BANGOR – A police officer has been asked to attend a Bangor School Committee candidates’ forum later this month at the Bangor Public Library because of concerns that one of the candidates may disrupt the meeting.
David Gallant’s conduct has prompted a police presence at school board meetings because he has refused to sit down and stop talking when asked by Chairman Martha Newman.
Gallant, 44, has “presented himself aggressively to the school committee,” Superintendent Robert Ervin said recently.
“He makes a number of members of the school committee nervous,” Ervin added.
The school committee candidates’ forum is scheduled for 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19. Also running for one of the two three-year terms are Newman and Daniel Tremble, former mayor of Bangor.
“We just thought it would make everyone feel more comfortable if we had a police officer present,” Barbara McDade, director of the library, said this week.
Gallant, who declined to comment, has been “a sporadic visitor to the Bangor School Committee meetings over the years,” Ervin said.
“He has had a number of different personal issues and generally his concerns have been addressed – at least we believe they were,” the superintendent said.
Ervin said Gallant “has received letters from me that if he wants his problems addressed and solved, he has to be moderate and reasonable in his approach.
“He has not been.”
Most recent concerns about Gallant surfaced at meetings last spring after he “became loud and agitated and refused to cease his complaints” when asked by Newman, the superintendent said.
Newman declined to comment on the situation. She said, though, that she had been concerned that Gallant was about to criticize a member of the school department staff. She noted that one of her responsibilities as chairman of the school committee is to prevent someone from slandering an employee in public. The city would be held financially liable for any court judgment, Newman pointed out.The primary responsibility of a chairman, she said, is to “see to it that the school board can go forward and do the public business we’re required by law to do.”
Bangor Police Chief Don Winslow said that the school department first notified him that there was “a potential problem” after an April 26 meeting at which Gallant spoke during a citizen’s comment period and then refused to stop talking and sit down.
At Ervin’s behest, a police officer attended the May 15 meeting, when Gallant again refused to stop speaking, Winslow said. Newman asked the officer to remove Gallant, who left the meeting quietly escorted by the officer.Ervin said that the school department and police subsequently agreed that a criminal trespass warning covering all properties where the school board met should be issued to Gallant.
The warning was rescinded in August, however, after the Penobscot County district attorney “felt it was too broad,” Winslow said.
A police officer was present at a Sept. 13 school committee meeting “out of concerns expressed by school committee members that [Gallant] would show up and be disruptive,” Winslow said.
Gallant did not attend that meeting.
Since then, although a police officer hasn’t specifically been assigned to school committee meetings, a “beat officer has been made aware of the situation and encouraged to check in and make sure everything was alright,” Winslow said.
“If the school department would like us to be at meetings, we will be there just as a precautionary measure because there is a level of discomfort among some members of the school department,” the police chief said.
During the forum, Gallant, along with the other two candidates, will be asked to discuss their views on education. Gallant, who is self-employed, acquired the 100-150 valid signatures qualifying him to run for office.
Gallant also has made himself known to the city council. At a recent meeting, he spoke during a citizen’s comment period, complaining that the school committee had prevented him from speaking and noting that police had been at some meetings.
Some of the conflict appears to have arisen from personal issues.
A criminal trespass warning prohibiting Gallant from coming on to Bangor High School property was issued after he went to the school Aug. 29 to ask Principal Norris Nickerson to remove a protection order from his son’s file, according to a police report.
When Nickerson would not remove the order, Gallant “flew into a rage,” the principal said, according to the report. He left after Nickerson contacted police.
According to another police report, Newman said that Gallant has called her at home and that “his conversation was abusive and she felt threatened.” She requested that an officer tell Gallant not to call her.
The officer said in his report that Gallant told him he “has no children in the school system, but has some concerns involving the superintendent and her,” referring to Newman.
According to the report, Gallant said he would not call Newman at home and instead would address issues at school committee meetings.
Winslow said that a criminal trespass notice from St. Mary’s Catholic Church and All Saints Catholic School – which has classrooms on the St. Mary’s campus on Ohio Street – has been in effect since 2003 “based on behavior that was making church staff uncomfortable.”
Noting the upcoming candidates’ event, Winslow said police are “aware of the forum and will check to make sure things are alright.”
He said that police would step in at the request of the school committee if someone displayed “disruptive behavior,” such as yelling or continuing to speak after the allotted time is up. The person then would be asked by police to either stop or leave the premises, he said.
“If they refuse to leave, they would be subject to arrest,” he added.
If someone is assaulted or threatened, police “would step in and not wait until someone asks us to,” he said.
“But if the behavior appears to exceed the parameters of the meeting, it’s a judgment call the school would make – not us,” Winslow said.
Bangor Daily News reporter Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.