By Melinda Munson
I don’t abide bullies. Not in middle school, not in high school, and not at the July 15 assembly meeting when a resident told the assembly of the whole that some of them were “in his cross hairs.” In that instance, I was the last person to speak during citizens present, and the only non-assembly member to address the inappropriate remarks.
As owner/co-owner of the newspaper, I rarely make public comment. It keeps me out of the stories I’m writing, and maintains neutrality. Occasionally, an issue comes along that I feel isn’t being addressed, and I open my mouth.
Such an issue occurred at the Aug. 20 assembly meeting. I suggested that board, committee and commission meetings, which meet at the table in the center of assembly chambers, switch to the front row seating and use the audio equipment, so the audience can hear better.
I had been to the finance meeting the night before, sat close to the committee, and still missed important pieces of proceedings due to muffled voices. I’ve often heard the same complaints from audience members. I’ve brought the issue up to chair heads in the past.
I asserted at the Aug. 20 meeting that if the community cannot clearly hear the meetings, we are not keeping with the spirit of open meeting laws. I stand by that belief.
It seems Assemblymember Orion Hanson did not like my comments. Almost immediately, he glared at me. This continued throughout the rest of the evening. Every time he made a comment, he looked pointedly at me and said some variation of: “Can you hear me? Am I speaking clearly?”
What was clear, is that his intent was not professionalism. He meant to intimidate, belittle and demean. He can say whatever he wants at the dais, and because of Robert’s Rules, I am not allowed to respond. Unless I go full Mavis Henricksen (she’s my new hero), Hanson can spend the whole meeting baiting me and I am not allowed to interrupt proceedings.
At the end of the meeting, during assembly comments, Hanson looked squarely at me and angry-splained open meeting laws for an unreasonably long period of time. Participants later described it as a “battle royale” and Hanson “throwing shade.”
Perhaps the vice-mayor needs to be reminded he’s not my parent, my boss — or my four year old whom we nicknamed King George, because he’s a tyrant.
I do not believe the municipality is guilty of breaking open meeting laws. When such rumors circulated in Oct. 2020 after former police chief Ray Leggett said he resigned under pressure, I reported there was no proof of illegal meetings, and quoted Borough Clerk Emily Deach’s flat denial that such gatherings occurred.
I am a constituent, who deserves the respect and good will of my assembly member, even if he disagrees with me.
I have often admired Hanson’s demeanor at meetings. His deliberateness, his willingness to slow down and ask clarifying questions. But at this meeting, he was not his best self.
I hope that some time, when the stress of COVID dissipates, Hanson and I can go back to our previous relationship of chatting over drinks at the Elks. But I learned something from the experience. If anything like this ever happens in the future, I will stand up in the assembly meeting and politely demand that it stop, even if I’m out of order. Because no one who had the power to speak did it for me.