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.

 

Ship of fools

VGThere’s a right way and a wrong way to handle social media, and in the city of Biddeford, orange can now step aside because Facebook is the new black.

Biddeford’s political machinations have always been colorful and somewhat interesting.

But lately, our city’s colorful political landscape has gone from an interesting mix of pastels to a nightmarish blend of bright acrylics that looks like something from a Van Gogh nightmare.

Just four hours after Mayor Alan Casavant announced on Facebook that he will be seeking a third term, an anonymous Facebook identity popped up and started sending out “friend” requests.

“Joe Biddeford” says he (she?) wants to keep his/her identity anonymous “to keep trolls from attacking me as opposed to contributing to the important dialogue on local issues.”

Since I routinely blog about Biddeford politics and often play in political circles, I was curious about what this “dialogue” would be. So I sent Joe a friend request. As of this writing, Joe has not accepted my request.  I am heartbroken by this.

Many of my friends have received friend requests from Joe Biddeford, but not me.

Joe Biddeford’s Facebook page is public, and last I checked he had 10 friends. Wow! 10 friends.

But wait, it gets better. Only two people have posted anything on Joe Biddeford’s Facebook timeline. One of them is my friend Fred Staples, a former city councilor who has 407 Facebook friends.

The other person is Paul Pelletier, a familiar enough surname in a community with a Franco heritage.

But get this: Paul Pelletier has zero Facebook friends. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Paul Pelletier seems to be a ghost raised from the dead just a few weeks ago, according to his/her Facebook profile, which is also public. Unlike Joe Biddeford, “Paul” says he/she does not want friends. (All the makings of a sociopath)

In the “About” section of his Facebook page, “Paul” dazzles us with this brilliance: “I don’t wish to share information over Facebook. I use it for informational purposes and to engage in political conversations.”

Someone needs to tell Paul that he should not be on Facebook if he doesn’t want to share information on Facebook.

He says he uses Facebook for “informational purposes.” That’s generally what  all stalkers say.

“Gee, officer, I know I followed her through the mall and into the parking lot, but I was just gathering information about shopping trends.”

I’ve got some news for “Joe Biddeford” and “Paul Pelletier:” There are several places where you can go to engage in social media conversations about Biddeford or its politics.

On Facebook, there is Biddeford Today, a page that features news about the city and profiles of its residents. There is a nostalgia page called You Know You’re From Biddeford If . . . There is a Facebook Page for the for the city’s dog park, and even this blog has its own Facebook page.

Heck, once upon a time there were two other blogs about Biddeford Politics: Game Over: The Premier Blog of Biddeford; and “Biddeford’s Best Blog: B3. Both of those blogs (critical of Mayor  Casavant) went radio silent shortly after Casavant won his last election in 2013.

The point is: there are plenty of places to go on the internet to talk with Biddeford residents.

The power of the internet

Let’s face it, the internet is an extremely powerful tool that enables instant, global communication. And social media has been used to topple governments, win presidential elections and showcase cute kitten videos.

Sometimes, if you use it properly, social media can bring attention to things that might otherwise go ignored. Social media can be used for noble purposes (crowd funding) and for bad purposes (child pornography).

A couple of years ago, I used social media to bring AT&T to its knees after the company failed to address one of my complaints. More recently, I have tried the same tactics with American Airlines, but have yet to accomplish my goals. (I’m not done yet).

If you want to be “social” on the internet, social media outlets are a great place to start. It’s also a great place to stop because an increasing number of people are reporting being addicted to social media.

Sometimes, the best way to be social is to turn off your computer, pick up your phone and call a real friend. Go for a walk, have a cup of coffee. You don’t have to be anonymous or play silly little games.

If you really need to connect, try stepping away from the keyboard and breathe some fresh air.

[Edited: “Joe Biddeford” accepted my friend request. Yippee! Now I can finally take part in the “important dialogue about local issues.”]

Dime Store Mystery

Moments after learning that she had been ousted from the mayor’s seat, Joanne Twomey declared that the citizens of Biddeford “don’t deserve me.”

