The Doctor is In

It’s only July, but it looks like it could be a crowded field in November with several potential candidates jousting for the mayor’s seat in Biddeford.

Mayor Alan Casavant announced in April that he would seek a third two-year term.

A few weeks before Casavant’s announcement, Perry Aberele made a statement to a Boston Globe reporter that he would be seeking the seat; and today Dr. Daniel Parenteau, PhD., announced that he will also seek to oust Casavant in November.

Parenteau told the Portland Press Herald he is running because of his concerns about the “trajectory of the city,” saying city hall politics have been stalled by sexual abuse allegations and unsettled contracts with union employees.

Daniel Parenteau

Daniel Parenteau

This is not Parenteau’s first bid for public office.

Two years ago, Parenteau was one of six candidates for the city’s two at-large city council seats. He finished in last place with 805 votes, despite support he received from Casavant.

Only a few weeks after losing his bid, Parenteau was appointed by Casavant to chair a newly-formed Efficiency Committee. (Disclosure: I was also appointed to that committee.)

The “Efficiency” Committee met only three times and never forwarded any recommendations to the city council.

Parenteau is a life-long resident of Biddeford and regularly posts on his blog: Letters to Myself.

Mayor Alan Casavant

Mayor Alan Casavant

As for Aberle, this is not the first time he has considered running for mayor. Aberle finished third in a three-way race for the seat in 2013 with 720 votes, compared to Casavant’s commanding lead of 2,377 votes and 1,043 votes for Joanne Twomey.

(According to the Biddeford City Clerk’s Office, write-in candidate Karl Reed, Jr., received four votes)

Twomey, who served two terms as the city’s mayor before being ousted by Casavant in 2011, has reportedly told her supporters that she will not seek the seat this year.

Another potential candidate is former City Councilor Roch Angers, who organized a citizens meeting earlier this month to hear concerns about sexual abuse allegations that have been leveled against two former police officers.

roch

Roch Angers

During a telephone conversation a few weeks ago, Angers skillfully dodged my question regarding rumors that he might be seeking a seat.

Although Angers, who lost his own bid for an at-large council seat in 2013, was direct in telling me that he is still upset with Casavant for supporting Parenteau in that race, he declined to say whether he would consider another bid for office. “It’s not something I want to talk about at this time,” he said.

George “Pete” Lamontagne, another former city councilor, quelled rumors that he might seek the seat, responding to friends and supporters on Facebook that he is happily retired after many years of faithful public service.

Casavant has won his past two elections with strong numbers, but he will be challenged in this cycle by several factors, including the recent budget, stalled labor contracts and the allegations of sexual abuse.

Although the mayor has no vote on the budget or the contract negotiations, voters will likely hold him responsible either way.

Regarding the sexual abuse allegations, Casavant has said the city is cooperating and complying with the Maine Attorney General’s Office as that agency continues to conduct its investigation of the allegations.

Nomination papers for mayor, city council and school committee will be available from the City Clerk’s office on August 3.

Boys Don’t Cry

Union members protest outside City Hall before the July 7 meeting. (Biddeford Teamsters photo)

Union members protest outside City Hall before the July 7 meeting. (Biddeford Teamsters photo)

Maybe it was the heat.

Maybe it was that more than 150 people had packed themselves into the tiny and cramped Biddeford City Council Chambers.

More than likely, it was because tensions remain high between the city council and the Teamsters union that represents the city’s police, fire and public works department in ongoing contract negotiations.

But for whatever reason, only a few minutes into the July 7 council meeting, chaos erupted and the meeting was quickly adjourned before it ever really started.

It was a spectacle to watch; embarrassing on many levels and completely avoidable.

Although it was a powder keg in search of a match, the first moments of the meeting seemed routine. There was the Pledge of Allegiance and everyone stood, removed their hats and paid homage to our nation’s flag.

And then, Mayor Alan Casavant asked for a moment of silence to recognize the passing of two distinguished citizens.

Again, everyone in the room was completely respectful, bowing their heads in a moment of silence. But then, gazing at the crowd that literally surrounded the council, Casavant simply asked some attendees to stand in the hallway in order to comply with building safety codes.

The crowd of mostly Teamsters and their supporters refused to budge. “We’re not going anywhere,” they shouted, quickly followed by thunderous applause.

One of the councilors (from the videotape of the meeting it remains unclear who it was) responded, “Do you want us to shut it down?”

In unison, the angry Teamsters began chanting: “Shut it down! Shut it down!”

One councilor quickly made a motion to adjourn the meeting, it was just as quickly seconded. And a majority of councilors voted to adjourn the meeting before it ever really started.

The Teamsters were visibly upset. They stood in place, screaming at the councilors and chanting: “Shame on you! Shame on you!”

The people’s business went unfinished. No member of the public was able to address the council. It was a poor reflection of a great city.

The Blame Game

So who’s to blame for the complete breakdown in civility, decorum and common courtesy?

Well, there’s plenty of blame to go around for this circus show, so let’s start at the top.

With nearly two terms under his belt as the city’s mayor, four terms as a state legislator and prior experience as a city councilor (not to mention teaching psychology at Biddeford High School), Mayor Alan Casavant should have seen this coming well in advance.

Casavant should have changed the venue for the meeting to accommodate what everyone knew was going to be a capacity crowd.

