Robert Cardimino was feisty as ever after being allowed back into City Hall after a nearly five-month ban.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — After months wandering in the desert (or more accurately, pounding the sidewalk outside City Hall), Robert Cardimino was allowed back in the City Council Chambers on Tuesday night.
The persistent critic of the council was served a no-trespass order in June after getting into a verbal confrontation with Councilor Marie Harpin. Mayor Richard Alcombright lifted the order after discussions between the city solicitor and an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who had written in Cardimino's defense.
But along with Cardimino's appearance was a communication from Council President Michael Bloom to look at rules to rein in some of the senior citizen's antics at past meetings, including holding large signs in the audience or wearing message T-shirts.
"No member or official or visitor shall be allowed to publically display any form of messaging, whether lettered or graphic, on a sign, electronic device or printed article of personal clothing at a City Council meeting."
Bloom also suggested that "objects used for the purpose of conveying a message are also forbidden."
Both those in the audience and councilors thought the rule was going too far.
Citizen Wayne Goodell castigated the council during hearing of visitors for considering a rule that would prevent someone wearing hat with an American flag patch from attending a meeting. "Are you kidding me?" he exclaimed. He also pointed out that the rule could prevent the media from using laptops or other technology in the chambers.
"Perhaps this a bit, possibly, too ambiguous, it possibly does need further clarification," said Bloom, who added that his purpose was to bring it for discussion. He confirmed that while prompted by the solicitor and ACLU's conversations, the language was wholly his.
"My point is, I don't want signs, the council doesn't want signs," he said. "I want the council to have decorum and respect and the people who watch these meeting, who come to these meetings, demand the same things from us."
Councilor John Barrett III said he agreed but added everyone should be held to same standards.
"You have to have consistency ... We have seen a gentleman come in here and make slanderous statements," he said, referring to Michael Chalifoux's frequent disparagement of the Downing family. "I walked out of here and was threatened by him."
Bloom said commenters are unpredictable. "People can just totally obliterate the rules. ... it happens that fast," he said, snapping his fingers.
"You have the control of the meeting with that gavel, if you deem something slanderous, or evil, or unnecessary, you slam the gavel these folks stop talking and these folks as well," said citizen Roger Eurbin in the following open forum. "I don't think you need a paper, I don't think you need anything."
Cardimino had been removed from council chambers in March for holding a sign attacking council members and the mayor.
Several councilors said it was a matter of free speech and they were disturbed that Cardimino had been shut down. They were also unhappy they had not been informed of Cardimino's return, for which Alcombright apologized.
"We are elected officials and we are subject to abuse from the public," said Councilor Jennifer Breen. "That happens to us. If you don't like the role that we're in as an elected official, then don't run for office. ...
"He was ousted from City Hall and that's a problem."
Cardimino spent his banishment by standing outside council meetings with a variety of signs.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said she was "troubled" by the proposal, particularly regarding personal clothing, but noted that it wasn't Cardimino's sign that got him ousted but his actions three months later with Harpin.
"It was because of his behavior afterward and his threatening manner, the way he treated Councilor Harpin," she said. "It had nothing to do with what he said."
Alcombright agreed, saying "I was afraid for her safety. As I left the building I called the city solicitor and said we have to do something."
The ACLU had provided an opinion to the city that the indefinite no-trespass order had suppressed Cardimino's right to speak and denied him citizen services available at City Hall.
"The [rule] language was a direct result of conversations between our city solicitor and the ACLU attorney based on the premise that this sorts of things [disruptive behavior] albeit can happen, shouldn't and don't need to happen," said the mayor.
A motion to file the rule was rescinded and it was referred to the General Government Committee and the city solicitor.
Cardimino proved as combative as ever, reminding the council he had filed an open meeting complaint and threatening to report Bloom for "filing a false police report" for his removal in March.
He did end on a positive note, though.
"You know, we should be all be working together to further North Adams, not tear it apart. Right now we're a divided city, whether you realize that or not."