She was right.

We deserve better.

In my last newspaper column, published in December 2005, I tried to explain what motivated that column for so many years.

“Political bullies are very much like their school-yard counterparts. They’re just not as clever, and they often cloak themselves in robes of self-described nobility and purpose,” I wrote.

Many people have described Maine Governor Paul LePage as a political bully.

Regardless of your feelings about the governor, what happened this week during one of his “town hall” events was an embarrassment to an entire community.

Joanne Twomey (Portland Press Herald photo)

Joanne Twomey (Portland Press Herald photo)

I suppose it would be easy to understand Ms. Twomey’s irrational outburst — which included lobbing a jar of Vaseline at the governor — if this were a one-time event: a tipping point of rage and resentment triggered by emotion.

But that’s not what it was.

Instead it was just one more incident in a long line of emotional outbursts from Ms. Twomey, a woman who  loves creating controversy, grabbing headlines and listening to herself roar with self-righteous indignation.

Twomey has a long history of creating scenes. These outbursts serve no other purpose than to draw attention to Ms. Twomey.

If you listen to her speak, no one cares more than she does for the poor and afflicted, but don’t expect to see her volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home. Generally speaking, there are no TV cameras at such places.

Some people have applauded Twomey’s latest tirade. They say the governor got what was coming to him.

But what would they say about her angry outbursts that were directed at other governors, including Democrat John  Baldacci and Independent Angus King?

It’s not about politics; it’s about Joanne Twomey and her rage du jour.

In the early 1990s, Twomey was removed by police from City Hall, following another hissy fit, when once again her rage trumped manners and decorum.

As a state representative, she cried on the House floor when she did not get her way. She is a professional victim and the consummate hypocrite.

And her only real accomplishment is tarnishing the image and reputation of my hometown, which is now undergoing a transformative renaissance.

Since Twomey was ousted from office, the city of Biddeford has closed MERC, a controversial trash incinerator. Since Twomey was ousted from office, the city has attracted millions of dollars in new investment, started a curbside recycling program and has seen dozens of new small businesses open in the downtown area, and worked with the neighboring town of Saco to create the River Walk.

But Twomey’s tirade gets far more media attention. Following Thursday’s incident, social media, radio stations and television crews have repeatedly linked Biddeford to Twomey. “The city twice elected her as mayor,” they say.

They don’t bother to mention that she has lost her last three elections. Finally, the people of Biddeford see through her charade of indignation.

Over the last few years, many of our residents have poured blood, sweat and tears into revitalizing Biddeford.

Twomey’s contribution to that effort? Zip. Zero. Nada.

So once again, my community becomes a laughing-stock, a portrait of dysfunctional government, despite all the progress made over the last few years.

Twomey will tell you that she is principled and fighting the good fight on the side of the angels. But let’s look at her track record.

1.) The woman who once bemoaned the idea of a casino in Biddeford — testifying before the Biddeford City Council in 2003 by saying  — “In my Christmas village, there is no casino,” suddenly flipped when she got herself into a budget pinch, and she quickly became a cheerleader for a proposed casino. Principled? Really?

2.) The woman who built her political career on the backs of criticizing the owners of the MERC facility was giving them hugs in front of news cameras just two weeks before the 2009 mayoral election.

Just a few weeks later, after winning re-election as mayor, Twomey once again reversed her position. Principled? Really?

3.) During Biddeford’s Democratic caucus in 2012, Twomey said the city needed a “real Democrat” in Augusta, failing to mention that she encouraged Democrat State Rep. Paulette Beaudoin to run for her former legislative seat.

For such a principled person who professes to believe in the people, Twomey does not hesitate to play political hardball, but her victim routine is wearing thin.

Last year, Twomey huffed and puffed before the Biddeford City Council, accusing the city’s police department of discarding perfectly good bicycles that could be given to disadvantaged children.

