WATERVILLE — Former Mayor Karen Heck faced jeers and shouts from an angry crowd, which mocked her at every turn Tuesday night.

“It makes me very sad to say that there’s a lot of dissension in this town right now and a lot of anger,” Heck said, as audience members snickered. “A lot of anger — and if you wonder about that anger, I would refer you to the Waterville Republican Party page on Facebook.”

As Heck spoke at the City Council meeting, a timer went off, signifying her three minutes were up.

“I have been accused of having so much power that I could cost the mayor his job,” Heck continued. “If only that were so. It is not at all true. I had no contact with the president of Skowhegan Savings Bank, and … I believe that if you talk to him, you will find out from the mayor he had a decision to make on his own. It was not mine.”

Mayor Nick Isgro told Heck he could not talk about that, to which she replied she was sure he couldn’t.

He told her to wrap it up. Heck declined, saying that when she was mayor, she allowed former Mayor Tom Nale to exceed his three minutes.

Audience members grumbled.

“I’m not asking you to comment on your employment, but I’m telling you I had nothing to do with him losing his job, …” Heck said.

The conversation degenerated from there. Isgro repeatedly pounded the gavel on the table, telling Heck to wrap it up.

“You can stop that right now,” she said, drawing taunts from the crowd.

Resident Sandra Sullivan demanded Heck sit down.

Such is the tenor of the city as political upheaval has reached fever pitch.

A recall effort is underway against Isgro that has drawn the ire of his supporters, and another recall effort has been launched to try to oust Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, who was appointed to the Ward 5 seat instead of Isgro supporter Julian Payne.

City Clerk Patti Dubois said Wednesday that to put a recall on the ballot for the Ward 5 seat, gatherers must obtain 91 signatures from Ward 5 voters, which represents 15 percent of those who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election. As of Wednesday, Dubois had received 42 signatures, she said.

For the mayor’s recall, petitioners must get 857 signatures, or 15 percent of voters citywide who voted in the last gubernatorial election, according to Dubois. Heck and Hilary Koch, who helped initiate the mayoral recall effort, did not have a total number of signatures collected as of Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the council on Tuesday voted 4-2 to approve a statement of community values introduced by Councilor Lauren Lessing, D-Ward 3, despite opposition from the crowd of angry residents who opposed the effort and slammed the council for appointing O’Donnell two weeks ago.

The audience that packed the council chambers denounced the recall effort against Isgro for comments he has made on social media, including the tweet “Eat it, Hogg,” in reference to Parkland, Florida, school shooting survivor David Hogg. The Republican mayor, using his personal Twitter account, was responding to a story that Fox News would continue to back host Laura Ingraham after she made disparaging remarks about Hogg.

A MAYOR’S TWEET; A LOST JOB

Lessing’s community values statement comes amid the controversy surrounding Isgro’s tweets. The statement says: “The future of our city is bright if we affirm that Waterville is a forward thinking, innovative, inclusive, cultural hub in which all people, no matter their race, creed or age are considered equal and feel welcome and respected. We further believe and affirm that diversity is a strength and not a weakness.”

After Isgro was criticized for his tweet, his job as controller at Skowhegan Savings Bank ended, though it is not clear whether he was fired, was asked to resign or chose to resign on his own.

Isgro stood Tuesday to thank those who have supported him and his family after his job loss.

“My family has received more support and love and embrace in the last couple of weeks than I thought possible,” he said, adding that people have put food in his freezer and started prayer chains, for which he is thankful.

Isgro’s wife, Amanda, who was sitting with his father, Jim, also spoke, saying her husband’s three words on Twitter were turned into a weapon, with former Mayor Karen Heck starting the recall process. She criticized Morning Sentinel reporter Rachel Ohm, saying that her newspaper stories contained “smut” and thus “smeared” her husband.

“That was after they harassed his co-workers at his place of employment,” she said, referring to Ohm and a photographer stopping at Skowhegan Savings Bank to obtain a comment from Isgro about his tweet when Ohm could not reach him by phone or email.

Heck described an effort in 1996 similar to Lessing’s in which the community came together and developed a vision statement that said the people of Waterville valued individuality and that the community was a welcoming place. She defended herself against claims she cost Isgro his job, and she disputed other claims made on social media.

“I would like you to know that I am not funded by any dark forces. I am not in the employ of the Maine People’s Alliance, as is reported on the Waterville Republican page,” Heck said.

