Two Auburn councilors should consider resigning

Like many cities, Auburn is in the midst of a fiscal crisis.

But here's the bad news: Almost half its elected leaders are temperamentally unsuited for public office and have no patience for finding constructive solutions.

Any doubt about that was dispelled Monday when three councilors walked out of a presentation being made by the city's School Committee.

Why? They apparently were not hearing what they wanted to hear.

Auburn school officials are following a national trend toward tailoring educational curriculum to individual students.

After forgoing tax increases for two years, the district is seeking a $1.9 million increase to make those changes.

Meanwhile, because of cuts in state revenue sharing, city government could be facing a $1.5 million increase to maintain municipal services. We have our Legislature and governor to thank for that.

If approved as presented, the combined property tax increase could cost the owner of a $145,000 home $258 more per year.

That's a lot of money, and times are certainly tough. This newspaper may even eventually oppose such a large increase at this time.

The city's dire financial situation may well frustrate city councilors, who probably wish their jobs were easier.

But that does not justify standing up and walking out. Over a period of minutes, Councilors Mike Farrell, Dan Herrick and Ray Berube got up and left.

It was Farrell's second walkout. In October, he got fed up during a discussion of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and left a meeting.

He went home and watched the remainder of the session on TV.

On Monday, he was the first to leave. The others quickly followed.

The three then apparently palled around in a back room watching the presentation on closed-circuit TV.

"We didn't miss a thing," Berube later said.

We have seen a lot of dumb things happen at municipal meetings over the years, but this was one of the dumbest ever.

There are polite and respectful ways the councilors could have said they disagreed with the tax increase.

Councilor Belinda Gerry demonstrated one: "I wish you had come to us with a lower budget that made changes gradually, in stages, because we cannot give you what you request."

In an adult world, you hear people out. You express your own thoughts. You work with them to come up with compromises or other ideas.

Effective government requires respect and negotiation.

Instead, Farrell, Herrick and Berube intentionally chose to show their disrespect for a sincere group of people who are trying to do their level best for Auburn's children.

Every School Committee member is elected in his or her own right. Just like city councilors, they are the chosen representatives of Auburn voters.

As such, they deserve equal respect.

Over the past few months, Herrick and Farrell, in particular, have shown they are easily frustrated and find the council's workload tedious.

We are sorry this is apparently not what they thought they were signing up for.

We have advice for them: Lead, follow or get out of the way. Right now, the third option may be the best.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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Comments

Bob Woodbury's picture

Maybe...

they got a call from the governor who told them to walk out.

Kaileigh Tara's picture

I am replying to someone, but not sure who Robert 61?

1. No there is no course on decorum at public meetings. No I did not know Robert's rules it was on the job training. As for respect that I learned long before I went into politics.
I am not sure what you meant by #3. "councilors in the back room holding a meeting" you lost me there.
As for the question of my comments regarding Gov. LePage's policy's and actions.
Implying that I was bashing LePage when I disagreed with his actions and his lack of civility in his actions...
You must remember first and foremost that he chose to run for the seat of the Governor of the state of Maine. Inherent in that position are responsibilities and duties. First and foremost to represent us to the rest of the world. To date we have received embarrassing press coverage from this governor, threats of boycotts of our tourist industry, the butt of jokes on late night comedy shows, news headlines on prime newspapers across the country. NOT for creating jobs, or attracting businesses, or doing anything in any way that has assisted anyone living in this state, instead for mean spirited, immature and just plain rude comments. The actions are ones of teen agers and perhaps middle schoolers. Though I will admit, I did raise my own children better and never saw them act that way in public.
I am going to try to explain this: Civility in discourse would mean that I may disagree with your actions or your policies, and I can state that. I may even feel very strongly have fears and concerns. I will not however, call you names and personally attack your character. I have not attacked Mr. LePage's intelligence, frankly I think he is very intelligent. His choice of behaviors is intentionally rude and immature and a very poor example of citizenship to our young people. I have not attacked him as a person.I do not make fun of the way he looks, though he makes fun of women with little beards, I do not attack his family, even his hiring of his daughter, if she is qualified I have no problem with that. I have not dug into his personal life, I do not attack or make fun of what he looks like. I do not disrespect him as a person. I do not call him names or disparage him. I have never done that. I will not.
I absolutely do criticize his actions and the policies that I disagree with and will continue to do so and I will continue to do so in a civil manner.
Civility does not mean agreeing and it does not mean we cannot disagree. As for the Auburn councilors who I have since found out have conducted themselves in such an " uncivil" manner on at least one other instance, should be fired. With an apology to the SunJournal but if these folks had the leadership qualities necessary to resign, we would not even be having this discussion. They need to be fired, because it is always everyone else' s fault but their's.
They should be impeached, recalled. What ever the people of Auburn will do, they must rise up and reclaim their city. This is beyond ridiculous.
Those that are doing it... well, it is what it is,apparently that is what they are offering - certainly not leadership qualities in any stretch of the imagination, so at this point, we must look to those who are allowing this unacceptable behavior and ask who is appropriately leading Auburn right now? If I were a resident that would be a very vital question. The answer appears a bit disturbing.
How can you entrust your community, your children's education, your economic future and sustainability to the only thing you know you are guaranteed right now? More of the same= rude, immature, irresponsible behavior that does not show any signs of critical thinking, strategic problem solving, long range planning or any other skills necessary in these most extreme times.
What is that saying? repeating the same behaviours and expecting different results.... hhhmmm