Casavant failed to lead because of his embedded belief in the decency of his fellow citizens. He thought he could simply ask for order, and his request would be honored. That’s not how the real world works. It may have worked in his classroom, but the mayor simply cannot be so naïve as to think the meeting was not going to be raucous and overcrowded.

Casavant was elected to be a leader, not to be a nice guy.

In the final moments of the meeting, Council President John McCurry leaned over to Casavant and said, “You need to get a handle on this situation.”

McCurry was right.

But the blame does not rest solely with Casavant.

Assets, not liabilities

Although a majority of the council was angry, there was no need to threaten to “shut down” the meeting. The council could have sat idly until the crowd complied, ordering public access television to be paused and waiting for things to settle down.

Instead, at least one of the councilors issued an ultimatum: “Do you want us to shut it down?”

That did not fly with the Teamsters.

Whether they like it or not, the council has a responsibility to hear its citizens’ concerns and grievances. It also has a responsibility to hear those same concerns from city employees, many of whom are also residents.

I have been covering Biddeford politics for the better part of two decades, and there seems to be a constant, pervasive theme that transcends each administration: City employees are liabilities, not assets. In reality, it is the other way around.

The council has its position in the negotiations, but it is unrealistic to expect that those on the other side of the table are going to simply accept what is offered, especially when the offer (according to sources from within the union) is such a low-ball offer.

Furthermore, the council cannot lay all the blame at the mayor’s feet. They should have made a motion to move the meeting to a different venue at a different time in order to accommodate the crowd.

Instead, they stubbornly insist that all future meetings will be held in the cramped city council chamber.

Men To Boys

Biddeford’s police, fire and public works employees are some of the hardest working, most decent people you will ever come across.

It appears that the union has a legitimate beef with the negotiations. They are being asked to sacrifice a lot. Perhaps, this is the city’s negotiating tool: a ridiculous low-ball offer that can be incrementally worked up.

But we are not talking about buying a Ford F-150 or a Toyota Prius.  We are talking about men and women who will literally put their lives on the line for you and me.

I do not know how much police officers or firefighters are paid, but I guarantee you it is not enough.

On the other hand, the city has limited resources, and public employees need to accept the same realities that private-sector employees are facing.

As I watched the July 7 meeting, I couldn’t help but imagine what would have happened to me if I marched into my employers’ office and started shouting “shame on you” because I was upset about a lack of a raise or losing some benefits. If my employer asked me to wait in the hallway for a few moments while things settled down, and I refused to budge, what do you think would happen?

I would be looking for another job.

That’s how it works in the real world.

Furthermore, it is beyond ironic that public safety employees would refuse to comply with public safety regulations.

Earth to Teamsters: The mayor was not asking you to leave or trying to silence your voices. He simply asked a few of you to step into the adjacent hallway and wait your turn to speak. Was that such an unreasonable request?

Stomping your feet and shouting is for two-year-olds, not for adults.

And let’s be clear, this is not the first time when have witnessed junior high school theatrics from the Teamsters.

During my tenure as a newspaper editor, I recall previous contract negotiations that were just as heated and just as contentious. In fact, during one council meeting, several union members circled City Hall in their vehicles, honking their horns repeatedly in order to disrupt the meeting.

In summary, there’s plenty of blame to go around in this situation. I strongly suggest that the mayor, every member of the city council and the Teamsters all put on their big-boy pants and negotiate in good faith.

Our public employees should be treated with respect.

That respect should also be reciprocated.

Dog Day Afternoon

State Sen. David Dutremble

State Sen. David Dutremble

Like everyone else in Biddeford, State senator David Dutremble is troubled by the allegations of child sexual abuse that has roiled this city for the past several weeks.

On June 23, Dutremble wrote on Facebook: “The more we dig, the sicker I become with my city!!”

https://www.facebook.com/#!/ddutremble/posts/10153347027281590?pnref=story

I called him out on that post because he is indicting the entire city for allegations that primarily focus on two former police officers.

Perhaps Dutremble is upset with the city council that voted 6-2 not to suspend the police chief and deputy police chief.

Perhaps he envies Mayor Alan Casavant’s strong popular support.

Perhaps he is angry with the police chief or the deputy police chief, even though Maine’s Attorney General says they have taken all the right steps during the ongoing investigation.

But one thing is for sure: Dutremble won’t attack the reputation of his employer, the city’s fire department.

His disgust is selective, despite a recent post on the Portland Press Herald’s Facebook page in which a Biddeford man alleged that a “senior fire department official” attempted to molest him when he was a teenager.

Joey GWhere was the outrage? Where was the investigation, the calls for senior members of the fire department to step aside during an investigation? There was none of that. Dutremble was silent.

But he has been very vocal, and has repeatedly expressed his indignation with the Biddeford City Council for doing “nothing” to help the cause of “justice” for the community.

From the council chamber’s podium, Dutremble has expressed outrage and contempt toward the council. And he promised, he would get something done in Augusta.

A career firefighter, Dutremble is by all accounts a good city employee, But a careful look at the legislative session that will soon end calls into serious question his abilities as a legislator.

Who let the dogs out?

Earlier this year, Dutremble introduced a bill (L.D. 107) to name the Labrador retriever as the official state dog. State Rep. William Tuell of East Machias described L.D. 107 as “a waste of time.”

An Arundel dog breeder agreed with Tuell, telling the Portland Press Herald that, “It is stupid. There are so many other issues.”

The Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government quickly killed the bill by a vote of 9-3.

Although Dutremble was not able to pass the dog bill, a new group of his supporters expected him to deliver the goods on a topic about which he has been extremely vocal: the alleged sexual abuse of minors by former members of the Biddeford Police Department.

Now bear in mind, there is no love lost between the city’s police and fire departments.

For the past several months, alleged victim Matt Lauzon has spearheaded the issue of child sexual abuse by two former police officers, and he has been effusive in his praise of Dutremble, at every social media opportunity calling him “courageous” and a “hero.”

It appeared as though Lauzon had found his ideal champion, and that Dutremble had found his ideal cause. Lots of TV cameras, and how can you go wrong trying to help victims of sexual abuse?

The controversy held great promise to cement Dutremble’s reputation as a take-charge legislator who gets things done.

The senator comes out swinging

Dutremble seemed to get off to a very fast start. On May 7, Bangor Daily News reporter Beth Brogan wrote that Dutremble’s legislative staff was “already investigating the existing law and possible changes.”

Lauzon kept the community updated on Dutremble’s progress via Facebook, making it clear that thanks to the senator, Lauzon was meeting in Augusta with the leadership of the Legislature, and that legislative action would be forthcoming very soon.

Each of Lauzon’s admiring Facebook posts about Dutremble seemed to bring an immediate Facebook “Like” from the take-charge and image conscious senator.

There was even a very high profile meeting with Governor LePage on May 12, once again covered by all the TV stations and the state’s biggest newspapers. Pretty heady stuff. Dutremble’s momentum seemed unstoppable.

On May 19, Dutremble confidently strode into a Biddeford City Council meeting, and he was visibly seething. He wasted no time reprimanding the mayor and council for their pitifully poor job performance. It was very theatrical and dramatic. At the same time, he portrayed himself as a bold, decisive leader.

“In regard to state level assistance, I am working, and looking into the best avenue for an independent investigation of the Biddeford Police Department,” he told the council.

While grabbing headlines and severely scolding city officials, Dutremble’s star seemed to be shining very brightly. In fact, one of Lauzon’s staunchest supporters enthusiastically told a city official — in no uncertain terms — that the senator was working hard on a joint resolution from both the Maine Senate and the Maine House of Representatives.

This resolution would enjoy near unanimous support in both chambers of the legislature, the resident bragged. It would call on Attorney General Janet Mills to step away from the investigation of the Biddeford Police Department, and to let the Maine State Police take over the investigation.

With Dutremble having taken charge, the AG’s office would be kicked off the case. Wow, that’s pretty impressive legislative clout.

Bad news for Dutremble

In most cases when nothing happens, that’s not news. But this particular “nothing” will indeed be news in Biddeford.

As of Monday, Dutremble had filed neither a bill nor a resolution. In a Facebook post on Tuesday evening, Dutremble stated that he was not working on a bill, but rather a “letter.”

letter

A letter to whom?

Hard to believe. After going out on a limb just about as far as you can go, the Maine Legislature will soon recess for the summer and Senator David Dutremble will tiptoe back into town completely empty-handed.

When I first heard about the potential joint resolution a few weeks ago, a colleague of mine called a media person who is wise to all that goes on in Augusta. The reporter literally burst out laughing and said, “That’ll never happen.”

The same colleague has access to a direct line into the Governor’s office, and into the leadership of the Maine State Senate. Calls were made to see how much progress the senator’s resolution had made, and the response from this staffer was shocking.

“Yeah, we’ve heard rumblings that Dutremble is interested in this issue, but nobody’s seen anything in writing,” the staffer said. “Nothing exists, not even a bill summary or just a title. One thing’s for sure, nobody’s touching that with a 10-foot pole.”

Nothing in writing? How could that be?

Biddeford’s senator had repeatedly chastised the mayor and city council in public for “doing nothing,” but he never filed a bill? Not even a bill summary or even a simple bill title?

What about the resolution — that was never in writing, either?

Now, it is possible that Dutremble has spent weeks working on a letter, but another electronic records search was completed by the Governor’s office and Senate staff just two days ago, and that yielded no results. There’s no record of anything having to do with a joint resolution and Senator David Dutremble.

To the likes of Lauzon and his supporters, it must be incomprehensible that Dutremble utterly failed to produce. But to those who understand the basic rules of politics, Dutremble’s shockingly elementary mistakes explain everything.

A failure to communicate

David Dutremble is a state senator. You’d think he’d be astute enough to know that his party is in a life and death struggle, if not with the Republicans, then certainly with Republican Governor Paul LePage.

The Attorney General, Janet Mills, is a high profile Democrat. She and LePage have been in an ugly war on any number of issues. Their battles litter the landscape to such an extent that it’s no exaggeration to say Mills and LePage may be the two most bitter political enemies in Maine.

The only politician in Maine seemingly unaware of this conflict is David Dutremble.

Dutremble apparently thought it was okay to approach Democratic legislative leaders to help pass a resolution that would hand the Democrats a huge political defeat, and hand the governor a huge political victory.

Think about it. Dutremble’s resolution would have removed Mills from an important investigation (thereby calling into question her competence in all investigations). The Governor could take the credit for showing leadership by having the meeting with Lauzon, and the resolution — approved by most Democrats — would give the governor valuable ammo in his continuing claim that Mills is unfit to be AG.