After the meeting she said that Isgro knows she had nothing to do with his job loss, “but he does not feel the need to take responsibility for his own actions. If he would acknowledge that I had nothing to do with it, it could go a long way in quelling people’s anger.”

Resident Karl Foss said at the meeting he was disappointed with Isgro’s Twitter comment to Hogg.

“You used the language of violence and the language of a bully,” Foss said. “This was no way for a leader to talk.”

Foss said Hogg had survived not only a school shooting but also had made a comment about not getting into a college he had wanted to attend when Isgro Tweeted “Eat it, Hogg.” An apology from Isgro, Foss said, would be insincere.

“Don’t blame reporters for PC (political correctness) culture or liberal dark money,” Foss said. “You make stupid comments and there are consequences.”

But resident Hank Poirier, supporting Isgro and criticizing Heck for not always saying the Pledge of Allegiance when she was mayor, said the minute Hogg bashed the National Rifle Association, Republicans and the president of the United States, the matter became political.

Poirier, wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “Eat it Hogg,” said that, just as Heck had the right to not say the Pledge of Allegiance, Isgro had the right to tweet “Eat it, Hogg.” Poirier called the situation low, cheap and petty and said he is a supporter of the Second Amendment.

“I’m Hank Poirier and I am the NRA,” he declared at the end of his speech. “Thank you.”

STANDING UP TO, FOR MAYOR

Opposing factions took to the lectern Tuesday, stating their points.

Resident Gary Maheux said he supported Isgro, his family and citizens “who were being attacked by well-funded, dark forces of discontent trying to regain power from the taxpayers.”

“I am also here to support the First Amendment and to confront the evil that rejoices over a good man losing his livelihood over feigned outrage by political opponents,” Maheux said.

Julian Payne, a member of the Waterville Board of Education, also spoke in support of Isgro and urged all residents of Ward 5 to support Jay Coelho’s effort to recall O’Donnell from the council seat Payne had sought. Payne had packed the council room with supporters two weeks ago for that vote, but the council appointed O’Donnell instead of him or Coelho, who also had sought the seat.

Resident Dan Libby criticized the council Tuesday for ignoring the will of the people who supported Payne for the seat. Libby said he had been told Lessing draws pictures of him (Libby) when he speaks before the council.

“I’m sorry, I have not drawn pictures,” Lessing responded.

Libby continued to confront Lessing to the point that she said: “I’m sincerely scared.”

Meanwhile, resident Catherine Weeks called Waterville a “disgrace right now” and described the situation as a three-ring circus.

“I’m hoping someone like Sean Hannity will pick up on this,” she said, referring to the conservative Fox News talk show host. She said Isgro is a man of ethics, fiscal knowledge and character and she thinks the city needs to recall six of seven councilors.

“I just want you to know, Mayor Isgro, we have national prayer chains praying for you and your family,” Weeks said.

“Thank you,” Isgro replied.

Resident Phil Bofia said he didn’t know about everyone else present, but he was tired of all the fighting. He said he moved to the U.S. when he was 15, came to Maine and stayed here because of the people. He urged those present not to view themselves as from opposing political parties, but as brothers and sisters, uncles, nieces and neighbors.

“Please show me that here people care about each other, and what I see sitting here is not what I want my daughter to see,” Bofia said.”

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, recommended tabling Lessing’s statement of community values resolution, but his motion failed, as Councilor Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, was the only other councilor who supported the idea. Lessing responded by explaining why she hoped the council would approve her statement of community values.

“Anger and dissension are loud; kindness and love speak with softer voices,” she said.

She said more kindness and love are needed and that she is not interested in division; she is interested in unity.

Isgro, who was angry when the council voted two weeks ago to appoint O’Donnell despite the Payne supporters packing the room, quickly snubbed Lessing’s comments about kindness and unity, saying, “I think this council needs to walk the walk before they talk the talk. This is political posturing — taking advantage of a situation.”

Later, he asked the crowd: “Have you all felt super-welcomed by this council?”

“No,” many people shouted in unison.

At least one person in the audience felt otherwise.

“Actually, I’ve felt very welcome,” said Nate Towne.

Councilor Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, said people in her ward wanted the resolution to pass.

“I feel very confident that I am representing my constituents in supporting this resolution,” she said.

Tate, Lessing, O’Donnell and Councilor Jackie Dupont, D-Ward 7, approved the resolution; Mayhew and White opposed it. Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, was absent from the meeting.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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