RONALD RIML's picture

If he's intelligent he has a very odd way of displaying it.

If it weren't for the MHPC Poor Paul wouldn't know where to turn......

38% of Maine's voting electorate set it's sights exceedingly low.

"If he's in telligent he hasa very odd way of displaying it"

Very well stated!
Bob Mennealy

Kaileigh Tara's picture

Absolutely

Bob, I ask you, would you entrust your life to a "citizen" doctor" did you ask a "citizen" accountant to do your taxes? Would you want a "citizen" lawyer to defend you in court?
We have to get away from the ridiculous notion that a "citizen" council serves us. You get what you are paying for. That immature behavior that lacks decorum and critical thinking skills is EXACTLY what we get.
WE do not motivate people who are already overworked, exhausted and certainly do not want to be vilified publicly ( and come on- you are very good at that) with NO compensation to show for it to run for public office. Those who have the temperament, critical, and social skills will not run. Never mind those with the accounting skills, business skills, other specialties that would be most helpful during these times, we expect to pay for them everywhere else but in our very own government, we balk. That is insane.
The lack of civility. THAT is what we witnessed. Arizona? You react as you see this here. It is all lack of civility - as they laughed and watched it out back. Enjoying that they had put it to the "other group" they did not like.
Hell! what about the kids! ?What about our future workforce? What about THEIR futures? OMG!!
Now, Mr. Gray, Who cares? Who cares if they did not get along in the past? Grow up! I do not care about the little feud. It is immature and irrelevant! If you are getting lost in it, than you also are missing the very important point. What matters are the children and their education. THAT is the bottom line. And for them, those elected individuals needed to keep their butts in those chairs. They also needed to model good citizenship. So they got two big Fs that night. F!
If these individuals did not like something. They are in a position to make changes.
This would mean responsible, measured actions over time. It would require a certain level of critical and strategic thinking. It would require long range thinking. It requires planning. It requires working within coalitions, bringing people together to accomplish your goal.
I know this from personal experience. It can take a long time to effect the change you desire. Sometimes you don't get to see the exact change you wanted. At that point, you either remove your self from the battle or you recommit yourself to a new goal or you simply resign your self to the new reality and move on.
I would fire them. Fire them. Certainly the people of Auburn should fire them. Immediately. We have been talking about lack of civility in speech, but these three acted in an uncivil manner. They took it one step further. That should not be tolerated by the Mayor, nor the rest of the Council, nor the School Committee, nor the People of Auburn.
Shame on them, Shame on you, Mr. Gray for defending them and Shame on the city of Auburn, if you all allow this to go without accountability for then you have all failed your children and your future.

Joe Gray's picture

Some civility is in order from you Ms. Tara

I would say that telling me to "grow up" is indeed bashing. So, you are not as civil as you profess, are you? Never did I defend the feud nor am I "getting lost in it". I pointed it out to give some historical perspective. Also, I think I pointed out that we are not talking about teaching here or education. We are talking about whether the school department conducted themselves properly in a budget meeting.

They were unprepared, did not provide information that is standard for these meetings, and presented an advertisement of sorts. Budget meetings are not the place for these actions. The presentation was informative (I did sit through it entirely), but not relevant to the task at hand.

