SB Vice Chair is Sorry-Not-Sorry
4/19/21 Selectboard Meeting
by Irene Wrenner
April 30, 2021
Public comments at the April 19th Selectboard meeting began with Vice Chair Pat Murray who “wanted to apologize for my role in texting during a recent meeting.”
Murray explained that, although he may present as calm and impassive at meetings, in actuality, his personality is quite the opposite.
Apologizing in advance for his vulgarity, he said that people who know him understand that he is “sometimes a douchebag.”
Murray admitted to mistakes, including the conversation with Elaine Haney on March 25th in which he texted about members of the public in disparaging terms. He expressed deep regret that what he said might discourage people from speaking at future meetings.
Due to his breach of multiple meeting protocols (see box below) last month, a number of residents have requested that he resign. Despite that demand, Murray stated firmly, he has no plans to resign from his seat nor his role as Vice Chair.
Murray admitted it was unacceptable for him to disparage a particular member of the public, whom he thought had insulted town staff.
In fact, the man, whom he referred to as “an ass,” was specifically quoting a derogatory comment made by the former chair.
Murray then qualified his apology, justifying his unprofessional behavior by broadly accusing public members of repeatedly and consistently insulting public officials.
He has personally had his feelings hurt, and claimed civility has been “vanishing very quickly” in recent years.
He further excused his behavior: He was angry that the Retorter published a photo of what he referred to as “our board chair in tears,” after a procedural vote did not go her way at the July 6th meeting.
SB Clerk Vince Franco also admitted texting with the former board chair. He excused his violation of SB protocols as “blowing off steam with a friend,” and he apologized and expressed regret for his deeply inappropriate actions.
Audience members’ reactions to their apologies ranged widely from supporting Murray and Franco to rebuking their behavior as well as doubting their ability to continue to serve on the Selectboard.
After hearing at length from everyone, recently-elected Chair Andy Watts noted that today he’d set aside the time limits established by former chair Haney. He expected some criticism leveled against elected officials.
Because the constitution provides very strong protections for such criticism, Watts didn’t want to limit anyone’s ability to say their piece. More than an hour was spent on Public to be Heard before tackling items on the agenda.
Merger, Separation and Next Steps
Among other agenda items was a conversation about Merger, Separation and Next Steps, now that the Merger vote has failed in back-to-back elections in March and April and the Village has approved a non-binding vote to explore Separation.
The Unified Manager explained that Separation is no easier than Merger: neither happens with just a vote. Much planning is required beforehand and legislative approval is required afterward.
The public offered wide-ranging comments and questions, including:
Who will represent the interests of the Town / TOV in the coming months?
Who will provide legal and financial advice to the Town / TOV?
Would the Town / TOV get a say in the Separation negotiations?
Would there be a November vote asking the Town / TOV if the Village should be allowed to Separate?
Should the sole Village resident on the SB (Pat Murray) recuse himself from the discussion?
Regarding staff whose salaries are jointly paid by the Town and Village, on whose behalf will they work?
Will the Village attempt to annex part(s) of the TOV?
If the Village rushes to a Separation-related vote in November, the Town may need to prepare simultaneously for its own TBD vote.
It’s crucial to understand why Merger failed so as not to repeat past mistakes.
Some residents expressed deep disappointment in the vote outcome.
A repeated theme: the Town needs to be prepared to negotiate with Village, and TOV residents need to be represented equitably, which has not happened in previous Merger planning.
Unprompted, Pat Murray wondered aloud if the Village might still own the Police Department. He claimed that paper records of the transfer to the Town 40+ years ago have not been located.
The Retorter has since obtained a cache of newspaper articles circa 1980 that describe the outcomes of the Town and Village votes, as well as the proactive resignation of all Village Police officers to emphasize their agreement with the decision to form the EPD.
Village resident Murray suggested that the Trustees may not be interested in having the Selectboard at their table to discuss Separation. Nevertheless, Andy Watts will seek a joint meeting with the Trustees.
Unified Town / Village Manager Evan Teich offered to broker a deal between his two employers.
All of these rules were in force on March 25th:
Essex Selectboard's Rules and Regulations for Orderly Conduct of Business:
- Side conversations shall not be allowed at the table or from the audience.
- Cell phones or other electronic, handheld devices shall only be used during meetings for purposes related to the meeting.
Town of Essex Communication Policy
- Any communication – be it email, telephone, in person, on social media, or otherwise – should be considered public unless subject to a statutorily listed and invoked exemption to the public records law.
Selectboard Computer Use Policy
- During board meetings ... cell phones or other electronic, hand-held devices, shall only be used for purposes related to the meetings.