BANGOR – Bangor School Committee candidates Martha Newman and Daniel Tremble had the floor to themselves Thursday during a forum when the third candidate, David Gallant, refused to participate in protest of the police presence at the meeting.
“Mr. Gallant has chosen not to be part of the forum,” moderator Michael Gleason announced at the beginning of the session held in front of about 30 onlookers at the Bangor Public Library.
A Bangor police sergeant in plain clothes and an armed uniformed patrol officer monitored the forum from the back of the room. They had been asked to attend by library director Barbara McDade because Gallant had disrupted several school committee meetings last spring, prompting School Superintendent Robert Ervin to ask that police attend subsequent meetings.
Gallant already had taken a second row seat Thursday when Gleason announced that the candidate would not participate. During the hourlong session, Gallant made several comments from the audience, questioning at one point the openness of school committee meetings.
“I tried speaking last spring at school committee meetings and wasn’t allowed,” he said. “Police escorted me out and said not to come back. I don’t find that a very open school committee meeting when there’s a police presence and I’m escorted out and threatened with arrest if I return.”
After the meeting, Gallant walked away from a reporter and refused to answer questions. Gleason said in an interview that Gallant told him earlier that “he was here as citizen Gallant and not candidate Gallant in protest of the police presence.”
Most of the forum turned out to be a typical candidates’ session, with Newman and Tremble discussing the effect of the proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights’ on education; ways to improve schools; school safety; and regionalization, among other things.
Tremble is a businessman who graduated from Bangor High School and the University of Maine. He is a former Bangor councilor and mayor.
Newman also graduated from Bangor High School and the University of Maine, and is a former teacher who has served on the school committee for 24 years.
As chairman she presided over a couple of meetings last spring during which Gallant refused to sit down and stop talking when asked. Gallant has “presented himself aggressively” to the school committee, Ervin said recently.
But on Thursday night, Gallant, dressed neatly in a jacket and tie, sat quietly for the most part.
“I’m sorry you didn’t feel comfortable participating,” Tremble, who sat next to Newman at a table in front of the room, told Gallant. He noted that although Gallant may “go on a little long,” Tremble didn’t feel uneasy about his presence that evening.
Tremble said some of the school committee meetings seem “staged” and that there should be more interaction with the community. Residents should “feel comfortable asking questions and getting answers,” he said. School committee meetings are televised and a school department newspaper reports on events and awards, he said.
“But not everything is so rosy and positive,” he said. “We need to publicize the bad with the good.”
Newman said that all school committee meetings are “totally open” and that all votes are taken in public. “We have opportunities for the public to comment, but we have to have some rules,” she said. “We have to allow time to conduct the business that the law requires.”
At one point Gallant asked Newman to “reflect on the English curriculum at Bangor High School.” He said his son had been in a class two years ago during which students were told that anyone who didn’t accept witchcraft, the occult and homosexual marriage was being “intolerant.”
“As a Christian I find the definition of tolerance insulting,” he said.
Stating that Gallant’s son had not been in the school system for at least four years, Newman responded vehemently. “I don’t recognize what he just described and that is not what’s going on,” she said. “It isn’t happening.”
Other discussions during the evening were less volatile. Both candidates agreed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights would be disastrous for the school department.
The school department always is trying to get better, Newman said. Each year administrators publicly identify the weaknesses in their schools and tell the school committee how they will improve.
Tremble said he’d like to see school facilities such as the gym and the library used more by the public. Schools are “owned by the community and it needs to feel ownership,” he said.