Editorial: North Yarmouth sends the wrong message by pulling the plug

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If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember the opening narration of the early 1960s sci-fi TV show, “The Outer Limits”:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear.”

If you live in North Yarmouth, you’re excused if after last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting you feel like you’ve reached the outer limits of your patience with town government.

It was during that meeting that Chairman Steve Palmer decided he should turn off the audio portion of the cable TV feed. Not once, but twice, because Palmer believed the discussion was too impolite for home viewers, that people were “pushing their limits of conversation.”

“Things were being said that were too damaging and insulting,” Palmer said, “so I had to turn the camera off.”

Think about it: The leader of the town’s publicly elected governing body ordered the plug pulled during an open, public meeting because he was afraid members of the public who showed up for the meeting may say things the public at home shouldn’t hear.

We’d like to believe Palmer’s decision had everything to do with an innocent – if misguided – wish to protect the folks at home, and nothing to do with the fact the public comments and questions in the meeting were largely critical of selectmen, the fire chief and the town administrator, and the roles they played in last year’s firing of the town’s deputy chief of emergency medical services, Bill Young.

Whether the town acted properly when Young was canned could end up being decided by a cadre of attorneys, a court or the Maine Human Rights Commission. But there’s no doubt Palmer’s action Feb. 17 was a violation of the trust residents place in their government officials – who already face a crisis of confidence for the the way they’ve handled Young’s case.

Palmer’s action raises all kinds of suspicion, compounds the existing mistrust surrounding Young’s firing and the subsequent resignation of another firefighter-paramedic, and makes people angrier than they were already.

Why pull the plug on a video when there are people sitting in the meeting seeing the same thing? You can’t stop the people present from seeing and hearing, so why do that to the wider audience at home?

It seems like an angry move at best, a defensive move at worst, and at the very least an example of an elected official entering the outer limits of good judgment.

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