There is no way that any resolution or bill was ever going to be passed, or even brought to the floor of either chamber. It was never going to see the light of day.

Senator Dutremble’s unsophisticated legislative idea painfully illustrated his lack of understanding of how things work in Augusta.

Playing checkers, not chess

Matt Lauzon’s meeting with LePage took place well before the “news” surfaced that Dutremble would get near unanimous support for his bipartisan resolution.

It remains unclear what role Dutremble played in arranging Lauzon’s meeting with LePage. Maybe it was a large role, maybe it was miniscule, but one thing about the meeting is crystal clear: The governor barred Dutremble from attending.

At the time, Dutremble’s naïve supporters were jubilant that the meeting with the governor had taken place. They thought they were on their way to “justice.” All they had to do was keep following Senator Dutremble.

Nobody seemed worried that LePage had barred Dutremble from the meeting. None of them, including Dutremble, seemed to understand the significance of what had transpired. None of them seemed to understand that the Governor and the legislative leaders were playing chess, while Dutremble and some of Lauzon’s supporters were playing checkers.

None of them apparently even considered the idea that LePage gladly took full advantage of a political freebie, personally gift-wrapped by Dutremble.

The governor was able to embarrass a Democratic senator, take another shot at the AG, express concern about sexual abuse and bask in the resulting media coverage — all in one neat little package.

Oblivious, Dutremble pressed on, “crafting” the near-unanimous resolution that seems not to have been written, the non-resolution he promised a trusting constituent was right around the corner.

Outside, looking in

Thanks to his clumsiness during this legislative session, David Dutremble is now on the outside looking in, and that position is probably permanent.

In Augusta, memories are long.

Dutremble’s repeated calls to get the AG’s office “off the case” in Biddeford was a major political faux pas, and the total cost of that mistake to his full constituency is yet to be calculated.

One certain cost is the people of Biddeford now have less influence because Dutremble now has zero influence. That’s a price we all pay.

But the senator also failed to see that in trying to pass this ill-fated legislation, his reputation is now directly tied to the reputation of the man whose cause he has decided to champion.

Every time Dutremble walks into a room to talk about sexual abuse — whether in Biddeford or in Augusta — he is now equated with Matt Lauzon. They are one and the same.

Unfortunately, while Dutremble was plotting to get unanimous support for his resolution, Lauzon and his supporters were running amok on social media and in public meetings.

Word gets around, even in Augusta

Despite many claims that he’s about to go “professional,” Lauzon keeps acting like a junior high school kid.

At a forum hosted by Dutremble, Lauzon publicly speculated that the Biddeford police chief had had homosexual relations with a current police commissioner, and with a former police officer.

Lauzon also intimated that the chief had participated in group sex. He intimated that a Maine district judge had a homosexual relationship with Biddeford’s mayor. He publicly speculated that Biddeford’s mayor, a former teacher at the city’s high school, had slept with his students.

One of Lauzon’s supporters came to a city council meeting, and in the most foul, graphic and detestable street language, proclaimed from the podium his certainty that Biddeford’s mayor and police chief currently and frequently engage in oral sex.

Similar examples of Lauzon’s “dialogue” are legion, but it sickens the stomach to list each instance. And each instance has been a costly chink in Dutremble’s armor.

No matter how valid the cause, no bill will ever be passed in Augusta with proponents who carry themselves in such a fashion.

Matt Lauzon (far left) taunts and tries to distract Mayor Alan Casavant during a press conference.

Matt Lauzon (far left) taunts and tries to distract Mayor Alan Casavant during a press conference.

After one city council meeting, as the mayor was being interviewed by television reporters, Lauzon ducked and hid behind the cameras, popping out like a jack-in-the-box to make faces at Casavant as he answered questions.

Absolutely no filter or maturity. Absolutely no decorum and common decency, and absolutely no common sense.

Unfortunately, to the detriment of a very serious issue that deserves sober and mature discussion, Lauzon and some of his supporters keep shooting themselves in the foot, over and over again, inflicting more and more damage on Dutremble’s political reputation and, more importantly, the pending investigation by Maine’s attorney general.

Not understanding that word gets around, and that the media and many others are completely appalled by the crass and boorish social media dialogue that Lauzon has been fomenting, the senator finds himself between a rock and a hard place.

He can’t turn back now, and Lauzon’s posse has proven that it cannot change its stripes. They, and their behavior, will determine Dutremble’s political future.

One new law, and it isn’t Dutremble’s

It is clear that on the issue of sexual abuse, Biddeford’s senator accomplished absolutely nothing in this legislative session.

Meanwhile, early in the process, Biddeford’s city council asked Dutremble to file emergency legislation that would ease state restrictions on discussing an ongoing criminal investigation.

He didn’t do it.

The city council also asked him to file emergency legislation that would keep convicted pedophiles from living too close to public parks and playgrounds where young children congregate.

He didn’t do it.

And there’s no record of his introducing a joint resolution that supposedly was going to be almost unanimous.

So, what did he do?

He repeatedly berated Biddeford’s mayor and city council for “doing nothing.” Apparently he didn’t notice that Biddeford passed a new ordinance that bars convicted pedophiles from living within 750 feet of a public park or playground where young children congregate. It’s now the law in Biddeford.