If you look at my earlier post you will see that I did not question the need for excellent teaching in Auburn. I support excellent teaching in Auburn. I questioned the need for such an abundance of administration in the school system and the cost of that administration. I also questioned their priorities when they spend more than half a million dollars on 12 parking spaces at one school. Not once have I asked teachers to give up wages or benefits. So, don't read what you think I said, read what I did say.

And please, try to keep it civil.

Kaileigh Tara's picture

Grow up comment aimed exactly where it was meant...

at the individuals who were acting like children.
That is what I meant, I think I was clear about that, if they were behaving this way because of the "history" you described, they needed to grow up.
As for the "ad"

It does seem to me though that to explain a new method of teaching, - and I have to say here that I was a substitute teacher for 6 years, 3 in the Lewiston system and 3 in the Auburn system and I cannot believe for one moment that that one brief presentation gave any justice to the great disservice we do to our teachers and our children by not improving our methods of teaching and resources provided to our students.
When I came to the Lewiston city council only Dick Albert and I were consumers of the Lewiston Education System-- and the product was fair, not because of teachers- because there simply was not enough funding to provide and create a learning environment that gave out children the top competitive edge. None of those other councilors had a child who had classes in the basement of a building that I walked into with buckets all over in classrooms and hallways- totally disruptive, - oh and BTW my child developed breathing problems directly attributable to the poor air quality,
And the outdated books my daughter brought home from LHS, OMG we should be ashamed, I was ashamed!!
You know what the first discussion of the upcoming budget went like between some of the councilors- "We are really going to put it to them this year" Yeah, I've found out...blah, blah... and there is no way they are getting away with it" So I ask, new to all of this what they are talking about- the school committee I am told
I about fell off my chair, First-- THEY are WE.--but not to those councilors- this is a war- who has the bigger one... who has the power- it is a game- with our children's education lost
Second. I am a parent, My children are being taught in that system they want to 'put it to' It is all tragic. The children are the biggest losers in all of this.
Who in all of this is actually speaking up for them?? I was so shocked and horrified by this attitude. These two people just laughed at me when I tried to make these points and brought up my own children.
I did read what you wrote, I get that there are specific budget items that need to be addressed, that was not the purpose of this first presentation. It never is... these councilors have all year to address this, they have the power to address this in myriad ways... in constructive ways...
There is a "process" with budgets... I find it cumbersome, and yet, it is necessary and inadequate. It is inadequate in that there is really not enough time to educate the decision makers fully to make the correct decision. This is what happens when you choose a citizen form of government and you choose to pay poorly for people to do it/ run for office.
You must depend on this process, which must depend on the professionals to REALLY make the decisions, or slightly informed elected officials make the decisions. Come on let's all be realistic. When I was elected I was told it would be 5 hours a week, for councilors maybe 10. I worked not less than 30-40. Tell that to the man who called me five times one day and when I got home and called him at 5:30 after my day at work, and before a city council meeting, proceeded to yell at me for 15 minutes because I had not returned his call that morning after he called at 8AM. When he stopped I told him he did not pay me enough to do that and I had a full time job.which I needed to support myself and my children,-he was so angry and gave me a speech about now that I was elected, I was supposed to take care of my constituents... He really expected me to be available to him at all hours on $4,200/year and hung up on me.
How do you expect these elected officials to be fully informed about the details of all of these departments enough to make these decisions- they can't unless they do it more than full time.
Every department MUST make an attempt to educate and justify its budget-- it is the way it works.You- WE have set up our system of government that very way. If we don't like it we can change it, but what you see is what we all have chosen. I do not think it serves us well anymore - at all.
Like I said earlier if that process is to be changed that has to come from the leadership, not the lack of, that walks out of the room. And/or of course, the people.
During the budget process is not the only time to talk about the budget or investigate or research any particular issue you may have. If these parking spaces are of concern to you, get all the facts, meet with your rep on the school committee find out all you can. If it still doesn't make sense, pursue it. That is what democracy is all about.
I will end with these two comments, I learned that what goes on behind that "bench" behind walls of city hall- not secret in any way - it is all public, it is just far more time consuming and complicated and professional in many ways than I ever thought. for example in one situation people showed up at a meeting wanting a traffic light put up. They had valid concerns, well it does not work that way, there are traffic studies, traffic lights need to be coordinated, there is the MDOT, there are laws and guidelines that need to be considered, there are 5 year plans to be considered, development plans, neighborhood meetings, etc.. or another we did the planning for the Russell Street changes that happened last year...9/10 years later!!
The "grow up" comment is actually wasted, because I really don't even care or hope those individuals grow up. I really want them fired. Period. Auburn is better than that. The children of Auburn deserve better than that. And at this point, they are very much in the way. So get out of the way and let people get to work on finding solutions. I am not telling you to get out of the way. Just so you are clear on that.

