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Mayor's comments may create divide among Council


March 24, 2010
BERLIN — Three city representatives spoke at the state Site Evaluation Committee on Tuesday: Mayor Paul Grenier, Councilor Michael Rozak and Councilor Robert Danderson. All three spoke in support of the project, and their comments may lead to a schism at city council that's been simmering beneath the surface since the election.

Mayor Grenier read a statement from the entire city council, which had to be watered down after several councilors objected to language expressing support for the Laidlaw project. The presentation was meant to represent the entire council, Mayor Grenier said at that council meeting.

After the council statement Mayor Grenier read a letter from County Commission chair Judd Burnham, who was absent, and then he made a statement of his own:

"I ran for office in November on the premise that I was supporting Laidlaw," he said. "It was a single issue campaign. I won my mayoral race by 60 percent to 40 percent."

"The public, through the election process in November, did speak, they spoke loud and clear," he said. "The public, with some regulation to make sure our rights aren't trampled, are very much in support of this project."

That statement, along with those of Councilors Danderson and Rozak, who spoke similarly in support of the project, have caused a stir among other councilors.

"The game is on now," said Councilor David Poulin.

Councilor Poulin said he left last week's council meeting with the understanding that the council would be represented by one speaker—Mayor Grenier—reading one document—the one they had all voted on.

Councilor Tim Cayer was under the same impression.

"It was my understanding we were going to speak as one voice," he said, hence the long debate about what that document was going to say and the trouble of hashing out a compromise.

But that's not what happened: three councilors spoke in favor of the project, and none spoke in opposition. That ratio does not represent the makeup of the council.

One thing for sure will come out of this, Councilor Cayer said: council meetings are likely to get interesting after this.

Councilor Tom McCue also thought the one document was going to be the only input from the council.

Councilors Poulin, Cayer and McCue have expressed opposition to the Laidlaw project, and all three were at the meeting. None of them spoke in opposition on Tuesday night.

Councilor Poulin had said at the last council meeting that if Mayor Grenier got up and read the statement with the language in support of Laidlaw he would have to get up and speak in opposition. It was his duty, he said, to represent his constituents, who keep telling him how opposed to the project they are.

The compromise on the language in Mayor Grenier's statement was supposedly aimed to alleviate those concerns, which were expressed by several councilors.

Councilor Poulin did not speak in front of the committee, however, because he'd told the rest councilors he wouldn't, he said. To do so would unfair to those councilors who weren't at the meeting, he said. He was furious the three members of council did speak, he said, but he wasn't going to make the same mistake.

Councilor Lucie Remillard, who was not at the hearing, said she thought the voted on statement was the only thing the council was presenting.

Councilor Mark Evans, who was also not at the SEC hearing, said he did not hear Mayor Grenier preclude anyone else from speaking. Mayor Grenier also didn't tell the council he would be making additional comments, he said.

"Was there some intentional deception? I can't say," Councilor Evans said. "He certainly was vague."

Councilor Ryan Landry, who was also not at the hearing, said nothing Mayor Grenier could say would surprise him anymore.

"It has become completely apparent that he is working more for Laidlaw at this point than he is the people of Berlin," he said. "Paul Grenier is unwilling to question Laidlaw for the betterment of Berlin. Unfortunately, Berlin will not be better because of it."

The Laidlaw project was a contentious issue during the election, but council meetings have been largely free of conflict. This latest development, however, may have deepened the divide between the three most recent councilors and at least a few of the returning members. More than one of the returning councilors said the Monday nights will be far more contentious moving forward.

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