PARIS — The Board of Selectmen discussed board members' behavior and bylaws Monday, and Chairman Ted Kurtz was asked to respond to criticism that his demeanor distracts the board from important business. Kurtz accused the board of breaking the law by ignoring a violation of the town's bylaws.
The discussion began with a motion for an executive session to discuss a member of the board. Selectman Robert Kirchherr moved for executive session because there was a possibility of harming a board member's reputation.
The board voted 4-1 to go into executive session, with Kurtz voting against it. Once executive session began, Kurtz submitted a written request to conduct the discussion in public.
Kirchherr, who raised the issue, said he is concerned the board is presenting itself to the public in a negative light. He said he wasn't just talking about Kurtz.
“We all need to do a better job communicating with the people we serve,” Kirchherr said. He said the board often argues with residents at meetings and among one another.
“It's making me very uncomfortable,” Kirchherr said.
Selectmen Jean Smart and Kenneth West criticized Kurtz for an email he sent to other board members about Selectman Ryan Lorrain, who abstained from a vote on suspending the town's bylaws on appointing board members at the Nov. 14 meeting.
Smart called the email “abusive.” “That is not helpful to the process,” she said.
West said he was “kind of shocked” by the email.
Lorrain, who said he never received the email in question, said he didn't have a copy of the bylaws with him at the Nov. 14 meeting and didn't understand the issue. Kurtz insisted he had to vote.
At Monday's meeting, he said he tried to send the email to Lorrain but that Lorrain had apparently changed his email address. Lorrain countered that he still received emails from other board members.
“We spend so much time on this every week, just nitpicking everything,” Lorrain said. He said he held office hours two months ago, and out of the five people who showed up, “probably four of them” complained about the Board of Selectmen itself.
“It's not a very good feeling to have,” Lorrain said.
Selectman Jean Smart suggested electing a new board chairman, but Kirchherr said the bylaws don't allow impromptu elections. The chairman is elected once a year after the town meeting, he said.
Kirchherr asked the board to be more civil in the future. Smart asked him how the board should proceed if the combative tone persists at future meetings. “Then we'll have to do something more aggressive,” Kirchherr said.
Kurtz countered criticism by taking the board to task for allowing Lorrain to abstain from a vote. He said Lorrain had “made a rookie mistake” but chastised other board members for allowing it.
He accused other board members of “violating the laws of the state of Maine” by not following the town's bylaws. “I was very, very disappointed,” Kurtz said.
Lorrain said he didn't understand the vote. Kirchherr noted that in the bylaws, there is a provision allowing the chairman to allow a board member to abstain if there is good cause.
Lorrain said he wanted to abstain because he didn't want to vote on an issue he didn't fully understand.
“In my judgment, based on my life experience, that was not good cause,” Kurtz said.