Kaileigh Tara's picture

I missed this somehow, I did not realize it was you, Robert,

Sorry,
And it is Kaileigh, lol, but with all the bashing I have gotten and yes it has been bashing from my very personal life to ...personal attacks of my character in some horrid city council meetings. It seems my name has been out there enough I hope that if people are putting me down they would spell it right -
Oh the meeting - of the "three" yeah well, there are bigger issues, they did not even put the time to good use.... an illegal meeting would give undue power to their actions.
it is just crazy... and I don't know what you got for training, but I didn't in terms of decorum. We are told the legalities of course, but like I said this was not about holding a meeting, at all, artificial tangents ..............?
civility does not mean we can't disagree, but if I started calling you names and swearing at you right now, or insinuating things, implying that you did illegal things will you were in office, that you took bribes, that you were dumb, couldn't think or understand the issues so you voted the way city councilor x told you to all the time.
THAT my friend is not civil discourse. That is bashing and that is NOT what I have done.
I have in no way done that with the Governor, with you or anyone else I have disagreed with no matter what things they have done to me, and believe me, some very painful and destructive things have been done to me. I just won't do it. It serves nothing.
I will continue to call the Governor on any policies or actions that I believe are harmful to people of the state of Maine.

RONALD RIML's picture

Did they fire the School Superintendent yet???

No??

How Un-Lewistonian???

Bob Stone's picture

These are all elected positions

Maybe this will serve as motivation for concerned citizens to run for the school committee and city council.

GARY SAVARD's picture

H... of a situation! Tax

H... of a situation! Tax people out of their homes in order to support an out of control school department. Especially people on fixed incomes. Tying how much money is spent to the quality of a school system is BS. There is no correlation.

Joe Gray's picture

selling newspapers is not helping

This is by far the boldest move I've seen in sometime to sell newspapers. You ask two councilors to resign not over financial misconduct or some other major misstep but because they protested an advertisement from the school dept.

The budget process is fairly standard stuff. The dept coming before the council will give a two or three minute intro and then get into the numbers of their budget and what they are asking for specifically. Then the council will ask questions and there will be some back and forth. This year the public gets to weigh in as the process is proceeding. Pretty simple.

On Monday the workshop had several departments scheduled to present their budget requests. They were allotted 75 minutes for the entire group. The school dept took their turn and spoke for about 25 minutes about the accomplishments and goals of the dept. This is great information, but not the proper forum. Everyone in the room was there for the budget presentation. The mayor finally told the school department to get to the numbers, which it did.

In taking so long, it delayed the rest of the budget talks until after the general meeting, long after the school dept people had left the building. The council, including the councilors you ask to leave, stayed until after 10 pm to continue to do their job. They were there, they were asking questions, they were engaged, they were doing their job. The other departments were there as well. They waited patiently for their turn. If the school department wanted to give a lengthy presentation, they should have arranged that with the city manager prior to the meeting so he could have rescheduled the other departments.

Further, there is a history between these two bodies that has tainted relations. Councilor Herrick pointed out that Mr Das stated last fall that the school board doesn't answer to the council. In addition, the council has no say in how money is spent in the school department. Unlike every other department in the city. The council can only write a check and hope it helps with education. And some of us in this city question whether it does.

Among the top fifteen to twenty earners in the Auburn School Department you will not find a single teacher. These are all admin positions. Their combined salary is in excess of $1,500,000 a year. But the council cannot question this expense. The school department last summer negotiated a deal to add 12 new parking spots to Fairview school - at a cost of $500,000 plus dollars.

There is a good deal of animosity between the two groups. Before I would ask for anyone's resignation I would ask if they could sit down to an Obama style beer summit and work it out. Of course, I care about fixing Auburn and not simply selling newspapers.

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