Meanwhile, Dutremble’s wife announced that her husband had allowed her to read all the victim statements he has collected, the same confidential victim statements he has refused to hand over to the Attorney General’s office, thereby raising the legitimate question of whether he is impeding an ongoing criminal investigation.

Apparently, Dutremble believes that Attorney General Mills is either incompetent or not trustworthy.

Senator Dutremble doesn’t get to introduce new bills Augusta until next January, and his joint resolution will again have no chance.

One thing’s for sure, with the Legislature almost recessed and his opportunity to make a difference having completely evaporated, it’ll be interesting to see if he goes to the next city council meeting to condemn and berate the mayor and council for not doing enough in their positions as servants to the citizens of Biddeford.

And remember Dutremble’s own words: he is “sick” with his city, which begs the question why would he want to represent us in Augusta?

Considering the situation, Dutremble should be applauded for his desire to get something done. He wanted to do a good deed, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But criticizing the council for “doing nothing” and coming home from Augusta with nothing makes him a hypocrite.

Even more disturbing is the idea that Dutremble’s fumble likely impeded the process of justice now being reviewed by the attorney general’s office. It is a lose-lose situation.

David Dutremble is an exemplary city employee but, regrettably, he is proving to be a legislator who can’t get anything done.

As citizens who have been paying close attention to this explosive issue, and considering Dutremble’s lofty proclamations, an explanation from the senator is the very least we deserve.

 

Behind Blue Eyes

12-Winston-Churchill-jpg

Winston Churchill suffered from bipolar disorder.

A friend of mine recently brought to my attention something about me that was posted on Facebook.

Apparently, a man I barely know questioned how I — an out-of-the-closet consumer of mental health care — could be trusted to provide professional advice. In fact, this person described me as “mentally unstable.”

I thought about this for a while because I frequently write about the subject of mental illness and stigma on this blog, and I was a bit disheartened that being “mentally unstable” and having a diagnosed mental illness are still too often linked into one convenient package.

Consider this: One in five Americans experienced some sort of mental illness in 2010, according to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Are those people all mentally unstable? Hardly.

The vast and overwhelming majority of people with a diagnosed mental illness are very stable and lead productive, normal lives.

They can do this because they seek treatment for their illness. They take medications, participate in therapy and take other measures to ensure that their illness is well-managed. They are no different from people with diabetes, epilepsy or cancer. They did not ask for the disease, they don’t use it as an excuse and they are vigilant in taking care of themselves.

Meanwhile, mentally unstable people do not take appropriate steps to manage their illness. Sometimes, it is because of a lack of mental health services, but more often than not some individuals refuse to acknowledge or treat their illness.

Following the horrific massacre a couple of weeks ago in Charleston, South Carolina, Maine’s Congressional delegation was polled regarding their  attitudes on limiting gun violence. While Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Senator Angus King and Senator Susan Collins all said they would like to see expanded background checks for the purchase of firearms, Congressman Bruce Poliquin offered a different response.

Poliquin said he would like to see more funding for mental health.

I applaud Congressman Poliquin for his willingness to increase funding for community-based mental health services, but I have some bad news for him: Even with better funding and more services, it is more than likely that Dylann Roof would have still shot and killed nine innocent people. Roof may have a mental illness, but he certainly wasn’t taking care of it.

Last week, the defense attorneys for James Holmes, the young man who killed and shot 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, opened their defense by saying their client was legally insane, and thus should not be held accountable for his crime.

Although Holmes did seek psychiatric treatment before his rampage, he stopped seeing his psychiatrist just a few weeks before he entered a crowded theater armed to the teeth.

Like very other type of illness, mental illness does not fit into one convenient package. There are different types and severity of illnesses, from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorders and schizophrenia. All of these illnesses can be managed with the right medication and therapy.

And you might be surprised to know how many famous people suffered from some type of mental illness, whether it’s NFL great Terry Bradshaw or Winston Churchill.

Would you describe them as mentally unstable?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, stigma regarding mental illness is getting better but still has a long way to go. Their own research shows:

  • Most adults with mental health symptoms (78%) and without mental health symptoms (89%) agreed that treatment can help persons with mental illness lead normal lives.
  • 57% of all adults believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.
  • Only 25% of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.

A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by Maine Public Radio about my mental illness. “No one would know I have a mental illness unless I chose to tell them,” I told the reporter. (Listen to the interview here)

The people who really know me would agree: having a mental illness is not synonymous with being unstable.

When U.S. Senator Thomas Eagleton was selected as George McGovern’s running mate for the 1972 presidential election, he kept his mental illness a secret. But once it was discovered that Eagleton had been treated for depression, McGovern dropped him from the ticket like a hot potato.

I’d like to believe that we have made some progress since then.

Maybe. Maybe not.

August and everything after

20120709_202235

The southwest shore of Rangeley Lake

That fire, like so many other fires, started as an accident.

Sitting here now, only a few feet from the southwest shore of Rangeley Lake, it seems strange that I would be thinking about something that happened more than 30 years ago.

The sun has barely risen, and it cuts across the lake like a sheet of diamonds. But my thoughts remain with that cold November night and the fire that would become a defining moment of my rather unremarkable life.

Laura and the kids are still asleep, oblivious to the gentle sounds of the frantic chipmunks, some lovesick chickadees and the distant hum of an old two-stroke outboard somewhere across the lake. It is so tranquil, and now the cry of an early morning loon is all that separates me from my persistent thoughts about the fire.

