Craig Bouchard responded that that was “wholly inaccurate.” He confirmed before the end of the meeting that there are ten paramedics in the department, including on-call and per diem. Three are officers. He explained that there is always a paramedic available, though sometimes through mutual aid.  Back to the chief position, Chase said that she believes that the chief needs to be able to surround themselves with people with the right expertise. After some back and forth, the board voted to suspend the workshop plan and accept the job description as written, with Bragdon opposed.

The paving plan was next. The proposal included paving a number of dirt roads. After discussion about whether and how to forward the plan to the CIP committee, and what processes are involved in changing a dirt road to paved, the board voted unanimously not to send the plan to the CIP but to send it back to staff to reconfigure the priorities, keeping dirt roads at the bottom of the paving list.

Budget schedule, auditing and personnel policy The budget schedule had been modified to include dates for joint meetings between the select board and budget committee, and a new RFP for auditing services for the next three years were also approved. A review of the personnel policy was postponed at the town manager’s request.

Zoom meeting access
Chase spoke about how using Zoom has changed over time, and other towns are providing easier Zoom meeting access. Nichole Stevens said that the school board includes the meeting links in their agenda, which is what the board decided to do, with Colby opposed.

Ending on a high note
Saving the best for last, the town manager announced that town office staff members Sharlene Myers and Kim Getchell had received awards for their recent achievement of becoming certified municipal clerks.  See the separate piece about this.

The meeting video may be accessed here.

Note: This has been edited to clarify the motion made by Chase, and Bragdon’s comments on paramedic coverage. For more detail, see the video.