WATERVILLE — The City Council failed this week to override Mayor Jay Coelho’s veto of a council decision earlier this month to meet virtually for the next few weeks because of the highly contagious omicron strain of the coronavirus.

As a result of Tuesday’s 4-2 vote, councilors will continue to meet in person, and at least some of them are expected to continue their habit of not wearing a mask during meetings.

The Waterville City Council failed this week to override Mayor Jay Coelho’s veto of a recent council decision to meet virtually for the next few weeks. Above, Coelho speaks during a Nov. 16 council meeting. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Councilors have disagreed about the efficacy of wearing masks, even though leading health organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, recommend wearing a mask indoors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Council Chairperson Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, chose not to override the veto. She had voted Feb. 1 to hold virtual meetings until the end of March, but said Tuesday that at the time, the omicron variant was prevalent.

Green noted, however, that while she understands how some councilors oppose meeting virtually because it affects public access, the reason for wanting to meet remotely is more about public safety.

“I think it is possible at this juncture to meet in person,” Green said, “as long as we follow the resolution we acted on in October to wear masks and to ask members of the public to wear masks — as most of them are.”


Green was masked and sitting in the council room at The Elm at 21 College Ave., where Coelho and Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, were also wearing masks, but Councilors Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, and Tom McCormick, who represents Ward 7 with no political affiliation, were not.

Councilors Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, and Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, attended the meeting from their homes. Like Green, they had voted Feb. 1 to move to remote meetings. Morris, Foss and McCormick voted against.

Klepach said the number of COVID-19 cases has dropped precipitously around the country, but the number remains static in Maine.

“Maine has maintained a pernicious stagnation in the number of cases, the number of positives, the number of hospitalizations and in the number of deaths,” Klepach said. “If you look at the data, there are Mainers dying on a consistent basis.

“I’m only pointing this out because it further underlines the importance of prudence, the importance of responsibility to public safety and the importance of civic leaders setting examples for their constituents.”

Klepach said he also supports “collegiality and consensus and choice” when it comes to councilors and constituents attending meetings in person or remotely.


Foss and Coelho, who were not masked at the Feb. 1 meeting, emphasized the need for people to have choices about meeting remotely and wearing a mask.

“At no point can we take sovereignty over the body of another human being — ever,” Coelho said.

Green said the debate was not really about choice because the City Council has voted to follow Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines, which include wearing masks indoors when virus transmission is substantial in Kennebec County.

“And it has been, ever since October when we implemented that,” Green said. “So I think it is partially just about following our own resolutions, and even when it’s not something that we would choose.”

Francke said wearing a mask is not to protect oneself, but to protect and respect others around you.

“I’m going to still override your veto, Mr. Mayor, because I think that meeting remotely in the current state is the best way to go,” Francke said.


He and DeBrito voted to override Coelho’s veto. The other city councilors voted against overriding the veto.

In other matters, councilors voted 7-0 to approve a union contract with the Fire Department that increases firefighters’ starting pay from $16 an hour to more than $20 an hour, making the department more competitive with surrounding communities, according to City Manager Steve Daly.

A major change in the contract has firefighters moving from three to four shifts a week, which Daly said should help improve burnout and morale issues that come with working 24-hour shifts, with only a day off between.

Erik Nadeau of the accounting firm Nicholson, Michaud & Nadeau of Waterville reported a recent audit shows the city continues to perform well financially, generating revenue, exceeding budget expectations and doing a good job of controlling expenditures.

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