“It didn’t go well.”
That’s how Town Councilor David Watson described the recent arm-twisting of two developers by a certain councilor during a “constituent” meeting. But it could just as easily apply more broadly to a rogue, brutish tone being set for the Brunswick Town Council under the leadership of Benet Pols, at least according to early returns.
Let’s review some of his recent political doings.
Councilor Pols has once been spotted in front of the Brunswick Development Corporation seeking a project for personal benefit.
We then see Councilor Jane Millett elected amid a last-minute smear campaign orchestrated by Pols against her opponent, Alison Harris, in a razor-thin contest.
Six weeks into the term, we discover the aforementioned closed-door and completely ill-conceived meeting with Jim Howard and George Schott, in which he flouted the input of the town manager and fellow councilors — assuming he is Mayor Pols, perhaps — and made two guys who want to do development really nervous about it.
Now, lo and behold if we haven’t just seen Pols single-handedly oust Town Manager Gary Brown, a longtime public servant whose record was, we would say, better than average in a job that’s more like a running gun battle.
“It didn’t go well”—? That’s been clear from the start.
In fact, the hardball that’s going on at the top has been pretty unbelievable, at least in its bumbling audacity.
There’s a learning curve in every job, and chairmanship of the Town Council, uncompensated and with no formal training, deserves some leeway. But a look at the machinations of the chairman so far is not inspiring.
First, Pols lied when he told us on Feb. 7 his purpose for summoning the developers was to “narrow the agenda” for an upcoming workshop on Cook’s Corner roads (a workshop he later cancelled).
That was shrewd legal cover; he knows the definition of a chairman is merely to set the agenda and conduct Town Council business.
An email from Jan. 27 from Brown to the developers makes clear Pols was set on doing much more than “narrowing the agenda.” He aggressively overstepped his bounds, and still fails to realize it.
Next, we have this creepy Chris Christie thing where Pols seems to like to punish his opponents. Councilor John Richardson said Brown’s early firing may have been in “retaliation” for Brown alerting councilors to Pols’s meeting. That’s scary.
We’re also not sure how developers based in Topsham qualify as his Brunswick “constituents,” thus justifying a closed-door meeting. Pols was clearly out of line and out of his league in that setting, jeopardizing projects and setting a bad operational example in the process.
For the vast majority of us with no taste for backroom politics — it’s worth noting that Pols was a noted crusader against “back-room dealmaking” in his campaign — this is all a tempest in a teapot. And it is.
But we’re concerned, at this early stage, that the business of the town be left to its economic development team — not councilors bent on political ax-grinding.
We’re also concerned that developers may now have some sense of confusion about whom, or whether, to approach to inquire about siting a project in Brunswick, where one may now expect ill-tempered interference from a town councilor.
It matters how you conduct yourself — as a person, as an organization, as a council, as a town.
It’s fair to say we’re very unimpressed with the cabal mentality of the Pols Town Council thus far, and hope it doesn’t reflect poorly on the town of Brunswick going forward.