PERU – Dozens of frustrated residents, including two selectmen, walked out of Monday night’s public hearing on recalling all five selectmen.

Before the hearing began at Dirigo Elementary School, Town Clerk Vera Parent announced she invited Terry Hayes, a state legislator from Buckfield, to be an independent moderator.

Hayes began by setting some ground rules.

“The purpose of this meeting is to listen respectfully,” she said, “and your responsibility is to listen respectfully until it is your turn to speak.”

She also provided name tags to each resident so “when I call on you by your name, it will be your turn to speak.” She said residents would have a half hour to speak about Selectman Tim Holland, Ed Ferland, Kathy Hussey, Laurieann Milligan and Dick Powell.

Tempers flared after Hayes 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.”

One resident asked Hayes how they were supposed to make a decision on the March recall vote if they were not allowed to directly ask them questions.

Hayes said she would “not be entertaining questions at tonight’s hearing.”

John Witherell responded with a motion to “get rid of the moderator and hold this meeting the way it should be.”

“That motion is out of order,” Hayes said.

Resident Jim Pulsifer made a motion that the hearing be adjourned until the March referendum.

“Mr. Pulsifer, that motion is out of order,” Hayes said. “If you wish to leave, you can leave, but this is a public hearing. You can’t make that motion.” 

Pulsifer immediately walked out, after which dozens of others began leaving the auditorium, including Ferland and Powell.

“This is out of order,” Hayes said.

“You’re out of order!” Witherell responded.

Afterward, resident Jim Worthington attempted to speak to the moderator but was interrupted by someone who returned after leaving. The resident stood at the entrance to the auditorium.

“You can come in and listen to this, you know,” Worthington said.

The resident raised his middle finger and left.

Teacher Marcia Fuller of Peru said, “I’ve always been delighted to be a part of this town and proud to raise my son here, but we’ve lost our vision. We care more about our own little petty attitudes than anything else.”

She read a poem titled, “Cold Within” by James Patrick Kinney, and finished by saying, “Look at what this town is doing.  Storming out of a meeting when we don’t get our way? My middle schoolers are better behaved than that.”

Resident Mike Breau told Hayes that while he understood her role as a moderator, he also believed that the public hearing was described, in the days leading up to it, as being a place where citizens could ask questions.

“Unfortunately, those individuals walked out of here,” Breau said, “but I hope we don’t sit here and condemn them for doing that.”

One resident said that by walking out of the hearing, Ferland and Powell “showed they’re not strong in their positions,” and “the selectman that didn’t come to the hearing showed a weakness in his political figure.”

He was referring to Chairman Holland, who announced last week that he would not attend Monday night’s hearing.

Reading a statement, Hussey choked up as she said, “I have done nothing wrong in my duties as a selectman.

“I sincerely apologize to the good people of Peru,” she continued. “If these people get what they want, I won’t consider it a win for them.  I consider it a loss for the town of Peru.”

During a phone interview after the meeting, resident Martha Witherell, who left the hearing with her husband, John, said she has “seen trials in a courtroom more relaxed than the Peru hearing.”

“I mean, what the heck was that?” she asked. “We’ve been portrayed as crazy, but we didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘We’re going to attack the selectmen today.’  Everything that they say, I can show that it’s a lie.”

She said she could also prove that during a public hearing, residents are allowed to ask questions and get answers.

“It was illegal what they did tonight,” she said.

As the meeting came to a close, Hayes recommended residents visit the website thecivilityproject.org.

“There are three very simple statements on the website,” she said. She read, “I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them — and the one I think is the most important — I will stand against incivility when I see it.”

“I think there’s something there we can all learn from tonight,” she said.

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