Exchange gets heated at Gray council meeting

Gray Town Attorney Bill Dale, left, listens to Councilor Jason Wilson express frustration about a March 23 meeting that Wilson says lacked transparency. 

GRAY — This week’s Town Council meeting may have started out with state Rep. Sue Austin, R-Gray, calling for increased civility in council proceedings, but things turned anything but civil for part of the evening, most notably when one councilor told another to “bring it.”

Councilor Jason Wilson had those choice words, and several others, during a heated exchange with his fellow councilors about an earlier meeting that took place on Thursday, March 23. That meeting came just days before a legislative hearing in Augusta regarding two groups who want to secede from the town. 

The March 23 meeting – which included Council Chairwoman Lynn Gallagher, Vice Chairman Richard Barter, Councilor Peter Gellerson, Town Manager Deborah Cabana, Town Attorney Bill Dale, Fire Chief Kurt Elkanich and Gray resident and former Council Chairman Matthew Sturgis – was held at 9 a.m. in the Town Manager’s office to plan ahead for the March 27 legislative hearing on proposed secession. Following that hearing, the legislative panel voted not to recommend allowing the secession groups to move forward.

Wilson argued that because three councilors were present, it should have been considered a public meeting under Maine’s Right to Know Law and been publicized accordingly in the interest of transparency. He also appeared frustrated with other members of the council for, he said, not expressly inviting him to the meeting, though they say he knew it was taking place. 

Gallagher said Tuesday night that she did not organize the March 23 meeting, and that no formal invitations were sent out. 

That explanation didn’t appear to satisfy Wilson.  

“Councilor Wilson, I’m trying to have a serious professional conversation,” Gallagher said at one point. 

“Keep trying,” Wilson responded. 

“I object to that, Mr. Wilson,” Barter interjected. 

“Go ahead, knock yourself out, Richard. Bring it,” Wilson said to Barter. 

“Civility, which we had a lecture on tonight, starts right here, and you’re pushing the envelope. You have an agenda, we know you have an agenda,” Barter replied. “We need to stay within the business of the council and go forward with, I think, very important matters.”

While other members of the council, particularly Barter, did not appear pleased with Wilson’s approach on Tuesday night, Dale did concede that the March 23 meeting probably should have been avertised to the public. 

“In retrospect, to be safer than sorry, I guess we should have posted it,” Dale said Tuesday night. 

He also explained to the council more about how the March 23 meeting came about. According to Dale, Cabana asked him if the meeting needed to be publicized because three councilors may be coming. He gave his advice at the time that he did not think it did, because in his opinion, the meeting was equivalent to sitting down before a trial to figure out what everyone was going to say. 

While Wilson’s fellow councilors didn’t seem to care for his approach Tuesday night, he did get some appreciation from members of the Gray Secession Committee in attendance, whose efforts to secede are at the root of this overall discussion. 

“Jason Wilson earned some extra respect points from me tonight, because he was honest, and he went against the entire council. And they didn’t like it,” Gray Secession Committee chairwoman and spokesperson Jennifer White said outside of council chambers on Tuesday. She also spoke earlier that night during the meeting to express her belief and disappointment that the other members of the town council were “trying to hide something.” 

Wilson had irked secession group members during their March 21 public hearing before the town council with a PowerPoint presentation that he titled, “Everybody Loves Graymond!” in reference to the identity crisis that many members of the secession group say they feel. 

White said in an interview after the public discussion that her group would be contacting the State Attorney General’s Office this week to register a complaint about the March 23 meeting.

White’s Vice Chairman on the committee, David Getchell, vice chairman of Gray Secession Committee, said he doubted a complaint would ultimately change the calculus of the Legislature as they consider whether to let the two Gray secession groups move forward with the process. The chances of that happening are low after the Committee on State and Local Government voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the secession process not proceed. 

“Will it change the opinion of the state? No, it will never make it up that high,” said Getchell. 

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Gray Town Attorney Bill Dale, left, listens to Councilor Jason Wilson express frustration about a March 23 meeting that Wilson says lacked transparency.