The biggest news out of April was that we hit our 100th city council meeting review! This project has crisscrossed the United States, with stops in Canada and Australia along the way. Who knows where the future will take us? Europe? Antarctica? The moon?!
Last month, we covered the full range of emotions: sad, angry, confusing…that’s it. But trust me, you’ll be as surprised as this lady to see what kind of council hijinks took place in April!
“Before we start, I just wanna announce: a public hearing on marijuana usage was scheduled for tonight. That won’t be tonight–it wasn’t in the paper, I guess,” a contrite Mayor Gary Aiken warned as councilors stared stone-faced (no pun intended) ahead.
And thus, the Caribou city council meeting started off innocently–and amusingly–enough. However, as citizens lined up to speak, the meeting slowly morphed into an increasingly depressing debtors court.
“We’ve had back taxes for quite some time since my dad took ill. He’s been a couple years passed away,” a man admitted earnestly off-camera. One councilor leaned back. Another crossed his arms.
“So are you prepared to pay the $11,960.76?” the mayor quizzed him.
“Today? No,” the man flatly replied.
Councilor Joan Theriault scrutinized his case file like a sympathetic magistrate judge. “In 2018, you would get a $20,000 homestead exemption,” she finally looked up to inform him. “Make sure you apply.”
“It’s been on my mind for quite some time now. But…I can only do what I can only do,” he inexplicably shrugged off her advice.
As he left the podium, another citizen in dire straits took his place. The mayor massaged his forehead as the desperate plea began.
“We have approximately $2,000 to give,” the man sniffed. “My family’s gonna help us to clear that bill up.”
His wife chimed in unprompted. “You know what my grandmother used to say? ‘Experience is good if you don’t pay too dearly for it.'”
The panel of councilors remained expressionless.
She continued, “You guys have been really, really good and leaned over backwards for him–”
“I’m glad you understand that because I don’t think he understands that,” Mayor Aiken sharply retorted.
Her husband shot back, “I understand that.”
The mayor ignored him. “As of right now, the property is gonna go up for sale–”
“PLEASE take that out of the equation,” interjected the man acidly.
“Take what out of the equation?” the mayor leaned forward, genuinely confused.
“What you just said,” he spat. “Don’t say that to me.”
His wife was horrified. “Knock it off. KNOCK. IT. OFF.”
As her husband protested, councilors sat motionless with their hands clamped in their laps. Picking a fight in front of the people who might sell your house is probably not in “The Art of the Deal.”
“So, it’s part of the equation,” the mayor repeated. Husband and wife did not reply. The council dictated the terms: the man would pay $500 in the next 21 days, plus another $350 by May 5.
There was an uncomfortable pause as councilors watched the feuding spouses shuffle out of the room.
A third man stepped forward to spin a long story about dutifully paying his taxes–sighing the whole time.
“Do you have your receipts?” Councilor Theriault peered over her glasses.
“No,” he breathed another baritone sigh. “I wasn’t very good at keeping receipts. My father’s name is the same, so things kinda get opened that shouldn’t. Uh, it’s hard to explain when you live with the same name.”
Councilor Philip McDonough was done with excuses. “Every time the situation comes up, it’s a different subject for each person! You bring in what you owe and we’ll turn your deed back to you.”
He slapped the table angrily. “Yes, it’s hard to sit here and say that. And it’s hard listening to them. But the rest of our citizens have an obligation and they all meet it.”
Sighing Man turned away disgustedly. “I’m sorry, but you’ve offended me, sir.” He stepped out the door, closing it behind him.
This is our second podcast interview which, as a reminder, is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and Player FM. You can also listen right here:
I talked to Bangor city councilor Joe Baldacci about city council dress codes, whether he preferred being mayor, and what it was like being 20 years younger than everyone else when first elected.
Q: You were elected to the Bangor city council in 1996. How were council meetings different in the 1990s than they are today? And feel free to quote Backstreet Boys lyrics in your answer.
