Some Say They Feel 'Unsafe'
CHATHAM – Several members of the charter review committee say they will resign unless selectmen take action following an incident in which committee clerk Seth Taylor shouted at and allegedly physically confronted a member of the public.
The confrontation occurred after the committee's June 18 meeting had been adjourned and the meeting room video recorder had been turned off. Property owner George Myers approached the podium and said he wanted to continue to talk about alleged Open Meeting Law violations he had filed with members of the committee who wanted to stay and listen. Taylor and others told him that to continue would violate the law. Taylor, a former selectman, allegedly charged toward Myers, yelled at him to “shut up” and grabbed papers on the podium he was standing at.
“I thought he was going to either strike me or push me away from the podium,” said Myers, a frequent critic of the committee who has filed several Open Meeting Law violations against the group. Myers, who reported the incident to police, said the confrontation left him frightened and upset. He said Taylor should either resign or be removed from the committee. Several committee members said they will step down if that doesn't happen.
Taylor said he warned Myers to stop speaking after the meeting had been adjourned and worried that by continuing, Myers would cause an Open Meeting Law violation. Taylor said voice “steadily grew louder as he ignored me,” Taylor said Tuesday, acknowledging that he was “absolutely yelling at him.” He added that he looked at papers on the podium, trying to see if Myers had taken notes from a confidential document he was mistakenly shown earlier in the session, but said that as he was putting them back down Myers grabbed them.
He said he believed Myers was trying to provoke a response and was encouraged in doing so by “some like-minded people who sit on the committee.”
Conflicts between members of the charter review committee have surfaced in recent weeks, particularly surrounding Myers' Open Meeting Law allegations. Personality clashes and divisiveness on the committee have been apparent to selectmen, said Chairman Shareen Davis.
“We've been very concerned about what's going on with the committee,” she said. After meeting recently with charter review committee Chairman Elizabeth Taylor, Davis said, she offered to have a joint meeting between the committee and selectmen with a facilitator present. Given the latest allegations, which she said all selectmen have been made aware of, it is likely selectmen will address the issues more directly. Asked what that might entail, Davis said “everything's on the table right now.”
Myers has sparred with the committee over his Open Meeting Law allegations for weeks now. He said he filed the complaints because the dozens of comments and suggestions he has submitted to the group regarding its review of the town's charter have not been made public.
“I have struggled mightily and spent an incredible amount of time trying to get someone to listen to me,” he said.
Myers and several of the committee members said Seth Taylor should either resign or be removed from the committee. Member Thomas Geagan went further, saying the nine-member committee is too dysfunctional to continue its work.
“It's in the best interest of the town that this committee be disbanded” and all new members appointed, he said.
Myers went to the police department June 20 to report the confrontation, saying he wanted to get the incident on the record. Along with interviewing Myers, police visited several other committee members and received several emails regarding the incident. Police concluded that there was no criminal action involved and forwarded the report to Town Manager Jill Goldsmith.
In the report, as well as emails made available to The Chronicle, committee members' accounts of the incident are in agreement. Several said they were troubled by the incident and did not feel safe attending the committee's meetings.
“Having thought long and hard about this violent confrontation, I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that unless Mr. Taylor resigns or is removed from the committee, I am unwilling to serve any longer on the CRC,” committee member Rick Leavitt wrote in an email to Davis.
“I no longer feel safe attending these charter review committee meetings with Seth being able to act this way,” wrote member John Bendas in an email to Davis. “Unless something is done to prevent this from happening again, I feel that I must resign from the committee.”
Elizabeth Taylor said the committee officers and other members warned Myers that continuing to speak to a quorum of the group after adjournment could be a violation of the Open Meeting Law.
“Mr. Taylor was headed out the door, when Mr. Myers continued to ignore the instructions from the officers and said that members wanted to hear what he had to say,” she wrote in an email. “Mr. Taylor approached him and said that 'he (Mr. Myers) needed to shut up and sit down.' By that time I had gathered my papers and we, Mr. Taylor and I, left the room.”
In an email to Davis, Vice Chairman Gloria Freeman said she asked Myers to stop speaking out of concern that the Open Meeting Law was being violated. She said Myers did not heed Seth Taylor's warnings to sit down, and as Taylor was leaving the room Myers repeated that some members wanted to hear him. “Mr. Taylor stated that Mr. Myers 'needed to shut up and sit down,'” she wrote. “He did approach Mr. Myers but I did not see Mr. Taylor touch Mr. Myers' papers.” She said both men raised their voices, as did other members of the committee.
After Myers spoke with police June 20, Officer John Whittle interviewed several committee members the following day, according to the police report. Bendas, Leavitt, Geagan and George Lane provided the same recounting of the incident, and all said they felt as if Taylor was “out of control.” Whittle spoke with the Taylors but they declined to comment.
Myers said the incident was “upsetting.” His goal, he said, is to have the committee follow the town's policy regarding public input at meetings. “I don't think it's asking too much, frankly,” he said.
But Taylor said Myers' request, that all of his comments be made public and posted on the committee's website, are above and beyond what any other town committee is required to do. He said he refused to be intimidated and said his only interest in serving on the committee is in the best interest of the town and “making sure what is done is done above board, without special interest groups leveraging the outcome for a small group of people.”
He said he owed an apology to the committee and residents for raising his voice.
The committee met Tuesday to formulate a response to Myers' June 4 Open Meeting Law allegations but did not discuss the June 18 incident.