WATERVILLE — Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro apparently feels more at ease in a City Council setting where people are allowed to carry guns.

Residents at Tuesday’s council meeting, held in the Chace Community Forum at the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons downtown, cited various reasons why they think council meetings should be moved from the Colby College-owned building to a city-owned facility, not the least of which is that people would be permitted to bring guns to the meetings.

Isgro said that when council meetings previously were held in The Center building and issues got contentious, knowing there were those carrying guns “made me feel a lot safer when people were threatening me.”

“Are we allowed to carry firearms here?” Isgro asked.

City Manager Michael Roy said someone asked him the same question last week, so he called Colby to find out if guns are permitted in the Chace Community Forum.

“The answer is no,” Roy said, to which Isgro asked if there would be “the ability to get a waiver.”

Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president for planning, walked to the microphone at Tuesday’s council meeting to say Colby policy prohibits firearms on college premises, except for law enforcement or special approved educational purposes.

“The short answer is ‘no’ — a waiver would not be possible,” Clark said.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, center, sits with city councilors in the Chace Community Forum, in the new Colby dorm downtown, on Oct. 2, 2018.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, center, sits with city councilors in the Chace Community Forum, in the new Colby dorm downtown, on Oct. 2, 2018. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The debate about moving council meetings out of the downtown Colby building evolved from a “discussion-only item”  that Council Chairman Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said he requested be put on Tuesday’s agenda after some councilors said their constituents wanted to raise and discuss the issue. Mayhew said none of his own constituents asked for the discussion. Councilors Margaret Smith, D-Ward 3, and Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, said they had had no requests from people in their wards to discuss the issue.

“I haven’t had any complaint, and I honestly don’t see a viable alternative,” Thomas said.

Being discussion-only, the council wouldn’t be voting on the issue, Isgro noted.

Resident Julian Payne said he sat with people carrying guns at council meetings when they were held in The Center downtown and during a time when there was an effort to recall Isgro from office. Meetings were contentious, and people carried guns to protect the mayor, according to Payne.

“People did carry a lot of guns in the previous council meetings,”said Payne, a member of the Waterville Board of Education.

Police Chief Joseph Massey said the law prohibits anyone from carrying a firearm in schools or courthouses, but that does not apply to colleges and universities. Colleges and universities, however, may have policies or regulations prohibiting firearms on college-owned premises. Massey said a municipality may not prohibit someone from carrying a firearm in City Hall.

Councilor Jay Coelho, D-Ward 5, said that while Colby may have a policy prohibiting firearms in the building, if someone walks in with a concealed weapon, that person is not violating the law. The person is violating the policy, according to Coelho.

Massey said, however, that Colby could call police and ask that the person be removed from the premises.

The firearms angle was only a part of the discussion about why people asked to move council meetings to another venue. Several stood to give other reasons, including that they thought the Chace Forum is not designed so that people in the back of the room can see and hear people at the front.

Sandra Sullivan, of Ward 5, said that just as it was inappropriate for Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition to have an office free of charge in City Hall, she believes it inappropriate for the city to hold business meetings in any other place than a city-owned building.

The Center, where the council meetings previously were held, was not city-owned, and the city paid rent to hold meetings there. Colby allows the community to use the Chace Forum free of charge.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro and City Manager Mike Roy, back right, speak as the Waterville City Council meets in the Chace Community Forum, in the new Colby dorm downtown on Oct. 2, 2018. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Sullivan said she asked Roy about holding meetings in a different place, and he wrote to her to explain why meetings are held in the Colby building. An email from Roy to Sullivan and others says he understands they may not know all that the city did to research alternatives when The Center was to be vacated. The Center required tenants to move out because it is scheduled to be transformed into a center for art and film.

The largest room in City Hall holds only 15 people, according to Roy.

“The Opera House is an option, but it certainly would make for awkward meetings to have the Council on stage and the public out in the audience seating,” Roy’s email says.

The police station and the library do not have rooms large enough for a council meeting, and the fire station has a room, but it is on second floor, and parking and access would be difficult, according to Roy. The building is locked after hours and security would be an issue, he said.

The high school or junior high are probably the only two options. Meetings would have to be held either in a cafeteria or an auditorium, but the schools could not guarantee access to a room for every Tuesday of the month, according to Roy. Starting in March, when budget season begins, the council expects to meet every Tuesday.

Roy said Colby invited the city to look at the design of the Chace Forum before construction of the building began.

“They did this because they realized that they had been part of the decision that forced us out of the Center building,” his email states. “Once the room was nearly complete we were invited over there to give our input on the sound and the video systems. Colby purchased everything we needed for our meetings including all the microphones. And there is no cost for our use. I do not know of any other options that can match what we currently have.”

Sullivan said she thinks some of the places Roy cited would work for meetings. Thomas, who works at the Opera House, said because of the schedule there, it would be impossible to give up all the Tuesdays needed for council meetings.

Sullivan and Payne said it is not anti-Colby sentiment driving some people to object to holding meetings in a Colby building.

“This is about image and the revitalization process and really understanding the people on the streets’ view on this,” Payne said.

He asked people to picture President Donald Trump doing building projects in New York City and getting permits and tax breaks and having some employees sitting on the City Council and then the council chambers are moved to the ground floor of Trump Towers.

“How does it look?” Payne asked. “City government belongs on city property.”

Coelho asked Payne if he thought councilors were compromised by meeting in the Chace Forum.

“No,” Payne replied. “It’s perception, like I said.”

Resident Cathy Weeks said she did not think the room was the proper environment for the city.

“If we have to be in a noncity building, Thayer Hospital has three auditoriums that would suit our needs,” she said. “At least Thayer isn’t picking over the entire city, and we’re not selling our souls to Thayer Hospital.”

Isgro said he has been partnering with Colby the last four years, and “I don’t feel like I’ve sold out by doing so. I think there are some legitimate arguments and concerns that should be taken into consideration. But I don’t want to be accused of selling my soul out, either.”

Resident Bob Vear said he has lived in Waterville for 61 years and has attended a lot of council meetings. He said he supports Colby, and it irritates him when he reads comments on Facebook that describe the city as “Colbyville.” He thinks the city should investigate holding meetings elsewhere.

“To have it here, it leaves a very sour taste in a lot of people’s mouth,” he said.

Resident Hilary Koch said it is generous of Colby to offer the space for meetings, and she does not think anyone has been compromised because they meet in the Chace Forum.

But if perception makes people uncomfortable, she said, a new location should be sought. Koch said she does not like the current venue for council meetings because she and others in the back can “barely see or hear” people speaking.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]
Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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