A: [Laughs] They were not televised in the 1990s. They were more informal, I think you would say. Because they’re televised and recorded now, there’s always an assurance we’re making to make sure it’s fully transparent. That all things are discussed in public. Twenty years ago, I don’t think that same care was taken.
Q: What do you wear to city council meetings, and what do you think the dress code should be?
A: I think that on occasion, having buttoned-up short-sleeved shirts are fine. This is a part-time city council, we all have jobs outside of city council. Half the time I’m wearing a suit and tie, and half the time I’m maybe wearing a suit without tie or just a button-down shirt. It’s not overly formal.
Q: I always thought that in Maine, a short-sleeved buttoned-down shirt was the most formal you could be. Apparently, I was wrong. Okay, so you were mayor from 1998-1999. Which did you like better: being the mayor or a regular councilor?
A: Well, as a regular councilor you can be a little more, honestly, outspoken on issues. As the mayor, your focus really is trying to ensure consensus and stability.
Q: So it sounds like you’re just fine with being regular Joe Councilman? Literally, Joe Councilman.
A: The mayor doesn’t have any more votes than I do. It’s a ceremonial position more or less. It’s an honor. It’s all good. It’s just that as an individual councilor, you can push issues.
Q: Your brother was also a Bangor city councilor who went on to be a congressman and governor of Maine. Is there any rivalry between the two of you where he says, “YOU’RE just a councilman. I was governor!” And you go “Yeah, you WERE. At least I’m still on the city council!”
A: [Laughs] No, John’s been very supportive.
Q: What advice did he give you when you were elected?
A: He told me to listen to the people that had been there many, many years. I was 31 and kind of a newbie. I think after me, everyone was in their 50s, 60s, or 70s.
Q: Wait, that’s a 20-year age gap. Did you feel any burden to prove you were mature enough to be on the council with these much older people?
A: Yes. Yeah, definitely. Especially the first year.
Q: If you caught some lobster and had a boil party at your house, who would you invite over to share it with?
Crosthwaite turned to the bearded, baseball cap-clad man hiding in the rear. “Mr. Harbormaster?”
His Mastercy swaggered up to the podium. “There’s gonna be hot air balloon rides on Friday night and Saturday morning. The chowdah fest–noon to 2. And the beer and wine tasting tent, it’s gonna be behind the gazebo.” He returned to his seat, keeping a solid poker face while rattling off the objectively kickass event listing.
“Any comments from the citizens?” the chairman asked. Not a soul stepped forward, even though the room was oddly packed to the gills. “Good to see. I guess we get ’em all by Facebook now.”
The fire chief squeezed forth from the crowd to bestow an award on some local superstars.
“On September 1, there was a gentleman that had a medical event driving down High Street, and was witnessed by Jack Carlin.” The chief held the audience at rapt attention, describing the car’s harrowing path through Ellsworth:
“He was exceeding 80 miles an hour, narrowly missing a vehicle on Water Street, careening down the Harbor Park. He ended up submerging the vehicle. Mr. Carlin got down to the harbor at the same time harbormaster Adam Wilson noticed the event occurring, and the two gentlemen came to the rescue.”
The harbormaster took an encore at the podium alongside Carlin as the audience thunderously applauded. “We have your back,” Chairman Crosthwaite gave a thumbs up after the cheers subsided.
It turns out, the two dozen or so people crowding the chamber were only there to hear about the Harbor Heroes. “Public hearing on amendments to the code of ordinances. Chapter 5, sewer ordinance, article 10–” the chairman began reading over the loud shuffle of everybody beelining for the exit.
Their loss. They really should have nixed the Irish Goodbye and stayed for the alcohol permits–which included an application from “A.A.R.G.H., Inc.”
Councilor Gary Fortier needled the chairman. “I was disappointed you did not pronounce it–”
“Aargh?” Crosthwaite anticipated
“AARGH!” several councilors grunted.
“It is [Talk Like a] Pirate Day,” one councilor whispered.
Final thoughts: I can’t believe I found out it was Talk Like a Pirate Day by watching a city council meeting. Social media, you’re dead to me.