, Newburyport, MA

August 1, 2013

Our view: Salisbury heading toward ugly political brawl

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Salisbury selectmen are heading down a tricky road as they prepare to oust the Liquor Licensing Commission chairman — not for anything he did on the commission, but for his outburst during a selectmen’s meeting held on July 1.

Liquor Licensing commissioner Gil Medeiros was clearly out of order, and grossly out of line, when he verbally attacked the three selectmen who voted against a proposal to bring a slots casino to town (it lost 3-2). The videotape of the incident, available on Salisbury Community TV, shows a clearly agitated Medeiros laying a thick barrage of criticism on selectmen, repeatedly calling their vote disgusting, calling them disgusting and threatening to have them thrown out of office.

Probably worst of all was his body language. He stands in the middle of the aisle, repeatedly pointing his finger at selectmen. He moves toward them, then away, then toward them again, perhaps 10 feet or so away. As he carries on for about three minutes, his anger and vitriol subsides somewhat, but it still breaks the accepted decorum of public meetings.

He’s not alone. Bruce Arakalian, who owns the property where the “slotsino” was proposed, circled around Medeiros, heaped criticism on selectmen and physically got closer to the board members than Medeiros, jabbing his finger at them. Both men are allowed to continue their accusations without being gaveled down or told to stop.

No one on the other side of this kind of criticism would feel comfortable, especially in the heat of the moment. Given that selectmen appoint the license commission, what came next isn’t a big surprise.

Selectmen informed Medeiros recently that they plan to remove him from office for his actions. Selectmen clearly have the power to take this punitive action, as it is granted in the town charter. But it’s been rarely, if ever, used.

Medeiros countered that he wants a hearing on the matter, and it will be held next week.

If things go as it seems they will go, it will be a very heated hearing, with lots more fingerpointing and accusations, and ultimately, Medeiros will be bumped from the commission. And a message will be sent to other town boards and commissions — toe the line. But it won’t end there. If history is a guide, the political fighting will grow.

There’s no doubt that Medeiros violated the accepted rules of decorum. Salisbury has seen too much of that of late, as was witnessed by fits of shouting at a health board meeting and an ugly confrontation between a police officer and the building inspector. Selectmen are within their right, technically, to get rid of him.

But we question whether this is the appropriate use of the charter provision. We would expect that a fairly high threshold of bad behavior, or unprofessionalism, or unethical behavior, would have to be reached to trigger it. His conduct on the board isn’t being questioned. If selectmen have substantive accusations involving his conduct on the board, they should lay them out.

Salisbury has long had a deep political split, and in recent months it has outwardly grown. We can expect that ousting Medeiros will draw the battle lines even sharper.

Hopefully, a more peaceful alternative will develop. It should be up to Medeiros to acknowledge that his behavior was out of line, to apologize and to make sure he acts in a professional manner from here on. And perhaps selectmen can meet him halfway, keep him on the board through the end of his term and prevent a political sideshow from embroiling the town.