UPDATE: MCLU challenges Falmouth council on resolution restricting language
FALMOUTH — In response to what some councilors called threats and bullying by a Falmouth citizen, the Town Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night that bars name-calling, personal attacks and abusive language during meetings and in correspondence.
But on Wednesday, May 12, the Maine Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the council condemning the resolution and urging that the amendments to the rules be rejected as unconstitutional.
Since mid-February, resident Michael Doyle has communicated regularly with the council, School Board, town and school employees. He has requested documents and statistics, and responded to actions taken by officials on several issues.
Recently, Doyle has expressed displeasure with the way some officials have handled his requests and criticism. He accused Councilor Bonny Rodden of lying about the number of e-mails she received from citizens in support of the METRO bus service, and said he disagrees with the manner by which Council Chairwoman Cathy Breen addresses other councilors and speakers at meetings.
Doyle said he believes this resolution and the proposed changes to council rules are intended to silence him.
"They don't like the message so they're silencing the messenger," he said.
However, Rodden and Breen said Doyle's actions discourage others from participating in the democratic process and speaking during meetings.
"The tension is incredible. Nobody knows what he's going to do next," Rodden said. "He's really intimidating people. That's what concerns me in the long run — what's this going to do for the future of our town?"
During Monday night's meeting, Rodden read a May 4 letter she received from Doyle.
"If you should win re-election I imagine you would supply me with endless opportunities to embarrass and humiliate you as a councilor," Doyle wrote.
"If you force my hand by not withdrawing from this election I will bring my considerable skill set and intellect to bear against you," he continued. "... You may want to discuss your decision with your family because they will have to live with it as much as you will."
"This has a chilling effect on democracy," Rodden said during the meeting. "Who is going to want to run for council after this?"
Doyle attempted to speak from the back of the room Monday night while the council was discussing the resolution and rule changes, raising his hand and yelling "madame chair" several times. The public comment period – during which he did not speak – had already passed, and Breen did not acknowledge him.
All of the councilors in attendance spoke out in support of the resolution and against the language in the May 4 letter to Rodden.
"I've never witnessed any such actions by an individual in the town of Falmouth," said Councilor Fred Chase.
"It is wholly inappropriate and won't be tolerated," Vice Chairman Tony Payne said.
Although the town sent Doyle's letter to the Maine attorney general for review, Town Manager Nathan Poore said charges are not being sought.
Police Chief Edward Tolan refused to comment on the situation. But an armed police officer was present at Monday night's meeting and Poore left the meeting several times to confer with the officer. Doyle left and returned to the meeting several times.
"This is definitely costing the town money," Breen said. "It costs staff time, the police chief's time."
Rodden estimated that she has spent 20 hours responding to Freedom of Information Act requests from Doyle.
The council also met with the town's attorney during an executive session Monday night in regard to this issue.
"I thought this would happen, just not this soon," Doyle said of the council's resolution and proposed rule changes.
He said he views the interactions between himself and the councilors as a chess game.
"I have to plan 15 moves out," he said. "I feel like I'm playing a handicapped person on the other side."
After Breen gaveled Doyle down during a council meeting in April, he sent a letter to the councilors admonishing them for electing her as chairwoman.
"If it is your choice to have Ms. Breen be your standard bearer and embarrass all of you with idiotic quotes in the paper and nearly incomprehensible sound bites on TV that is your decision," the letter said. It also referred to Breen as "nutty" and making "a fool of herself."
He sent another letter April 14 after both he and Breen appeared on a local television channel discussing Falmouth's proposed protections for vernal pools.
"Ms. Breen pounding the table like a demented person, screaming like a banshee, the guided tour of the puddle, and the deer in the headlight look, PRICELESS," Doyle wrote.
Doyle insists he is in possession of potentially damaging information about several Falmouth councilors. But he would reveal neither the councilors nor the nature of the information.
"I've got a game plan," he said. "It's a surprise."
According the attorney general's office, in March 2002, Doyle was found guilty of securities fraud and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison with all but 14 months suspended, as well as a $16,000 fine. Doyle has a website, www.lyinglawyers.com, that confirms his conviction and claims he was duped by several attorneys.
In the MCLU letter, volunteer attorney Kelly McDonald said “unpleasant comments are an unavoidable part (perhaps an essential part) of the hurly burly of living in a free and open democracy."
Citing multiple court precedents, McDonald pointed out that a content-based restriction such as that proposed by the council must meet strict standards to be considered constitutional and that the amendments to the Council Rules “do not meet these requirements.”
The council will vote on the rule changes at its May 24 meeting.
Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org