Thumbs up to Eliot resident Douglas Warrender, who showed grace after getting handcuffed and removed from a Select Board meeting for going over his two-minute public comment time limit and declining to stop talking.
Thumbs down to Board Chair Rebecca Davis for sticking too tightly to rules and allowing the situation to get to a point where a non-violent resident was led out of the building by a police officer. Davis also deserves criticism for not allowing any more public comment after Warrender was removed, punishing other residents who wanted to speak.
By the letter of the law, Warrender was not 100 percent right in what he did, refusing to leave even after multiple warnings. Davis and others warned Warrender about the rules, and Davis used polite words during the exchange.
In our view, however, Davis is mostly to blame for the embarrassing incident. She failed to exhibit the basic social skills and finesse needed to diffuse the situation without letting it get out of hand.
Warrender was attempting to exercise his right to comment on a controversial and complex issue in town. He was one of 641 sewer users in town who stood to face a large share of the cost of $1.7 million in repairs and upgrades to two pumping stations. Another proposal would have used Route 236 Tax Increment Financing District funds as part of a phased expansion.
This is important stuff in a small town and worthy of more than two minutes.
Davis could have offered Warrender five minutes to speak as an exception to the two-minute rule while also advising Warrender that he would then be required to yield the floor out of respect for others. Then Davis and the board most likely would have maintained control of the meeting and the respect of the audience.
Instead, Davis dug in, and Warrender did, too. He genuinely wanted to know why TIF funds weren't being used for the project and deserved the chance to express himself. The Select Board should amend its rules if the board chair can't be flexible on her own when it's appropriate.
We're pleased there has been a calm reaction to the most unusual event. Police Chief Elliot Moya called the situation difficult but noted Warrender was not arrested nor charged. Town Manager Dana Lee said he and Warrender had a conversation the next day and the town would take no action against Warrender. Warrender’s wife, Patricia, left homemade cookies for the town manager's office and the Police Department.
Warrender, for his part, explained himself eloquently and said he's "tempted" to run for Select Board. That could be a good way to get his voice heard.