By Jeanne Starmack
A council meeting that got so out of control it’s been described as “chaos” has council members wondering how to prevent such a scene from happening again.
The fallout from the April 7 meeting left the city without a finance director. Sherman Miles was suspended without pay by Mayor George Krinos after an argument he participated in following the meeting.
Council members and administrators weren’t sure the city would be able to pay its employees this week without a finance director. But city law director Mark Kolmacic said Wednesday that Miles legally can sign the checks, and he agreed to do so.
The meeting also left members of council questioning whether they should hire a deputy sheriff to help keep order at meetings. Councilwoman Juanita Rich, who was running the April 7 meeting in the absence of council President William Van Such, said she has a concern with the way city police are conducting themselves at meetings.
Police officers have spoken at meetings over the last several months in support of Krinos, who is often at odds with council on legislation and other issues facing the city. That has led Rich and Miles to question whether police have a bias against people who don’t support Krinos, they told The Vindicator this week.
Rich said that at the April 7 meeting, she asked police who were off-duty and in the audience to remove a man named Stephen O’Dea, who was told to quit speaking but would not leave the microphone. She said they refused.
Another resident, Nick Tsikouris, complained that he was escorted out after the meeting and the officer had his hand on his gun.
Tsikouris had been waiting to speak after O’Dea and acknowledged he raised his voice before being taken out and told he could be arrested “for inciting a riot.”
Witnesses who were at the meeting described a bizarre set of events that began when O’Dea told Rich to shut up.
Krinos had said at the meeting that he was appointing O’Dea, a former city finance director in the 1980s and early 1990s, to the position of assistant finance director.
At one point while O’Dea was speaking during public comments, Rich interrupted to tell him to address the chair instead of talking to another audience member, she said.
That’s when he told her to shut up, and councilman Bryan Tedesco told The Vindicator this week that Rich took it badly. Tedesco called for “point of order” to try to calm the situation.
The meeting was adjourned quickly when that didn’t work. Tedesco said he and others left the meeting room at city hall, but Rich and Miles remained there.
Rich said she approached O’Dea and told him that if he’d been a gentleman, he could have continued speaking.
She said he screamed at her, then screamed across the room at Miles that he’d see him tomorrow.
Miles began to argue back, then police Officer David Smith restrained him by his arm and escorted him away.
Miles then went with Kolmacic back to Kolmacic’s office, he said.
Later, when he went to the parking lot, Miles said, O’Dea was there and yelled and taunted him more.
Krinos, meanwhile, had gotten sick and was being treated in an ambulance nearby. He told The Vindicator that he refused to go to the hospital at that time, but later he did go from home.
The next day, Krinos told police that O’Dea felt threatened by comments Miles made to him during the argument. Police consulted with Kolmacic about filing criminal charges against Miles, but Tuesday, Kolmacic said he would not authorize charges.
“It was like a circus,” Miles told The Vindicator on Tuesday. “The whole meeting was disruptive. People were yelling. Police wouldn’t restrain anyone who supports Krinos. But I get arrested.”
Krinos and Miles do not get along. Krinos has been trying to replace him as finance director since he took over as mayor in December. Council, however, has the final say and has supported keeping Miles.
Police Chief Gus Sarigianopoulos defended his department Wednesday, saying that he was not at the meeting and would take his officers’ word about what happened there. He said there is no bias in the department against people who don’t support the mayor.
“In my belief, no officer here would let anybody get hurt,” he said.
He said that he would not remove someone from a meeting if that person is “just speaking their mind.”
“They should be allowed to speak,” he said. “If there’s language or they are attacking someone, take them out.”
The finance director post remained unfilled after council met in caucus Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Kolmacic wrote a letter to Krinos saying that the appointment of O’Dea went against the city’s charter because council was not consulted about it first.
He said O’Dea’s appointment is void.
Miles is planning legal action against the city over his suspension, he told The Vindicator.
Council said it is also going to begin videotaping meetings.