Personal feelings aside, Paris selectmen were wrong to oust Jamison

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Paris Selectboard members cannot be blamed if they don’t send a holiday greeting card to Janet Jamison. They shouldn’t expect to receive one from her, either. Happy Thanksgiving, which is tomorrow, isn’t likely to be on any of their minds either when it comes to addressing their major critic.

The Selectmen are being blamed, however, for dismissing Jamison’s application for reappointment to a town committee on the grounds her style is too contentious and too confrontational. Several citizens are urging the selectboard to reinstate her.

If Jamison was entering the Paris Town Hall with a baseball bat looking to clobber board members with it, then there would be cause for alarm. Her clobbering them with details, however, even details that are pointed and often unflatteringly revealing, are not grounds to say she cannot serve on a town committee.

Of course Jamison’s approach to town government is one where she arms herself with information on town matters. She is not the first citizen to do that, and, with or without her on a committee, she won’t be the last.

Of course she then delivers those views in an often acerbic, uncut, and, to use the board’s term, “confrontational” manner. Again, stand in line. There are more Janet Jamisons out there.

Of course Jamison’s words are often biting and laced with a tone that is occasionally rigid, if not a tad repetitious. Yep. Others will follow.

And of course, selectmen often take the verbiage personally, as Jamison tends to leave no stone unturned, no board member unscathed, no issue unaddressed.

But guess what? Jamison has as much right to state her case in as rigid, biting and, yes, confrontational manner, as much as the docile citizen who comes to the meeting and remains quiet. No one seems to be bothered by that individual’s demeanor.

It’s one thing to not want to be in someone’s company in public. It’s another thing to tell them that their company isn’t wanted or needed in a public setting. Hurt feelings don’t constitute grounds for separation here, especially when we’re talking about citizens’ public representatives.

For the sake of background, Jamison served on the town’s Budget Committee. She’s a former member of the Selectboard, and has served on other committees. No one, including some of her stanchest critics, question her effectiveness on the Budget Committee. Her term ended in June, and she was hoping to be re-appointed to another term.

Board members agreed Jamison’s has some good ideas, and they didn’t dispute her qualifications to serve on the committee. What they dispute is her ability to work in a committee environment with others, where the atmosphere is, in their view, one more of congeniality and concession than it is of conflict and confrontation.

Hey guys, we’re talking about a committee, not a convent. Disagreement is part of the deal if you’re going to sit at the committee table.

At most Selectboard meetings, regular speakers include Jamison, Kathy Richardson and Franka Ainsworth. John Richardson, Kathy Richardson’s husband, also speaks regularly. So does Michael Risica, Each of them challenges board members in words that won’t get them any holiday cards either. But no one is suggesting they be removed on the respective committees they may serve. We wonder why.

Town Manager Amy Bernard also delivers her own reports but Bernard is clearly answerable to the Selectboard, whose members are elected by the town citizens. She and Jamison have had public spats themselves.

Maybe it wasn’t their intention but there is an undercurrent of a sort of stay-in-your-place mindset that permeates the board’s decision on Jamison’s reappointment. There are several other individuals who often present impassioned comments that harbor degrees of acidity, but they are rarely frowned upon the way Jamison’s remarks tend to be. In fact, to her credit, Jamison has called the board out on its inconsistency when it comes to enforcing some of its own in-house rules regarding making presentations to the board. It was clearly a matter of preference on the board’s part. Shame.

This newspaper recently commended the board for taking steps – or at least expressing them in public – the need for better decorum and civility during town meetings. But that was a commendation for the board’s addressing the tone of the Selectboard meetings. It was not a clarion call for not reappointing a town committee member just because board members don’t like his or her approach. Calls for civility and decorum and respect are good, if not necessary. Calls for someone’s ouster from a town committee because of their “style” should not be up for discussion.

Understand this. This isn’t about Janet Jamison. Nor is it about individual Selectboard members who voted to deny her a seat on the budget committee. It’s fairly clear here there are some people out there who don’t particularly care for some other people out there. It goes with public territory.

This is all about a citizen’s freedom of expression in a public forum, in this case, a town committee. If she fulfills all the requirements of rules of order, if she is a bonafide taxpayer, and if she uses her allotted time in a proper manner, one that helps to address the town’s myriad of needs and challenges, the board is out of bounds by suggesting Jamison is out of line and, consequently, off the committee.

The Selectboard may think citizens backing Jamison and seeking her reappointment are now clobbering them with their own personal agendas. This much is certain. This shellacking was self-inflicted.

The Advertiser Democrat Editorial Board