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News Analysis: Klatt conflict dogs Brunswick council

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News Analysis: Klatt conflict dogs Brunswick council

BRUNSWICK — Residents who bothered to watch the April 27 Town Council meeting may have wondered if they were seeing a re-run of the council's previous meeting.

Or the one before that.

While the agendas have changed, one issue – a conflict between Councilor Karen Klatt and Mike Ouellet, the former president of the Brunswick Economic Development Corp. – continues to infiltrate town business.

The conflict has followed the council ever since a March 30 workshop, after which Klatt and Ouellet had a heated exchange. Ouellet resigned from the BEDC two days later, prompting his supporters to speak on his behalf and berate the council during an April 6 meeting.

On April 16, the council responded by censuring Klatt, saying she had made inappropriate statements about Ouellet's personal life after the March 30 workshop.

Klatt has maintained that her remarks were in response to Ouellet threatening her. Klatt did not mention Ouellet by name during the March 30 workshop, leading the councilor to claim that her question about conflict of interest – an allegation leveled at Ouellet after he won the primary contract for the Maine Street Station project – and the response by a guest from the Scarborough Economic Development Corp. had "struck a nerve."

Klatt claims that Ouellet warned her never to raise the conflict issue again.

While the council had hoped its April 16 censure put the issue to rest, Monday's meeting proved otherwise, as Klatt's supporters criticized the council for rebuking her.

Tom Fusco's comments were the most pointed, saying that the council's alienation of Klatt was because of her unpopular but "courageous" questioning of town practices and the business community. The April 16 censure, Fusco said, "was a perfect example of your disdain for her."

When Fusco began talking about the confrontation with Ouellet and his perceived conflict of interest, Councilor Gerald Favreau attempted to step in, calling for Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry to gavel Fusco down. Daughtry conceded, warning Fusco not to disparage other residents.

Fusco responded by saying he was only discussing facts that have been published in press accounts. When Daughtry asked for the next speaker, Fusco refused to surrender the podium

"I'm not done," he said. "I have five minutes."

Two more of Klatt's supporters followed Fusco. Julie Poole compared Klatt's position to women who were "thrown into mental hospitals for speaking the truth." Poole is the same resident who had a confrontation with Ted Crooker, vicepresident of Harry C. Crooker & Sons and a BEDC member, after an April 6 meeting.

Crooker resigned from the BEDC a short time later.

Later, Klatt read a long statement defending her actions. She said she didn't instigate the March 30 incident, adding that Ouellet verbally "attacked and threatened" her and waved a finger in her face.

"I don't respond well to threats," Klatt said, noting that her fellow councilors didn't come to her aid.

Klatt didn't go into her response to those threats, but after the March 30 meeting, she attempted to show a reporter what she said was a picture of Ouellet's girlfriend that she had printed from the Internet. Although the reporter declined her invitation, Klatt said the picture spoke to Ouellet's character.

Klatt's actions were not relevant to the March 30 meeting. However, the subsequent response by Ouellet, who initially threatened to sue the town, as well as the council's actions against Klatt and the ongoing uproar, have created many ambiguities about what transpired.

The council attempted to address Klatt's conduct during a closed-door session on April 6. The April 16 censuring, meanwhile, made specific reference to her actions "after the meeting" – not her line of questioning during the workshop.

On Monday, Klatt said she "never accused anyone of anything," a reference to BEDC affiliates who claimed she publicly disparaged Ouellet with the conflict of interest charge.

Ouellet previously served on the town's Maine Street Station Implementation Committee. He won the lead contractor job at Maine Street Station shortly after the committee disbanded. He has since described the ensuing conflict allegations as "personal attacks."

Klatt was among those who raised the issue, although she hasn't specifically used Ouellet's name.

On Monday, Klatt said that it was her responsibility to "investigate the issues."

"The council is not a rubber stamp for spending (residents') money," she said.

"I try to base my decisions and actions on (information)," she added. "What I do not tolerate is bullying, backstabbing and inaccurate reporting."

Several councilors were taken aback by her statement. Daughtry said Klatt's comments were more appropriate during a closed-door session.

"I don't disagree with some of (Klatt's) statements," Daughtry said. "... Nobody has taken issue with Councilor Klatt for doing her job."

On Tuesday Councilor Debbie Atwood was critical of Klatt's statement. While Klatt has successfully pushed to get information about agenda items in well in advance of meetings, Atwood was upset she hadn't provided councilors a copy of her remarks before Monday's meeting.

"It is the height of irony that she chose to make a highly charged speech to the Council without providing us with a copy beforehand or with the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with her either in Executive Session or in a planned portion of a public Council meeting," Atwood wrote in an e-mail. "For someone who is dedicated to openness and public dialogue, Councilor Klatt was disturbingly willing to manipulate the process to meet her own needs."

This story was corrected on April 30 to say that Ouellet won the Maine Street Station contract shortly after the committee disbanded. 

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net

 

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