The sun is now beginning to creep through the boughs of the white pines, birches and poplar trees that surround me, shield me from the reality of my normal life…the day-to-day of the real world.

Day One of our vacation and I am already anxious about returning to the rattle and hum of the mundane.

So I choose to think about the fire, especially since we are at Rangeley Lake, only a few miles north of where my uncle lived.

That fire should have changed my life, but it seems like I can never hold onto the lessons it taught me.

Burnin’ down the house

001

Leonard K. Brooks

A few years ago, our family started taking a new route for our annual trek to Rangeley. That new route goes right past the house that my uncle Leonard once owned.

My uncle had already raised three boys and a daughter of his own. My older cousins were heroes to me when I was a young boy. They were hippies, rebels and the funniest people I ever met. They knew everything about small engines, Jimi Hendrix, guns and dope.

My uncle took me in after my parents’ divorce, sparing me from the chaos of that situation.

Leonard Brooks was incredibly intelligent and self-reliant. He towered over most people and had broad shoulders, piercing blue eyes and a disposition that encapsulates everything you can imagine about a grumpy, old guy.

He was a champion of common sense. He suffered fools lightly and had little use for flatlanders, rock n’ roll and anything south of Lewiston.

Unlike my father, Leonard rarely, if ever, raised his voice. He conveyed his displeasure with a silence that was pure torture. He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, you listened.

So it was, during my second year of living with Leonard, that the fire happened.

It was a chilly Friday night in mid November. My uncle left with a few friends for a weekend hunting trip. I was not allowed to join because of my lackluster chemistry grades and a backlog of homework.

So, there I was: stuck with my aunt and my youngest cousin, Cathy, who still lived at home and was five years older than me. The weekend certainly looked bleak, and there was a cord of firewood that needed to be stacked in the basement before my uncle’s return home on Sunday.

Cathy, however, made plans to have a much better night. With a baggie of homegrown weed and a six-pack of Budweiser, she invited one of her girlfriends over for a back yard campfire. My aunt was oblivious and already in bed.

Maybe it was because they were completely baked, or maybe it was because the wood was too green for burning. It didn’t matter, their fire was not much more than a spark and a cloud of smoke, But I wanted to impress the girl, so out I came with a one-gallon can of what I thought was kerosene.

It was not kerosene. It was gasoline. If you do not understand the significance of that distinction, there’s no point in my trying to explain it.

Sure, I stood back a few feet, but that was the only smart thing I did that night.

It was like an explosion, and I panicked. The flame traveled right up to the can of gasoline in my trembling hands. I did the only thing I could at that moment. I threw the can away from me, across the backyard and, in retrospect, far too close to the snowmobile and picnic table that were parked nearby.

Cathy was stoned beyond recognition and could not stop giggling. “Fire, fire, fire,” she chanted, before darting into the house for a glass of water.

Pouring water on a gasoline fire? Not too smart.

The damage looked much worse in the morning. The bulk of the backyard was scorched and reeked of gasoline. The picnic table was destroyed, and the snowmobile cover had melted and was now bonded to the charred remains of my uncle’s beloved Polaris sled.

Dead man walking

My uncle was going to kill me.  I would never graduate high school. I would never get laid. There was nothing more to my future than the 36 hours until my uncle would release me from the mortal coil.

I don’t remember much about that weekend other than the extreme sense of dread that draped over me like a heavy blanket on a hot July afternoon.

My oldest cousin, Steve, stopped by the house to pick something up. He made no effort to hide his amusement about the damage, but he offered some sage advice:

“The only shot you have at survival is to just man up and own it without excuse,” he said before adding the most important part. “You should also wait until he has had a chance to settle down and have a couple of shots before you tell him.”

With that, Steve was gone, taking cover from the impending storm.

Finally, it was Sunday evening. I shook hands with the grim reaper as I watched my uncle’s Dodge pickup ramble up the gravel driveway in front of the house.

I followed Steve’s advice, waiting until Leonard had settled in and able to enjoy a a shot of his preferred Scotch.

I was shaking when I approached the kitchen table. Cathy hid upstairs in her bedroom, quiet as a church mouse.

He peered at me over the rim of his bifocals. “Yes, young fella?” He seemed to sense my dread and probably noted my ashen complexion and trembling limbs.

“I had an accident while you were gone, “ I said with as much courage as I could muster, my voice cracking.

He stiffened in his seat. “An accident?”

“Yeah, in the backyard,” I stammered, wondering how I was keeping my eyes open. “It was a fire.”

“Well, let’s go take a look,” he said evenly, without trace of any emotion whatsoever.

Together we stepped off the back porch, and he surveyed the damage quickly.

“Let’s go back inside,” he said softly.

I followed him back to the kitchen table, ready to vomit at any given moment. He grabbed a pen and the back of a discarded envelope, drawing a rather primitive diagram with a circle and an arrow.

I sat down and he explained the diagram. “When you build a fire, you always, always know which way the wind is blowing,” he explained. “Always keep your back to the wind. If you are going to use an accelerent, do so before you spark anything,” he emphasized. “Do you understand?”

I could only nod in the affirmative.

“Alrighty then, “ he said as stood up and headed to his favorite recliner in the living room.

I was in shock. “What is my punishment,” I  inquired.

