Councilor, citizen clash at city hall
VERGENNES — A Monday morning meeting at Vergennes City Hall between Vergennes Councilor David Austin and resident Jeremy Holm ended quickly after Austin used what all acknowledge was at least one “F-bomb.”
The story also ended on Tuesday with both people apologizing.
Holm said he received an apology from Austin at about 3 p.m., and replied with his own mea culpa for the interrupting that Austin said triggered him.
“It was quite sincere, and I sent him my apology for interrupting,” Holm said in a text to the Independent.
But it didn’t go well on Monday morning.
Austin and Holm agreed to meet at 8:30 a.m. in the city clerk’s office so that Austin could comply with Holm’s July 20 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for “all emails, texts, notes, memos, reports, written communication between yourself, the Deputy Mayor Donnelly, (Police) Chief Merkel, and City Manager Daniel Hofman.”
In that same email Holm wrote, “I am eager to learn about the details of how the inappropriate texts and emails were communicated to you by the City manager and want to understand what transpired in the last City Council Meeting (on July 16). I believe Open Meeting Laws were violated and that certainly ethical misjudgments were made by the Council.”
What is clear about what happened on Monday at city hall is that Holm met with Austin then left after only a couple of minutes without the information, and according to Hofman, who witnessed the exchange, Austin did use a common vulgarity.
“I think I heard him say the F-bomb only once. But both voices were raised,” Hofman said.
Holm said Austin, whom he had never previously met, “dropped F-bombs at least twice.”
“I’ve never had my blood pressure go up like that, and I don’t feel safe talking to that gentleman about public matters now that that has happened. I was a citizen trying to do something for the community, and I just don’t feel like it was right to be treated like that. I was cordial, and I thought it was going to be a good meeting, but it lasted about two-and-a-half minutes,” Holm said.
“I’m sure he’s a good guy, but he seems like he’s on edge about something.”
In an interview with the Independent, Austin did not dispute the language used.
“I used one F-bomb. And I’m not sure why it is he feels threatened. Because all I told him is that if he didn’t relax and didn’t stop interrupting me while I was attempting to speak I was going to get up and leave the f*^#ing room,” Austin said. “That’s what I said. I’m not sure how that’s threatening. I’m simply going to leave.”
Austin said he doesn’t have “anything to hide” and was prepared to give Holm access to documents he wanted.
“Apparently what Jeremy Holm was interested in was telling me he had conversations with attorneys. I don’t think I got three words out. If Jeremy Holm had let me speak he would have realized I would have given him the information,” Austin said.
“When someone won’t let me talk, and they’re sitting across the table, and they stand up and jump up and they’re looming over the table, all I’m going to do is leave at that point. I’m going to f^#ing leave, OK,” Austin said. “And I can understand there are probably a lot of people offended by that word. But it is what it is. But there is no reason for anyone to feel threatened by that exchange.”
Holm said he understood Austin was “clearly frustrated,” but wished Austin would have listened to him. He said Austin was trying to give him advice about filing FOIA requests that he didn’t need because he had legal advice and filed requests.
“His first words to me were ‘Let me help you understand how to make a FOIA request.’ I interrupted him and said I don’t need that. ‘I haven’t asked for or require your help. I just want to inspect your records.’ And that’s when he started dropping the F-bomb,” Holm said. “The meeting was literally two minutes. So for him to be that frustrated that quickly, you know, it defies reason.”
Austin emailed Holm at 3 p.m. on Monday. In it, he called the earlier meeting “less than productive,” wrote, “I share your passion for openness and transparency in government,” and concluded:
“I was fully prepared this morning to cooperate with you in fulfilling your request. And I remain so at this time. I have nothing to hide — in this or any other matter.”
On Tuesday Holm texted the Independent from the road after an earlier conversation to reveal Austin had not only apologized, but dropped off the documents.
“I just spoke with Mayor Donnelly who has told me David has left my requests at City Hall, and that he is sending me a letter of apology. I am satisfied.”
Even before then Holm tried to address the big picture and said he saw Austin as someone who cared about the city and its future.
“At the last city council (meeting,) at the end of it David became very emotional and was almost weeping. And he said, you know I’m a 54-year-old man, and I don’t really understand racism. And I think he was sincere in that, and he really does want to make things better here in Vergennes,” Holm said.
“I take him at his word for that. I’m hopeful that he will help us with the police review committee and make sure that our policing here in Vergennes is bias-free, make sure that we’re a welcoming community.”
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