Falmouth council critic launches drive to recall chairwoman

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FALMOUTH — Five residents, led by outspoken Town Council critic Michael Doyle, have launched a campaign to recall Chairwoman Cathy Breen for “repeatedly failing to comply with the Rules of the Town Council.”

The petition filed against Breen, whose second term expires in June 2011, is the first step in an attempt to remove her from the council. The document, dated April 20, was signed by Doyle, Robert Povall, Jan Andrews, Beverley Knudsen and Peter Mullaney. But it was not turned in to the town clerk until May 19.

The following day, Mullaney requested that his name be removed. Mullaney did not respond to several requests to discuss his decision. His action voided the petition until Doyle’s mother, Marion Doyle, signed the document on May 24.

“I could have gotten many people to sign it, but I wanted to move it along quickly,” Doyle said. “And she couldn’t wait to sign it.”

Breen said she did not know if she would mount a counter-campaign against the recall, or if the effort would affect the manner by which she maintains decorum at council meetings.

“Mr. Doyle has the right to use the charter to make his views known through the mechanism available,” Breen said.

“I do the best job I can. I’m sure I’m not perfect.”

The recall process requires that five citizens sign on as members of a recall committee. The committee then has 30 days to collect signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters in Falmouth.

If they are successful, the town would have 60 days to hold a recall election. If the petition fails, it cannot be resubmitted for 180 days from the end of the filing period.

During the Town Council meeting on Monday, May 24, Doyle said he was encouraged to form the committee by a councilor he declined to identify. However, he distributed copies of an e-mail sent to him by Councilor David Libby on Feb. 23, 2010, that referred to a past recall campaign against former Councilor Ann Goggin.

In it, Libby stated that he “can’t agree more that Chair Breen has been rude and short with (Councilor) Fred (Chase) and other citizens.” Libby also encouraged Doyle to “Keep up the good work and more importantly keep the heat turned up!”

Libby on Tuesday confirmed he wrote the message. But he said he never encouraged Doyle to mount a recall campaign against Breen and said he specifically asked him, if he was going to attempt a recall, to not to do it until after the June election.

“I never said I condoned the recall. I don’t,” Libby said.

Doyle has also received permission to display a video of Breen and have a table at the polls during the June 8 election in an effort to gather signatures. He said he is planning to be there.

Meanwhile, on the evening of May 20, Doyle was removed from the Falmouth Republican Town Committee.

According to committee President Bill Gardiner, the action came after some committee members felt Doyle’s recent criticism of town councilors stepped beyond their comfort levels.

“The politics of personality – that’s really what it was,” Gardiner said. “I think sooner or later, he’s going to be vindicated.”

Gardiner said he strongly supports many of Doyle’s positions, particularly his criticism of the school budget. However, the committee was disturbed by Doyle’s personal attacks against Breen and Councilor Bonny Rodden.

“The way he did it caused dissent in the ranks,” Gardiner said.

Doyle on Tuesday would not discuss the town GOP committee’s action, stating only that what Gardiner said should be considered accurate.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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Falmouth council rejects curbs on speech

FALMOUTH — Town councilors unanimously rejected rule changes Monday, May 24, that would have governed some types of public comment during their meetings.

The vote came after the Maine Civil Liberties Union admonished the Town Council for trying to limit free speech.

“We applaud the council for its principles and pragmatic vote for free speech,” MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows said.

The vote means current rules, which give the council chair control over meeting decorum, will stand.

“The chair has the ability to gavel down anyone not agreed to be in good taste,” Vice Chairman Tony Payne said. “The council rules also allow the council to challenge the chair.”

Events leading up to Monday’s vote began several months ago, when Chairwoman Cathy Breen gaveled down resident Michael Doyle when he called for a point of order from the audience. 

Since then, Doyle has sent multiple e-mails questioning Breen’s behavior, and recently formed a recall committee to collect signatures to force a vote to have her removed from office.

He has also sent e-mails to Councilor Bonny Rodden, noting her role as a wife and mother, and warning her that if she does not pull out of the June 8 council election, he would bring his “considerable skill set and intellect to bear against you.”

“I have nothing against them personally,” Doyle said. “(But) they’re not qualified by temperament or intelligence to be making multi-million dollar decisions for the town.”

During Monday evening’s meeting, the council asked Police Chief Edward Tolan to explain the council’s options if councilors feel threatened by Doyle.

“There is a cease harassment notice, which is drawn one of two ways,” Tolan said.

He explained that first, a councilor could file the notice with the Police Department, which would alert Doyle that he must stop contact with that councilor. However, he would also be summonsed to court, where a judge would decide if the cease harassment notice and its attached conditions would be upheld.

“There needs to be careful balance between honoring free speech and protecting the personal safety of public officials,” Bellows said.

A police officer has been present at the last two Town Council meetings. Because the Police Department is understaffed, the department is using overtime to maintain the extra detail.

No charges or cease-harassment paperwork has been filed by any of the councilors.

“I have been disgusted with what has transpired over the past four months,” Councilor Will Armitage said, “but I’m torn on the rule changes. I’m concerned they go too far.”

Only Councilor Bonny Rodden spoke in favor of the changes, but after extensive discussion, she voted against the measure.

“I’m a journalist. I’m a great defender of free speech,” Rodden said, “but there are times when speech goes too far.”

— Emily Parkhurst

Falmouth resident Michael Doyle addresses the council during the May 24 meeting. Doyle has repeatedly criticized the council on a variety of issues and has recently mounted a campaign to have Council Chairwoman Cathy Breen recalled from her position.

Councilor Fred Chase addresses the council during the May 24 meeting where the council voted unanimously to reject rule changes that would have prohibited abusive and threatening language during the public comment portion of the meetings.

Councilor Bonny Rodden speaks out in defense of rule changes that would prohibit use of abusive or threatening language when addressing the council. Rodden has received letters from resident Michael Doyle warning her against running for reelection and mentioning her role as a wife and mother.

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