By Matt Junker
NEW GLOUCESTER — The New Gloucester public works garage saga took a turn for the vulgar at Monday night’s Selectboard meeting, when several audience members used colorful language not usually on display at public meetings.
One audience member told another to “shut your [expletive] mouth,” while a third resident said certain accusations amounted to “bull[expletive].”
Tensions escalated to the point that Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office was called. An official from the Sherriff’s Office said that someone at the meeting apparently texted their husband to say things had become heated, and the husband then called the sheriffs.
Though a deputy came and stood in the meeting for a few minutes, things had already calmed down and the deputy left.
Both of the residents who used the less-than-cordial language apologized.
Accusations of a possible conflict of interest and misuse of town resources relating to the “vote yes” signs purchased before last week’s special town meeting made for a tense Oct. 23 selectboard meeting – and those tensions bubbled over in the audience.
Pat O’Brien introduced a petition to reconsider the results of the special town meeting, where voters approved the public works garage proposal 168-138. The push to reconsider stems in part from allegations that came up at the town meeting that Ganneston Construction, the company slated to build the new garage, paid for signs encouraging people to vote yes, and that town public works staff later put some of those sign up.
Later, while another resident was at the microphone asking about the sign issue, O’Brien made a comment from his seat.
Dennis McCann, who was sitting behind O’Brien, told him, “You had your time to speak, sir.”
O’Brien then told McCann to “shut your [expletive] mouth.”
O’Brien said Wednesday that he felt McCann was threatening in both his language and demeanor and that McCann had made a number of comments to him on Monday night.
“I will defend myself,” O’Brien said. “This man was threatening to me.”
His comment to McCann elicited an immediate and fiery reaction from others in attendance, including calls to have O’Brien kicked out of the meeting.
McCann stood up, and at least one other audience member moved closer to O’Brien after his remarks and stood behind him. O’Brien said that “it didn’t feel safe to me in there.”
“Get out of here! Get him out of here,” shouted Beverly Cadigan, who served on the garage design committee and was one of the leaders of the first petition effort.
“That language is not allowed in this room,” said a clearly upset Libby, who served as a Selectboard liaison on the design committee.
Cadigan continued to push for O’Brien’s removal.
Earlier, during O’Brien’s time at the microphone, he wondered whether there were “favors” or “kick-backs” such as concert tickets, vacation packages, golf outings, or meals from Ganneston as part of the garage process.
Libby strongly denied that any such things occurred, and later said that misinformation circulated on social media “seems to have spread inappropriately like wildfire.”
“There was no concert tickets or any of that jazz that was listed off,” he said.
In her brief back-and-forth with O’Brien, Cadigan seemed agitated by his questions and suggestions about the committee.
“Who are you to talk to me that way?” O’Brien asked Cadigan as she was yelling for him to get out.
“I’m a citizen in this town, too, and I’m a committee member, and you just accused me of taking money that I didn’t,” Cadigan said.
“Potentially, you have,” O’Brien told her.
“Bull[expletive],” Cadigan responded forcefully.
Chase said she did not want any more of that type of language, and both Cadigan and O’Brien apologized. No one was kicked out.
O’Brien said after leaving the meeting later in the night that his language was “inappropriate.”
“I apologize for that,” he said, also saying that Cadigan’s language was “equally inappropriate.”
“Emotions are running high,” continued O’Brien.
McCann said he thought that O’Brien’s language was “a little hostile” but didn’t seem particularly bothered by it after the meeting. McCann also stood up at one point during the special town meeting last week when another resident mentioned him by name.
Kathleen Potter, one of the self-described “old ladies” (including Cadigan) who led the initial citizen’s petition to hold the special town meeting, said McCann helped collect some of the signatures for that effort.
Potter also said that this issue has “frayed the nerves of the community” like she had never seen before in the 15 years she’s lived in town.
During Monday night’s discussion, Libby said he was “disgusted” by the level of “hate and discontent” surrounding the garage issue.
“We’ve had emotional issues in the past, but people haven’t reacted this way,” Libby said after Monday’s meeting.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.