WATERVILLE — Emails sent to Mayor Nick Isgro, the city manager and city councilors highlight concerns about the mayor’s recent Parkland tweet, including an email from the head of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce saying she was contacted by a local business owner worried the comment would hurt sales.

The emails, released to the Morning Sentinel through a public records request, shed light on the implications Isgro’s controversial use of social media has for the city, including a potential recall, the effect on business and tourism and the city’s relationship with Colby College.

“I just fielded a call from a disgruntled downtown business owner that has agreed to pay its dues (I always love how the Chamber is held accountable for what everyone says, where they shop, etc. when we have zero control), but has said that twitter is ‘blowing up’ with people pledging to boycott Waterville and the concern that its going to negatively impact sales,” wrote Kim Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce in an April 6 email to City Manager Mike Roy, Councilor Winifred Tate and others.

“I have no idea if this is true as I’m not on twitter. God, let this week end!”

Lindlof declined to elaborate on her email in an interview this week, saying she is not taking a position on the effort to recall Isgro or his comments, though she hopes it does not affect business.

“We’re just trying to move the city forward and focus on the positive work that’s being done,” she said. “We’re not getting into the politics of it.”

In a separate email, Nate Towne, co-owner of Christopher Hastings Confections, also wrote he had been “deflecting Waterville-bashing posts on Facebook and email (from normal, non-nutcase folks) for the past day.”

“This is the LAST thing we need,” wrote Towne, who is also marketing manager for the arts organization Waterville Creates! and chairman of the Kennebec Valley Tourism Council, but he said he was speaking strictly as a local business owner. “I know Nick is the mayor and has a right to his opinion, but think the city should have a little chat with him regarding how a professional needs to present oneself when representing an entity larger than himself.”

BAD PUBLICITY OR RIGHT TO SPEECH?

The emails from Lindlof and Towne are among about two dozen city officials received following news of Isgro’s tweet on his private Twitter account telling Parkland, Florida, school shooting survivor David Hogg to “Eat it, Hogg.”

Also among them are criticisms from people across Maine and elsewhere, including a woman in Colorado who wrote that Isgro’s comments were “those of an internet troll, not a person serving the public” and a man in Scarborough who wrote, “Waterville has now been deleted from my family’s bucket list of Maine places to visit.”

Most of the emails are critical of Isgro, though a few expressed support for his comments. Feedback from local residents was mixed.

“We are Waterville residents and feel you said nothing wrong,” wrote Pamela Hayes. “Immediately following the shooting (Hogg) has been all over the news and rally’s forcing his opinion on everyone where the kids that actually encountered the violence just wanted to go home. He had his 15 minutes time for him to shut up.”

Isgro, who has not commented on his posts, has defended his right to free speech while accusing the city’s “well-connected and wealthy political elites” and “dark money funded outsiders” of being behind the recall effort. He did not respond to phone calls seeking comment this week.

The emails turned over to the Morning Sentinel include a mix of emails contained on the city’s server as well as the private email servers of city councilors.

Isgro said he does not have any emails on his personal server that pertain to his use of social media in the last year and there is no record of him responding to or sending any pertinent emails on the city server.

The city has an electronic communications policy that addresses how employees and network users conduct themselves on social media and in email, but City Manager Mike Roy could not recall an instance in which the policy was applied to councilors or the mayor, none of whom have city-issued phones or laptops.

COLBY DEAN: ‘WOW.’

Meanwhile, the emails also provide insight into potential rifts in the city’s relationship with Colby College, which is in the midst of investing tens of millions of dollars downtown in conjunction with local philanthropists and the city.

City Councilor Winifred Tate, Ward 6, an anthropology professor at Colby, sent a statement she gave to the news media condemning Isgro’s “divisive and inflammatory use of social media” to David Greene, president of Colby, and other administrators not long after Isgro’s post.

Only one official, Dean Karlene Burrell-McRae, responded to Tate’s email.

“Thank you,” she wrote in a follow-up email to background information provided by Tate. “Wow.”

Officials at Colby, including President David Greene, have not spoken publicly about Isgro’s comments and the state of politics in Waterville. Burrell-McRae did not respond to a phone call or email on Friday. Ruth Jackson, spokeswoman for the college, said Greene was unavailable for an interview last week and declined to comment.

In October, Tate and former Waterville Mayor Karen Heck, who has been involved in the effort to recall Isgro, contacted Greene with concerns about election ads Isgro was running in which it appeared Greene was endorsing Isgro.

Heck also encouraged Greene to make a public statement about his neutrality in the election. He wrote to Heck that he stays “far away from electoral politics and (does) not endorse any candidates. Any candidate can use photos in the public domain, which is totally outside my control.”

Heck, Tate and Councilor Lauren Lessing also raised concern in October about the mayor’s response to the Maine March for Racial Justice at Colby and a Facebook post in which he mentioned his children were frightened by the march and he couldn’t believe two city councilors participated.

“He made it very clear he had been working with Thomas College and (Thomas President) Laurie Lachance to have a discussion on race and being welcoming and creating community, and he was doing the opposite,” Heck said. “I felt it was an important thing for David to know about.”

Recently, Lessing, who is the director of academic and public programs at the Colby College Museum of Art, expressed criticism of Isgro’s Parkland tweet.

She brought her concern to Roy, describing violent threats aimed at residents that were posted by others but appeared on Isgro’s Facebook page and the Waterville Resistance, an anonymously run Facebook page that has been posting unsubstantiated allegations around the recall and purporting to support Democratic causes.

“To cut to the chase, I think some of the people who follow Nick on social media are unhinged, which is pretty concerning in and of itself,” Lessing wrote in her April 10 email to Roy. “I don’t want to be shot, nor do I want to see anyone else hurt.”

Lessing has been criticized by Isgro supporters, including his wife, Amanda, as a “Colby elitist” who is out of touch with constituents.

RESOLUTION FOLLOWED TALK OF BOYCOTT

On April 17, a resolution Lessing proposed affirming the city’s commitment to diversity and inclusion was shot down by Isgro and fellow Councilor Sydney Mayhew, Ward 4, who criticized its “highly inappropriate timing.”

The resolution followed an email from a woman in the coastal town of Rockland who contacted councilors and the mayor and was outraged over his comments. The woman, Leslie Poole, said she planned to “spread the word to my friends that they should boycott Waterville until Isgro is ousted.”

When Lessing emailed Poole back, saying she shared in her dismay, she wrote about a similar resolution Rockland had passed in 2017 as a means of addressing hate speech in the community.

Lessing said her idea didn’t come from Poole’s suggestion, though she was motivated by the “many telephone calls and expressions of dismay people conveyed to me in person about the national coverage our city was receiving.

“It encouraged me to reassure folks here in town and elsewhere that this is a beautiful, welcoming and inclusive community. Because it is! And we want people to move here, shop here and open businesses here.”

At the meeting, Isgro criticized the resolution, calling it “political posturing,” though it ultimately passed, 4-2.

It was just a few days after officials, in the midst of the phone calls, emails and Twitter response, were trying to determine how best to respond to the public. They asked the mayor if he wanted to be sent the feedback the city was getting.

He said he did not and that the emails could be deleted.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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