“Punishment?” he chuckled with his blue eyes sparkling. “What possible punishment could I give you that would be worse than what you have put yourself through over the past two days? Just don’t forget the lesson.”

And that was that. He never talked about the incident again.

A lesson learned?

My uncle died in 1997, four years before I met Laura, Tim and Matt.

I wrote his eulogy.

The world shrank, and my 50-year-old Starcraft boat looks exactly like the boat he owned.

I know exactly what he would say to me today. “The only thing you need is common sense,” he would say. And with that, he would sprinkle some salt in a mug of Budweiser and put his feet up on a tattered ottoman, content that all was well with the world.

And that lesson is priceless, the one I cannot seem to convey to my sons.

Leonard would have loved my boys. He would most certainly approve of Laura, her carefree spirit and her lack of airs.

He would shake his head in dismay if he found out that I cannot back a boat down a ramp or build a bookshelf.

But none of that would really matter to him because he knew, and still knows, that I know how to build a fire.

And if you can build a fire, everything else is going to be okay.

Note: this is a condensed version of a post I published in July 2013. To see the longer version go here.

Send in the clowns

donald-trumpSome 48 hours before Donald Trump “officially” announced his candidacy for president on Tuesday, I posted a quip on Facebook that I would be seeking the mayor’s seat in Biddeford.

The idea was jokingly bantered about while Mayor Alan Casavant was attending a party at my home. (Full disclosure: Casavant is serious about seeking a third term, and I support him.)

But my announcement was never intended to be serious.

For starters, I have absolutely no business running for any elected office. I can barely manage my own life, as detailed here.

While my Facebook quip generated some buzz, lots of positive comments and even comments from people willing to help my “campaign,” it was, again, a sarcastic joke.

Now that I think about it, my announcement was actually much less a joke than Trump’s escalator event on Tuesday; and many of us are left to wonder if he is truly serious or just seeking some more attention to further inflate his own ego.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/randy.seaver.3/posts/10204495391008046

Consider for a moment what Trump laid out as his agenda before a group of New York City tourists, some mentally deranged followers and a gaggle of reporters.

He hit all the hot-button topics: immigration, saying we will be build a massive wall between the United States and Mexico. How will we pay for it? Trump said he wold force Mexico to foot the tab through higher tariffs on their imports.

Umm, this is a direct violation of the North American Free Trade Act.

Trumped bragged about his wealth, pointing to what he estimates at a net worth of nearly $9 billion.

He pontificated about his fantastic business career. But riddle me this, how does a man who has filed four bankruptcies amass a fortune of $9 billion, much less describe himself as a savvy businessman? Has he directed any of his fortune to settling old debts with his creditors?

Trump says he will make America strong again, a nice talking point, but one best left for dictators.

For my friends on the right who criticize President Obama for a slew of Executive Actions; the Donald listed out more than a dozen executive actions he would take if elected.

Perhaps he’s been in his mahogany-paneled boardroom so long that he has forgotten the president must work with 535 pesky members of Congress.

Congress controls the purse strings, not The Donald.

More importantly, can Trump’s ego handle the bruising? How will he react when he comes in second, third or tenth in the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary?

Sure, Donald has a certain appeal, and he’s good at tapping into America’s growing resentment against the rest of the world. He excels at fear mongering, but he is anything but a serious presidential candidate.

And who do we blame for this phenomena? This perverse distraction?

Look in the mirror. The vast and overwhelming majority of registered voters don’t cast ballots; we leave that to the partisan fringes, where emotion so often “trumps” logic.

We are a nation more concerned about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner; television shows like Honey Boo-Boo, the tribulations of the Duggar family, American Idol and Big Brother.

We are a nation addicted to bread and circuses. Is it any wonder that we have sent in the clowns to run the country?

Donald Trump has no business running for president. I have no business running for mayor of Biddeford. The difference between us is that one of us knows a joke when we see it.

The long and winding road

You don’t have to be from Biddeford to know about the situation that has rocked my hometown.  The story about the alleged sexual abuse of young boys many years ago by two former Biddeford police officers has made headlines across the state.

It is a horrific, heart-wrenching story that comes on the heels of a renaissance in this community.

It has been suggested in the media and elsewhere that this issue has divided the city. I beg to differ.

Every citizen of Biddeford feels the same way: these were likely terrible crimes that warrant the full weight of justice. Thus, we are a community united. We are a community that wants the truth. We are a city that wants these alleged abusers to face trial in a court of law.

This is a community that has zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of children. Justice must be served.

But what does “justice” look like?

Unfortunately, too many of us have gotten caught up in hour-long television shows that show justice being meted out neatly in a one-hour time segment. We have come to believe that real life should follow the tempo of these fictional programs.

That’s not how it works in the real world, however. In the real world, justice rarely moves at lightening speed. Justice also requires facts and hard evidence.

In the United States, all people are innocent until proven guilty, no matter how heinous the crime. I am not defending the former police officers; rather I am defending those who have been targeted in a scorched earth campaign that has taken place primarily on social media.

It’s probably a good thing that there was no such thing as Facebook when John Adams defended the British troops who were involved in the Boston Massacre.

Facts are stubborn things

You probably remember learning about the Boston Massacre in high school. It was a turning point in our nation’s judicial system

During the height of tensions between colonists and British troops in 1770, five colonists were killed by British soldiers,

In the days and weeks that followed, there was a propaganda battle between the two sides. Everyone had an opinion.

