News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, April 23, 2021
Incivility is disrupting Stonington government
Shouting, insults at Town Hall and town office

by Leslie Landrigan

Recent outbursts at Town Hall prompted Town Manager Kathleen Billings to tell the select board on April 19 that she will not tolerate rudeness toward her staff. Billings also raised concerns about the disruption of the April 13 Harbor Committee meeting, when three men shouted questions and demands from the floor.

“We have to be really firm,” Billings said. “This kind of conduct is not acceptable. It is not acceptable in meetings. It is not acceptable in the office.”

Selectman Evelyn Duncan was the target of the Harbor Committee disturbance. “You worry they’re going to come after you with a gun,” Duncan said.

Selectman John Steed asked if it was possible to involve the sheriff. Billings said yes. Later, in a phone interview, she said she will contact the sheriff in such cases and a deputy will pay a visit to the person in question.

Incident at the town office

Earlier on April 19, a Stonington resident screamed incessantly at town employees and called them horrible names, Billings said. He got upset when he couldn’t register his vehicle because the Municipal Services Unit in Augusta closed for Patriots Day, she said. Economic developer Henry Teverow escorted him out of the office, Billings said.

Billings did not disclose the name of the Stonington resident because she said the verbal assault was unnerving and she views the person as unpredictable.

Selectman John Robbins suggested a letter banning him from the town offices.

Incident at the Harbor Committee meeting

Six days earlier at Town Hall, Harbor Committee public proceedings stopped when Don Jones, Ben Weed and Darrell Williams shouted questions at Evelyn Duncan, selectmen’s representative to the committee. They demanded to know why the select board did not reappoint Ryan Larrabee to the Harbor Committee.

Duncan said Larrabee’s wife told her they no longer lived in Stonington. Under the town ordinance, the select board can only appoint Stonington residents to the Harbor Committee.

“He lives in Stonington,” shouted Williams, who serves on the Community School District board.

“He doesn’t live in Stonington,” Duncan shouted back.

After several minutes of back and forth about Ryan Larrabee’s place of residence, Williams said Larrabee owns property in Stonington. Therefore, Williams said, Larrabee should get a property tax refund. “Are you going to give Ryan a refund on his taxes?” Williams asked several times. “Refund his taxes!” he shouted.

Billings, who attended the meeting, suggested they take up their issue with the selectmen.

The Fish Pier, too

The problem of incivility extends to the Fish Pier, Billings told the select board. “We’ve gone through two harbormasters, and what they’ve told me is the personalities are too intense,” she said. Within the past year, Stonington has had three harbormasters—Raelene Pert, Bobbie Blake and Rufus Nicoll all resigned—and the town is advertising for a fourth.

“It’s like the local community is unraveling,” Billings said.