NORTH YARMOUTH — Two weeks after the audio portion of the cable TV feed of a Board of Selectmen’s meeting was intentionally cut, residents on Tuesday urged the board to be more transparent.
Continued criticism of the town’s December 2014 firing of one of its Fire-Rescue Department paramedics, and the escalating nature of a conversation between Selectman Alex Carr and Town Manager Rosemary Roy about a Feb. 3 broken water pipe at the vacant North Yarmouth Memorial School, led board Chairman Steve Palmer to twice have the audio turned off on Feb. 17.
In the first instance, involving Roy’s firing of Deputy Chief of Emergency Medical Services Bill Young, Palmer said last month that people had been “pushing their limits of conversation,” and “kept entering into personnel matters; we couldn’t answer their question, they kept persisting, so finally I just had (the camera man) turn off the camera, because it was going nowhere.”
In the second, during the conversation over the pipe, “things were being said that were too damaging and insulting, so I had to turn the camera off,” Palmer explained.
Woody Brewer of Sweetser Road on Tuesday expressed concern about Palmer’s action. “We should be transparent, and we should show that things are going on,” he said.
Brewer said it’s Palmer’s job to maintain civil public debate.
“But shutting off the video feed to the town members, I don’t think that was appropriate,” he said.
Palmer responded that he has heard an equal number of comments from the public and selectmen for and against his decision to cut the feed.
“It was a decision that I made at the time, right or wrong,” he said.
Maribeth Stuart of Gray Road said she attended the Feb. 17 meeting and that “while the questions and discussion were not comfortable, because people stood very firmly on one side or the other … no one was uncivil. … There was no reason for the (feed) to be turned off. Everyone should have been able to hear it, and make their own judgment.”
Selectman Clark Whittier echoed the need for maintaining transparency, saying he hoped the feed would never again be cut.
Jeff Toorish, a lieutenant medic with the department who resigned the same day Young was fired, has said their departures followed disagreements that escalated after the town prohibited firefighters from washing their private vehicles at the fire station.
Both men have claimed town officials violated their civil rights, and Young said he has filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission. Young has said an argument he had with Roy over his roles as a private citizen and employee of the town led to the manager firing him.
Later in the meeting the Board of Selectmen discussed an agreement to buy part of a 215-acre parcel of undeveloped land in North Yarmouth and Cumberland.
The Trust for Public Land, the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, and the Royal River Conservation Trust have been working with the two towns to purchase and preserve Knight’s Pond and Blueberry Hill, a mostly forested tract off Greely Road Extension.
North Yarmouth voters will decide at Town Meeting next month whether to approve spending up to $100,000 from the town’s Future Lands Fund for about 50 acres of the property; the selectmen have expressed support for the purchase.
The Cumberland Town Council on Feb. 9 unanimously approved spending $300,000 from Open Space Acquisition reserves to buy its portion of the property.
The Trust for Public Land has until the end of May to exercise its option on the property, and will then be obligated to close by June 30. The two towns will then acquire their portions of the property from TPL, and will convey easements to their respective land trusts.