BELFAST — Citing a lack of trust and alleging abuse of power, the City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to bar Mayor Samantha Paradis from publicly representing the council. Councilors also voted to withdraw from Maine Mayors’ Coalition, in which Paradis represented the city.

The unprecedented actions came during a special council meeting called on a day’s notice in response to an opinion column in which Paradis rebuked local attorney Lee Woodward for jokes he directed at the City Council on Nov. 21 during his Citizen of the Year acceptance speech at a Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce awards dinner.

Woodward’s jokes referred to bathroom breaks and a facilitated meeting – points on which the mayor and City Council have locked horns. Paradis called the remarks “hurtful” and said that, in her year of work with the council, she has “encountered sexism, ageism and bigotry.”

Samantha Paradis

It was those three words, Councilor Eric Sanders said Tuesday, that prompted him to call the special meeting. After describing, in an uncharacteristically wavering voice, how his daughter read the column and asked if the terms referred to him, Sanders read from a written statement calling the column, “offensive, laced with inappropriate innuendo, inaccurate, misleading and self-serving.”

He questioned Paradis’ decision to make broad accusations about the council in the newspaper rather than trying to resolve problems with the council itself.

“In our society, we’re turning to labels instead of communication,” he said. “And I find those types of words to be labels that I don’t mess around with.”

Councilors took turns sharing their concerns about Paradis’ column and what many saw as a trend of self-centered behavior at the expense of others. Councilor Mike Hurley prefaced his comments by saying that he had worked to help elect Paradis and didn’t regret it.

“None of it surprised me later to find out she was young or gay or a woman,” he said, adding that it was a “cheap shot” to then be accused of bigotry.

Hurley and several other councilors revived an earlier complaint about the way Paradis runs council meetings, saying she treats them as her own forum, often speaking at length before thinking to call on council members.

Councilor Mary Mortier said she was concerned about the frequency of the word “I” in Paradis’ public remarks – “There is no ‘I’ in the word ‘we,’ ” she said.

Councilors also said they haven’t been able to find common ground with the mayor.

Councilor Neal Harkness acknowledged that, as a 63-year-old man, he might have some blind spots about gender, age and sexual orientation. But he said Paradis’ column prompted members of the public to indiscriminately call him and other councilors sexists, ageists and bigots.

“That trial by insinuation and innuendo cannot take place,” he said.

Paradis would later compare the special council meeting to a trial.

Mortier defended Woodward, whom she called “the top roastmaster in Waldo County,” and noted that he had named many people during his joke-filled speech but never mentioned Paradis by name or referred to her position. Instead, she said, he made a reference to “the elephant in the room” of city government, which is why the audience thought it was funny.

“That’s what bothers me here,” she said. “A lack of humor, lack of flexibility.”

Paradis expressed frustration that the motion was apparently drawn up before the meeting, without her knowledge, and said it was likely to have a negative effect on city business.

She defended her column as an expression of her own experience and warned that a vote on Sanders’ motion would be seen as politically motivated, “as a consequence for me speaking my First Amendment rights.” She encouraged councilors not to vote on the motion.

They did, unanimously approving what Hurley said he hoped would be a short-lived show of no confidence.

Sanders followed the vote with a second motion, which called for the city to withdraw from the mayors’ coalition. Paradis appeared stunned and appealed to the council to postpone the vote until the next meeting so she could speak on the benefits of being in the organization, including potential tax relief, a top concern for constituents.

The second motion was approved 3-2, with Harkness opposed and newly elected Councilor Paul Dean joining him after initially abstaining.

Many of the 35 people in the audience were supporters of Paradis. The meeting did not include the usual public comment period, prompting some to deliver comments from their seats.

After the first vote, Joanne Moesswilde, a recent City Council candidate, stood and said, “I stand with the mayor.” A dozen others stood briefly in solidarity.

Paradis later confirmed that her account of experiencing sexism, ageism and bigotry was partly directed at the council, but said she has experienced other instances outside City Hall as mayor. She did not say what those were.

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