GRAY — After months of friction with other members of the Gray Town Council, Councilor Jason Wilson was ready to resign.
But when his 16-year-old daughter Lillian took to the microphone to defend him at a meeting a few weeks ago, “blindsiding” him, it left the outspoken town councilor at a loss for words and ultimately convinced him to keep his council seat.
“My father is not a chauvinist,” Lillian Wilson told the council during the public comment period at the June 20 meeting, noting that he did not ask her to make the comments. “I can attest to this because I’ve been in countless situations where I’ve experienced him interact with and support a number of groups.”
Jason Wilson was elected in June 2016 and has been at the center of several contentious exchanges between council members over the past few months.
At a May 2 meeting, Council Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher said she felt Wilson treated her differently than the previous two council chairs. The two previous chairs were men, although Gallagher never said specifically in her remarks that she thought Wilson treated her differently because she’s a woman.
“I find it sad that my prior two predecessors were able to conduct themselves in a similar matter and do their job, and you extended professional courtesy to them,” Gallagher told Wilson at that May meeting. “I don’t know why you feel the need to discriminate and treat me differently, that is your choice, but I would ask that you extend professional courtesy and allow me to do my job.”
Gallagher’s comments at that meeting came after Wilson questioned the process behind a contract zoning request.
At a council meeting April 4, Wilson told Gallagher to “keep trying” after she said she was “trying to have a serious professional conversation.” Wilson eventually told then-Councilor Richard Barter to “bring it” after Barter objected to Wilson’s remarks.
The April 4 disagreement came after Wilson expressed concerns about a March 23 meeting in the town manager’s office to plan for an upcoming legislative hearing on proposed secession efforts. Wilson argued that the meeting wasn’t properly noticed, and Town Attorney Bill Dale conceded that, in hindsight, information about the meeting probably should have been posted publicly ahead of time.
In both the April 4 and May 2 exchanges, Wilson’s tone was confrontational and drew the ire of other council members. Former Councilor Peter Gellerson, who retired from the council in June, called Wilson’s approach “BS” during the May 2 meeting.
In her speech, Wilson’s daughter, a sophomore in high school, acknowledged that her father does not hesitate to express his opinion.
“Though he may choose to voice his opinions rather forwardly … everyone, kind of can, I guess, see that,” Lillian Wilson said about her father. “However, he is not blind to the opinions of others, and does not judge others based on things as trivial as race, gender, sexuality, religion, or any other stereotypical factor.”
“I hope that in stating this I can eradicate any speculation on this matter,” she continued. “Though it may not bother my father to be given such a label, to myself, my family members, our friends, his reputation matters – because he represents our family and our beliefs. It’s bothersome that something so horrendous could be associated with someone we hold in such high regard, especially when we know this fact to be so untrue.”
Wilson said that he was “blindsided” by his daughter’s words before the council.
Gallagher commended the teen for speaking her mind, saying at the meeting, “That was tough. Lily – Ms. Wilson – did a really good job. Hard to follow that.”
Following his daughter’s remarks, Wilson appeared emotional and unable to speak about the next item, solar panels, on the council’s agenda.
Gallagher told Wilson he could take a minute, and he went outside council chambers, where, he says, he spoke with his daughter. She asked him then not to resign.
Wilson said he had planned to resign in part because he did not feel his concerns about process were being heard or addressed.
“A big part of my consideration for resigning was based on the municipal culture that did not respect or protect the minority position I presented,” Wilson explained via email regarding his concerns about the lack of public notice for the March 23 meeting ahead of a secession hearing in Augusta.
The June 20 council meeting was the first with three new members. That night’s agenda included a discussion about council decorum and rules, and in a manner fitting the topic, the back-and-forth was cordial.
Both Wilson and Gallagher seem encouraged with the direction things are heading.
“I have to admit, I am encouraged … and kind of awed. If you watch (the June 20 meeting), all of a sudden there’s a turnaround,” Wilson said in a phone interview. “If they are willing – if they understand our governing documents, that’s decorum by default.”
Gallagher, in an interview, declined to speak about Wilson’s decision not to resign or Lillian Wilson’s remarks before the council. She was, however, positive about the council moving forward.
“I felt the first meeting of the year went well and the team (council) worked well together and we had several great discussions,” Gallagher said. “Personally, I am excited about the new council and the energy the new councilors bring.”
“I expected over the next year you will see some great new ideas and processes from the Gray Town Council as we work collaboratively together for the good of the residents and the town as a whole,” she said.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Lillian Wilson spoke before the Gray Town Council on June 20, defending the reputation of Councilor Jason Wilson, her father.