John Adams, the man who would go on to become the second president of the United States, took the case in defense of the British troops because he wanted to ensure a fair trial, despite his patriot leanings.

Adams received threats and daily harassment. He feared for his life and for the safety of his family. Many colonists regarded him a traitor for representing the British.

Popularity and personal prosperity did not matter to Adams. He knew the stakes were too high to cave into the pressure of political expediency.

What John Adams said during his closing statement at trial should cause us all to pause in this current situation.

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

A scorched earth campaign

Earlier this year, Matt Lauzon, a former Biddeford resident and now a Boston businessman, made public allegations that he was sexually abused by a former Biddeford police officer. He took to social media to talk about the events that happened to him as a boy growing up in this city.

The community was outraged. How could something like this happen? Others came forward with similar stories. Allegations now abounded about two former police officers.

Initially, Lauzon began a public awareness campaign and asked publicly about resources in the community that could prevent such abuses from happening in the future. I was one of the first people who reached out to Lauzon to express my shock and outrage regarding what he endured. To this day, I cannot fathom what it must be like to be a survivor of sexual abuse, especially when that abuse came at the hands of someone in a position of authority and trust.

I remembered Matt when he was a student at Biddeford High School. He is a smart, likable guy. I immediately put him in touch with my wife, Laura, a social worker here in Biddeford. Matt wanted to collaborate with Laura and others (including Mayor Alan Casavant and Police Chief Roger Beaupre) about community resources and raising awareness.

So far, so good, Right? Not so much.

Matt used Facebook to hound both Casavant and Beaupre, alleging that they were thwarting prevention of further abuse in the city.

Laura commented on one of Matt’s Facebook posts, cautioning him against going on a “witch hunt” for potential sex offenders. Unfortunately, there is no way to identify a sexual offender until they have done something, she explained.

Matt began publicly lashing out at Laura. He said he was hurt and troubled by her comments. He began sending repeated e-mails to her employer, imploring that she be fired.

He threatened a civil lawsuit against us, and began publicly questioning our relationships with both the mayor and police chief. There were constant Facebook posts made about Laura’s professional capacity and my prior role as Casavant’s campaign manager. A small, but very vocal group of Lauzon’s followers chimed in, and began posting and sharing the same allegations.

At one point, Lauzon’s followers criticized us for having dinner at a local restaurant. How could we be so callous when so many people were hurting? they wrote. They questioned whether our son was involved in criminal behavior.

Matt was (an assuredly still is) offended that I am friends with the mayor (first elected in 2011). He tried to draw connections between our friendship, as he ramped up a public campaign against both the mayor and police chief.

Allow me to pause here and say this: Alan Casavant and I are not “friends.” We are good friends. Further, being a “campaign manager” in a city election is hardly comparable to being a political operative. On this level, you help put up campaign signs, draft talking points and beg residents for money. Not exactly Karl Rove sort of stuff.

Casavant speculationMatt continued his campaign. He hired an attorney, and began calling for the suspension of the police chief and deputy chief. He also began railing against the mayor,a former high school teacher. Lauzon publicly speculated whether the mayor had sexual relationships with his former students. In another Facebook post, Lauzon shared an item that suggested the police chief may have had a “three-way” sexual tryst with two other officers.

Matt repeatedly called me and sent me text messages in the middle of the night. He copied the media and members of city government in continuing e-mails to my wife’s employer.

I repeatedly asked him to stop contacting me, but he persisted. Most recently, he has repeatedly driven past my house (on a quiet side street), hollering out to me when I am in my yard.

At last week’s city council meeting, Lauzon once again took the podium and suggested that the mayor and police chief may have shared a bed while attending a conference several years ago at Bowdoin College.

It should be noted that Lauzon rarely talks about the cop who allegedly abused him. Instead, he directs his wrath at those who had nothing to do with his abuse.

My mistake

05-09-01-textMy patience was growing thin. Matt was (is) repeatedly claiming he is going to file a civil lawsuit against Laura. He and his small group of followers were calling for Laura to be fired. He repeatedly sent text messages and continued posting derogatory things about us on social media, despite being repeatedly asked not to contact us.

Finally, I had enough. He called me one evening, and I snapped. I said something I deeply regret. To say it was a poor choice of words is an understatement. But after months of enduring his wrath, my emotions got the better part of my judgment.

Being a sexual abuse survivor is not an easy thing, but it does not give you license to do and say whatever you want about other people.

Where are we now, and where are going?

A growing chorus of voices are asking for the city’s police chief and deputy chief to be removed from office. But what evidence of wrongdoing by these two is available? So far, not one iota of evidence of wrongdoing has been produced. Nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Lauzon’s followers, most of whom voted against Mayor Casavant in 2011 and 2013, are publicly discussing a recall of the mayor. (Surprise). Apparently, they cannot wait five months for the next election.

There is repeated talk about a civil lawsuit against the city. There are repeated mob scenes at City Council meetings that are happily attended by television news crews.

This is no longer about “justice” against two former cops; rather it is about a civil lawsuit and a political vendetta. (Not necessarily in that order)

Our city is not divided, but 99.8 percent of our residents are staying silent. Can you blame them?

As I said before, we are not a city divided. We are a city that wants justice for Lauzon and the other victims. But we are also a city that wants the ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s office to move forward without the theatrics and tactics employed over the last few months.