It was later discovered that those bicycles were deemed beyond repair by the non-profit Community Bicycle Center.

Did Twomey apologize. Nope. Apologizing is not in her DNA.

In summary, Joanne Twomey has become everything she once despised: a petty, vindictive politician who keeps an enemies list.

But she was right about one thing: Biddeford does not deserve her.

************

PS: Here’s what syndicated columnist and radio talk show host Howie Carr had to say about Thursday’s incident: (At 12:50, he gives a hat-tip to this blog)

Biddeford Council: Old White Guys

Roger Hurtubise

Roger Hurtubise

Critics of the Republican Party often say the GOP is the party of old, white men: a diminishing demographic  in a nation with increasing diversity.

Although I am hesitant to generalize the Republican Party, I can say with confidence that the Biddeford City Council is more white than the Academy Awards or the snow that is piled six-feet high in my front yard.

Furthermore, the council is completely dominated by testosterone-driven men.

You would be hard-pressed to say that the current council truly represents a city that is one of the most diverse communities in southern Maine.

Clement Fleurent

Clement Fleurent

A couple of weeks ago, City Councilor Brad Cote abruptly resigned from the good ol’ boys club.

Thus, Mayor Alan Casavant (another old, white guy) now has a unique opportunity to help diversify the council. By mid-March, Casavant is expected to nominate a replacement for Cote.

From there, the old, white guys on the city council will vote on whether to approve or reject Casavant’s nomination.

Casavant is limited. He must pick a replacement from Ward 3, one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods (although it has nothing on Ward One, which includes Biddeford Pool and Fortunes Rocks).

John McCurry

John McCurry

But there are plenty of qualified women residing in Ward Three. Off the top of my head, I think of Bonnie Pothier, a former mayor. That said, Casavant told me Pothier has work commitments that preclude her from serving.

Or how about Carrie Varney Pelletier, an outspoken conservative who does not hesitate to offer her views on social media?

Or maybe Valerie Pelletier, who previously served on the airport commission and like Cote had misgivings about the airport?

The point is that the current council could benefit from a woman’s perspective. Women tend to see challenges from a more global viewpoint versus the linear approach of their male counterparts.

There are many fine women in Biddeford (I know because I’m married to one).

The trick for Casavant is finding one who lives in Ward Three and wouldn’t mind spending a lot of time with a lot of old white men.

Signed me,

Another old white guy.

Does anyone really care

 

For those of you who are excited that the Lincoln Mill Clock Tower has been “saved,” it’s a bit early to put on your party hats and break out the champagne.

Sure, the clock tower was moved from the ground where it sat rotting for seven years, but it’s hardly saved.

It will likely take hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the dilapidated structure, replace the missing bell and weathervane.

But now, I fear, the clock tower has been moved out of sight — out of mind.

It has been moved to another place behind the building so that its rotting carcass will no longer be a public nuisance, an eyesore.

The story of how the clock tower landed on the ground is a complicated one, and detailed here.

Along with a few dozen other curious spectators, I was there on Thursday night, watching the giant crane hoist what remains of the clock tower onto a flat-bed truck.

I spoke briefly with the building’s new owners and asked if the tower would ever be placed back on its perch.

The response? “No way.”

And who could blame them? They inherited a mess created by the building’s previous owners.

Everyone in Biddeford, it seems, has an opinion about the clock tower, ranging from “it should be scrapped” to “it should go back on top of the building.”

But only a handful of people have stepped up to help save this iconic symbol of the city’s storied past.

My hat goes off to a group of passionate Biddeford High School students who last year tried to raise interest in saving the structure and organized yet another fundraising drive.

Like the fundraising drive that I helped coordinate in 1999, neither effort met its goals. Though the students have not stopped yet.

Will the residents of Biddeford step up to truly “save” the clock tower?

From my perspective, it’s a long shot but one worth taking.

As I said before, we save what we care about. Now I wonder, does anyone really care?

******************

PREVIOUSLY:

A new fundraising effort

A look at the clock works from the late 1990s