WATERVILLE — Mayor Jay Coelho on Wednesday vetoed the Waterville City Council’s recent vote to hold council meetings virtually until the end of March, or for three more meetings.

In his written veto Wednesday afternoon, which marked the first time he had vetoed a council vote, Coelho said he did so in consultation with “various” city councilors.

“Omicron is on the downturn,” Coelho wrote, referring to the highly contagious variant of COVID-19. “No matter what side of the issue you’re on, we can all agree that we are covid fatigued. Exacerbated by inconsistent messaging from the start. Going fully remote puts the burden of access directly on residents, not everyone has internet or a means to communicate with their elected officials.”

Coelho also said having a meeting space that is reasonably safe, with the ability to move to remote access, alleviates that burden. The council meets in the basement of The Elm, an event center at 21 College Ave.

“Access and participation in Government are fundamental,” Coelho wrote in his veto message. “I understand we are still currently in a pandemic; Covid-19 is not going anywhere. We will have to learn to live with it, at some point we will all have to find a consistent middle ground.

“It’s 2022 there is no reason why we should ever do away with a hybrid approach, we should leverage technology. Hybrid increases access and participation. It gives people who are immunocompromised and those that don’t feel safe the ability to interact and participate in governance.”


The mayor also wrote, “There is no one size fits all solution,” and urged residents remember, “Your way of life is not someone else’s.”

“We should respect each other and the personal choices and decisions that we all must make,” Coelho concluded.

The City Council next Tuesday could consider overriding Coelho’s veto. An override requires a two-thirds vote of the council, according to City Clerk Patti Dubois.

There are seven city councilors, so five would have to support overriding the veto. The council vote last week to switch to remote meetings was only for the City Council, according to Dubois.

The 4-3 vote Feb. 1 to hold remote meetings for the next three council meetings was intended to protect people from the spread of the contagious omicron variant of COVID-19, according to councilors who supported the measure. Since then, hospitalizations in Maine for COVID-19 have continued a downward trend, after peaking early last month.

Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, said at the time he hoped things will have improved by the end of March, so the council could return to in-person meetings at The Elm.


“However, the pandemic is still with us,” Francke said. “There are still people dying from it, and I think it’s the cautious thing to do, particularly in light of the impact it’s had on city staff. I’m concerned with their welfare, as well as the welfare of the residents of the city in general.”

He told the Morning Sentinel later that his main concern is public safety. “I am disappointed that actions to deal with the pandemic have become a political issue rather than a public health matter,” he said in an email.

Coelho asked how those who do not have access to a computer or smartphone could participate in meetings. Francke said the city clerk, deputy clerk and others would continue to set up at The Elm so people can continue to attend council meetings in person.

Monitors are set up there that show councilors participating from home. Fewer people would be in the room, and city staff members and others would be better protected, according to Francke.

Francke and Council Chairwoman Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, as well as councilors Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, and Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, attended the Feb. 1 meeting from their houses. Coelho, Foss and Councilors Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, and Thomas McCormick, D-Ward 7, attended in person, and none was wearing a mask.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has continued to recommend people wear masks at indoor public settings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.


DeBrito, Klepach, Green and Francke voted to move to remote meetings. Telephone calls to DeBrito and Klepach late Wednesday afternoon were not returned.

Morris, Foss and McCormick voted against going to remote meetings.

In an email response Green said at this point she wasn’t sure if the council was going to consider overturning the veto.

“Things are moving quickly with Omicron, and the worst of it seems to have passed through.” she said in her email. “My main concern is that we allow for a way to hold our meetings that provides access to the public while following public safety guidelines. Right now, that means wearing masks in public settings such as council meetings. That’s what the council passed last fall. That’s what the planning board is doing, and the school board. We should be no different; in fact, we really should be the leaders in this.”

City Manager Stephen Daly reported Feb. 1 that as of Jan. 21, Waterville had five employees who remained in quarantine from work because of exposure or illness related to COVID-19. Four were Police Department employees and one worked for the Fire Department.

“In all cases,” Daly said, “it has not affected our ability to perform services.”

Last March, Coelho vowed to veto a 5-1 council vote to support the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ amendment to its river plan that is intended to create a healthier river and could ultimately mean removal of dams in Waterville, Fairfield and Skowhegan.

Two days later, he changed his mind, saying it “would be an exercise in futility as there would not be enough votes to sustain a veto.”

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