PARIS — Selectmen voted Monday to rescind a Jan. 23 vote excluding Selectman Ted Kurtz from discussion about the town’s attorney, Geoffrey Hole.
Kurtz said that vote was illegal Monday. After some discussion, the board voted 4-1 to rescind the vote, removing the Jan. 23 action. Selectman Jean Smart voted against rescinding.
“What you did was totally illegal,” Kurtz told board members before the vote.
“This board, without any understanding of the difference between a quasi-judicial proceeding and a legislative proceeding . . . took it on themselves to try to shut up one member of the board,” Kurtz said. “And that is an infringement of the legal rights of that member of the board.”
He said he was “perfectly willing” to take the matter to court. He asked the board to reconsider the vote and also to say they wouldn’t try to silence a board member again.
He said the bias rule Smart cited was made for the board’s role in quasi-judicial matters, when the board acts as a judge, such as in approving permits. Discussion of the town’s attorney doesn’t fall under that category.
Kurtz said he doesn’t have any quarrel with Hole’s work as a municipal lawyer, but said he doesn’t think that Hole, “as a litigator, properly represents this town.”
Hole is a municipal attorney working for the Portland law firm Bernstein Shur. He represents several local towns in addition to Paris.
Kurtz also said that his feelings against the town attorney have nothing to do with the fact that Kurtz served in the same position before joining the Board of Selectmen.
“Anybody who would suggest that I am petty enough to have some kind of bias against him because he replaced me is hallucinating,” he said. “I’m not petty.”
Chairman Robert Kirchherr said that, upon further analysis of Maine Municipal Association guidelines, it was clear that the Jan. 23 vote was not appropriate. “I believe the board was in error in making that vote,” Kirchherr said.
“To declare that he wasn’t able to speak on the issue because he is prejudiced in that particular context was inappropriate,” he said.
The original motion was to declare that Kurtz was biased on the issue and ineligible to vote.
“It wasn’t just everyday, plain old common garden-variety bias,” Smart said. “I was reading from prejudicial bias, which is a whole different kettle of fish.”
MMA guidelines say some bias is normal, but that prejudicial bias occurs “when the bias is so strong that the official cannot make an impartial decision,” Smart said, reading from the guidelines.
“The intensity of a municipal officer’s bias cannot really be known unless that municipal officer has said or done things that make it clear, and that was made very clear about his opinion of Geoff Hole,” Smart said.
Selectman Ken West recalled that Kurtz “really slammed” Hole. “He wasn’t here to defend himself.” He said he thought Kurtz should apologize to Hole.