Council discussion leads to name-calling

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WINDHAM — A discussion about procedure devolved Tuesday night when Council Parliamentarian Bob Muir called Councilor Jarrod Maxfield a “little pissant” and asked him, “Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”

The exchange followed an unrelated public comment period when resident Larry Eliason blasted the council for being dysfunctional and called it a “body of bullies.”

The half-hour long prodedural discussion was about the proper way to reconsider a previous vote. The motion in question, sponsored by Council Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Cummings, was to reconsider a Jan. 29 council vote on a moratorium on subdivisions in the farm zone. At that meeting, the vote tied 3-3, so the motion failed. 

The reconsideration was incorrectly placed on the agenda Tuesday night by interim town manager Don Gerrish. Council rules state that a reconsideration must be made by a motion to the chair. 

Gerrish apologized for the mistake. The council voted on whether the item should remain on the agenda and members were unanimously opposed, so it was removed. 

Cummings then made the necessary motion to reconsider. 

Some councilors were concerned that the motion should have been made at the last meeting on Feb. 5. Section 16 of the council rules of procedure states that reconsiderations may be made “at the same or the next regular stated meeting but not afterwards.” 

Muir said the Feb. 5 meeting was a workshop, not a regular voting meeting, so it was appropriate for the reconsideration to take place Tuesday.

Maxfield argued that the reconsideration should have occurred Feb. 5 because a workshop is a regular meeting where votes can be taken. The Jan. 29 meeting, during which the council voted on the moratorium, was a workshop. 

He read from Section 1 of the council rules, which stipulate that council meetings must take place “on the first through fourth Tuesdays of each calendar month.” 

Gerrish had asked Stephen Langsdorf of Preti Flaherty, which represents the town, for his opinion on the matter. In an email, Langsdorf wrote, “The Council’s rules of procedure do not give a clear answer to the question… The specific issue which the Council will have to decide is how to interpret its own rules – there is no right or wrong answer to this question.”

“I’m making the point that we’re going by tradition not by our actual rules,” Maxfield said. “We’re making up the rules as we go along.”

He appealed to Muir, who said “We’re not making up any rules. This is the way we have done it.”

Maxfield responded, “I can’t get much out here with you tonight, and you’ve already made it clear, to quote you, you really don’t care,” referencing something Muir had said earlier in the evening.

To that, Muir said, “Don’t throw words back at me, you little pissant! Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”

Council Chairman Clayton Haskell then used his gavel.

“It’s the way the council has been doing it for years,” Muir said, and Maxfield responded, “And we’ve been doing it wrong.”

Maxfield appealed to Muir for a ruling, who said “Going by what I have been through since I have been on the council, the way I learned it, the only time to reconsider is when we’re at a meeting where you’re taking votes on an action item. If somebody comes in and says you guys have been doing this wrong for a long long time, then that’s fine.”

Councilor Donna Chapman agreed with Maxfield and added, “Somehow, some way we need to start fixing the issues that we have in this town without blaming one another.”

The council held a vote on whether the reconsideration could be taken up that night or whether it should have been considered two weeks ago. 

Muir and Cummings voted for considering it, while the other five councilors voted against it. The reconsideration was thus removed from the agenda and not considered further. 

During public comment, Eliason lambasted the council for its dysfunctional culture. 

“There seems to be a separate rule book for our Windham town councilors. It appears to be a make-up-your-own rules-as-you-go-along and move-the-goal post approach,” Eliason said. “Welcome to Windham and the town council body of bullies.”

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at [email protected] 

Councilor Jarrod Maxfield, right, clashed with Council Parliamentarian Bob Muir Tuesday night.