BARRE — A shorthanded City Council narrowly called for the immediate ouster of President Donald Trump, and balked at a resolution supporting the local police department during its virtual meeting Tuesday night.
The latter resolution died for lack of a second on a night when two of the council’s seven members were absent and a third — Michael Boutin — left offended moments before the vote on a separate resolution calling for Trump’s removal and condemning last week’s “violent insurrection” in Washington, D.C.
Boutin’s abrupt departure left the council clinging to a quorum and required Mayor Lucas Herring to cast the decisive fourth vote in favor of a resolution that was edited on the fly.
Herring insisted three “subjective” passages be dropped from the resolution and other minor adjustments made in exchange for his support. Without it, the resolution proposed by Councilor Jake Hemmerick wouldn’t have had the four votes needed for passage.
The resolution was approved, 4-0, following a discussion that began with Hemmerick and Councilor Teddy Waszazak skewering Trump and urging council action, and Boutin reiterating his long-standing misgivings about straying too far from city business.
“I don’t think we should be dealing with national politics on a local level,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what we’re elected to do.”
Boutin’s observation came after Hemmerick and Waszazak read prepared statements suggesting otherwise. Resident Ellen Kaye offered her own harsh critique of Trump supporters, whose Friday night demonstrations in City Hall Park last year were a sign of things to come, she said.
“I know what kind of people those were down in (Washington) D.C. (last week) because I saw them here,” she said, criticizing the council for “capitulating to bullies” by agreeing to display the “Thin Blue Line” flag in the park this month after the December-long display of the Black Lives Matter flag.
That isn’t what prompted Boutin to sign off, but Kaye’s subsequent comment — one that challenged his belief about the council’s role — did.
“It is not an outside issue,” she said. “It is here, and if we don’t speak on it we are no better than the so-called ‘good Germans’ who did nothing. They weren’t S.S. members. They weren’t killing Jews and gay people and everyone else, but they did nothing, and that is what it took to make it (the Nazi regime) succeed.”
The comparison prompted Boutin to note complaints about “gaslighting” cut both ways.
“What we just barely heard was basically calling me a ‘good German,’” he said. “With that comment I think I’m going to leave the council meeting. ... This is ... ridiculous.”
Hemmerick opened the discussion by rejecting the notion the proposed resolution was meaningless and the arguments advanced by those who suggest Trump should simply be allowed to leave office next week. The president, he said, instigated an uprising that came “dangerously close to assassinations and coup” and should be forced to own it.
“We cannot cede ground or fail to condemn sedition, insurrection and domestic terrorists who seek to molest and riot in the ‘people’s house,” he said. “I think this council has a chance tonight to stand with America and to defend our republic, and I hope our vote on this resolution reflects that.”
Waszazak echoed those sentiments.
“I am horrified but not at all surprised to see armed, Trump-supporting, right-wing domestic terrorists siege the Capitol,” he said. “This was the natural conclusion of the violence, abuse and terror that the country has been subjected to for almost six years.”
Waszazak blamed Trump for what he characterized as “an attempted coup,” and suggested the president and “the politics that enabled him” should be placed “on the ash heap of history where fascists and traitors belong.”
Councilor Ericka Reil was silent until it was time to vote. Then she joined Hemmerick, Waszazak and Herring in voting in favor of the resolution after it was softened to address concerns expressed by Herring.
Earlier in the meeting, Herring’s attempt to broker a compromise with respect to a separate resolution expressing support for the local police department fell flat.
Boutin was online at the time and moved the council approve the resolution recommended by the recently appointed Civilian Oversight and Advisory Board.
Hemmerick didn’t second it. Neither did Waszazak nor Reil, and Herring was on the verge of declaring it dead when Hemmerick offered an explanation.
Though his sister is a police officer, Hemmerick said he was troubled by a resolution that singled out one city department, and had issues with language expressed “unequivocal support” for local police, suggested the absence of systemic racism, and opposed “defunding” the department.
“I’m not willing to say I wouldn’t defund any department, if that means cutting a budget when a budget needs to be cut,” he said.
Hemmerick’s comments prompted Herring to suggest a compromise. He said he would be willing to entertain similar resolutions expressing support for other city departments and to modify the resolution to strike the references Hemmerick found objectionable.
That wouldn’t cure Waszazak’s complaint the resolution was drafted during the debate over a resolution condemning systemic racism and police brutality that was adopted by the council last summer.
“That was the spirit of this resolution, and I cannot get behind that,” he said.
None of those objections were new and all were discussed last year, as was a concern adoption of the resolution that was drafted by Councilor John Steinman at Herring’s request could have a chilling on the then yet-to-be-seated Citizens Oversight and Advisory Board.
That board is now seated, has been meeting for months, and its chairman, Bob Nelson, said members had reviewed the proposed resolution and recommended its approval.
Nelson said the board also recommended dropping the word “oversight” from its title — a change that better reflected the board’s role.
Boutin’s motion to change the name to the Citizens Advisory Board also died for lack of a second, though members were told lawyers had vetted the proposal, and it was backed by the board. No justification was offered for resisting the recommended change, though Hemmerick questioned why it mattered, and the city manager was asked to consult with City Attorney Oliver Twombly.