King to surrender chair, decries council 'shenanigans'
BRUNSWICK - Town Council Chairwoman Joanne King confirmed this week that she will relinquish her leadership position in January.
But she isn't going quietly.
King's announcement followed a strange incident at Monday's Town Council meeting, when she accused some councilors of playing "sleazy" politics with Planning Board appointments. Her comments left many in the audience perplexed, including Richard Visser, a retired Baptist minister, who at King's urging ultimately was appointed to the Planning Board by 5-4 vote.
"They were going to screw (Visser)," King explained Tuesday. "It's because he doesn't fit their political agenda."
King specifically referred to Vice Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry and Councilor Ben Tucker, who she said were trying to delay Planning Board nominations until next year, when two new councilors are inaugurated. King said Daughtry and Tucker were banking on the new councilors being more sympathetic to an alternate nominee, one whose development principles aligned with theirs.
King's allegations further illuminated a council rift that's become a chasm over the last year. The council has engaged in several heated debates, most centering on economic development and the council's response to the 2011 closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station.
The BNAS issue has raised the stakes for Planning Board appointments, generating accusations that councilors are jockeying to nominate specific applicants.
Visser's appointment could influence the outcome of a proposal to build an 11,400-square-foot Walgreens store at the east corner of Pleasant and Stanwood streets. While the Planning Board isn't specifically considering the proposal, it is contemplating zoning changes that will directly impact its development.
King has supported the Walgreens project. Tucker and Daughtry have opposed it.
Tucker and Daughtry both denied they were attempting to bypass Visser for another appointee.
But on Monday, when Tucker attempted to table Planning Board nominations, King grew visibly irritated.
"There is no good reason to table this nomination," King said. "We're having some shenanigans here and I won't allow it."
Tucker said King's reaction proved there was "predetermined choice" for the Planning Board.
"(King) didn't want any discussion about other appointments," Tucker said. "She just wanted to ram (Visser) through without discussion."
Tucker's tabling motion wasn't seconded, which he said proved there was no organized effort to bypass Visser. He said he wanted to delay the appointment because the Appointments Committee had met with another applicant 15 minutes before Monday's meeting.
"If (King) thinks tabling nominations so we can review more applicants and have discussion is a shenanigan, well, then I don't know what to say," Tucker said.
Reached Wednesday, Daughtry remained perplexed about King's reaction. She said the Appointments Committee planned to nominate Visser regardless if the vote was delayed. Daughtry added she intended to only delay the order of other committee nominations on Monday, not until next year. She also said she planned to nominate another candidate to the Planning Board, along with Visser, and let the council decide between the two.
"Maybe (King) was anticipating something was happening that wasn't," Daughtry said.
King said Daughtry and Tucker wanted to make other committee appointments first so they could put Visser on a less influential board, something she said "happens all the time."
"We're in the worst economic situation of our lives and these two are playing politics," King said. "The worst part is that these are the same councilors always talking about transparency and openness of government. ... They're also the same councilors who vote against any kind of economic development time after time."
King's comments were followed by her confirmation that she will not try to keep the council chair in 2009. She has been council chairwoman for the last three years.
King denied that her visceral reaction Monday was related to a behind-the-scenes effort to replace her. She said it was simply her attempt to "protect the integrity of the nomination process." King acknowledged that she knew some councilors had been attempting to influence incoming councilors to vote for Daughtry and that she, too, lobbied on her own behalf.
However, she said her decision was based on a combination of issues, including what she described as her inability to fully represent her constituents without appearing like "a bully."
"I was frustrated by bad behavior on the part of some councilors," she added. "I couldn't use the chair to rein them in because it would make me look less gracious. Every time I got tough on somebody, I'd get accused of (silencing dissent)."
King reiterated her decision to give up her leadership position wasn't an attempt to pre-empt an embarrassing vote against her. She said she had asked the incoming councilors, Benet Pols and Deborah Atwood, for their support, but that both appeared uncomfortable with lobbying from both sides.
"When I was elected chair there was a lot of the same stuff," she said. "I told myself then that I wouldn't be a part of it. I certainly wasn't going to be begging for votes and making people think I needed to be chair."
Daughtry said Wednesday that she is"reluctantly" pursuing the chairmanship. Tucker, who King said was behind the effort to replace her, said he supports Daughtry.
"I don't fault (King) for the difficulty and unpleasantness of the job," Tucker said. "But it's really a tough job and I think a change in leadership is probably a good idea."
"I think there's a lot of tension on the council because we're facing tough times in the town," Tucker added. "This is coming out as we're searching for a new town manager, an economic development director and base closure. In that context I think it's time for a fresh start."
Daughtry said she wasn't eagerly soliciting the chairmanship.
"I did not want to challenge Joanne," Daughtry said. "I think she's done a fine job and will be a tough act to follow. The two of us have worked very hard to build a consensus on the council."
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org