PERU – A day after dozens of residents, including two selectmen, walked out of Peru's public hearing on recalling all five selectmen, tensions remained high.
Selectman Ed Ferland, who walked out of the meeting, along with Selectman Richard Powell, said Monday night's hearing was a disaster.
“It was bad,” Ferland said Tuesday afternoon. “It was all preplanned. If they want to know how the people of the town feel, they can't do a hearing the way they did it last night. We should've known where the people stand, and they should know where we stand, and you can't do that without asking questions. It just was not a proper way of having a hearing.”
Many residents were frustrated after independent moderator Terry Hayes of Buckfield advised, “This hearing will not be a debate, or a cross-examination, or a grilling. If you have a question for one of the selectmen, you'll have to ask them outside of this hearing. This is an opportunity for you to speak your mind.”
Some residents argued that they had a right to ask questions at the hearing, while Hayes repeatedly explained that she would not be entertaining questions.
Shortly after, dozens of residents left the Dirigo Elementary School auditorium.
Selectman Powell said Tuesday evening that the hearing “was a complete circus” and “it's too bad it had to go that way.
“There's a lot of things to talk about,” Powell said. “I think the group did exactly the right thing by walking out. We couldn't convince the moderator to change her tone, so it's all we could do.”
Powell also said town treasurer Vera Parent had “no authority to hire a moderator.”
“That isn't how we run a town,” Powell said. “We have selectmen meetings, we bring these things up during the meeting, and we could've avoided this whole thing, but as usual, we never got to that point. All I do is work for the people, and regardless if you like me or not, I'm here for the people. When I can't talk at a meeting for the people, it's frustrating.”
Despite his frustration, Powell said that during next Tuesday's selectmen's meeting, he'll “want to know how much preplanning went into the hearing.
“Who knows, it could be a straightforward mistake or misunderstanding,” Powell said. “There's always little mistakes like this behind the scenes.”
Resident Jim Pulsifer, who made a motion early in the hearing that it be adjourned, said he's never seen a hearing run that way.
“I don't know how they justified not allowing questions,” Pulsifer said. “The moderator wasn't the problem. I just don't know where she got her marching orders from.”
After the hearing Monday night, Martha Witherell said, “It's too bad it's come to this. There are families fighting with families, friends fighting with friends. Something has to be done.”
She and her husband, John, were among those who walked out early.
Ferland said the board “is divided” and “even though we're on a recall petition, it doesn't mean we've been recalled yet.”
A town vote on recalling Ferland, Powell, Kathleen Hussey, Laurieann Milligan and Chairman Tim Holland is scheduled March 4.
The petitions to remove selectmen began after Hussey refused to leave her board position or town secretarial position, after voters passed an ordinance saying town employees could not hold positions on the Board of Selectmen or Finance Committee simultaneously.
The Maine Municipal Association advised selectmen that Hussey could finish her term.
Tammy Ferland, wife of Ed, spearheaded the petitions to recall Hussey and Milligan, citing their failure to represent the will of voters, abide by the ordinance and to abide by town personnel policy.
Hussey helped circulate the petitions to recall Ferland and Powell. The paperwork was submitted to the board by Holland. It says the two have failed to carry out their duties and responsibilities, and their actions have brought the board into disrepute.
Warren Oldham submitted the petition against Holland, saying he believes he has abused his power as chairman and failed to represent the will of voters.