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City residents question Donnelly and Hawley

VERGENNES — In a five-minute exchange of views at Tuesday’s city council meetings, two Vergennes residents questioned Mayor Lynn Donnelly and Deputy Mayor Mel Hawley on issues that included her recent allegations of corruption and what one called a Hawley email that allegedly discouraged “communications with your constituents.”
Speaking up were Abigail Blum, who had emailed Donnelly seeking clarification of the mayor’s allegations, and Andrew Fritz, spouse of former mayor Jeff Fritz, who surfaced as the target of some of Donnelly’s allegations.
Donnelly mentioned “corruption” at the Jan. 12 council meeting during an emotional moment in which she announced she would not seek office again, without offering details. In follow-up interviews and social media posts she pointed to the former mayor.
Hawley defended Donnelly in a response to Blum’s emailed request for clarification, and weighed in again at the Tuesday meeting.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the exchange among the four during the “Public Comment” portion of the Jan. 12 council meeting:
Blum: “Words matter. Statements matter and accusations matter, especially when spoken by people in positions of power …
“I requested that you clarify your comments about corruption and financial mismanagement of the city it the Jan. 12 City Council meeting.
“I was not pot-stirring or agitating, but rather seeking the accountability, which is the first and necessary step towards unity that we all desire.
“Thank you, Mayor Donnelly, for addressing my concerns, and clarifying your statements in the Addison Independent, Front Porch Forum, and the aforementioned talk radio show. I understand that your remarks came at a moment of heightened emotion, and I appreciate that you would have used less inflammatory language if this was not the case.
“Senior Alderman Hawley, issues of transparency and trust per your response to my request are paramount, I agree. The tone of your email seems to intend to shut down communication with your constituents on matters of public concern. I truly hope that doesn’t discourage others from speaking up in the future, and that you will show willingness to engage with community members free of accusations and shaming.”
Donnelly: “Thank you, Abigail we’ll make sure that’s part of the minutes.”
Fritz: “Mayor Donnelly, you have not answered the question that Ms. Bloom put to you. You have recently in print put inflammatory, possibly libelous and slanderous comments, in print.
“When are you going to answer the question has there been an investigation of corruption, and what are the findings of that investigation?”
Donnelly: “I’m not sure what investigation you’re talking about …”
Fritz: “Well, you claim corruption? Has there been investigation that has shown that money has changed hands to qualify as corruption. Secret meetings are not corruptions. They weren’t secret. And where do you come by in public meetings, stating that the former mayor was corrupt?”
Donnelly: “I’ve said publicly if I had not been so emotional about that meeting that corruption might not have been the word that I would have used.
“But I wasn’t expecting that question, and I wasn’t prepared for another word, and that came out, and I don’t, as I said in all of the public remarks that I said afterwards, that corruption might not have been the right word, but that is the word I used under the circumstances.”
Fritz: “That was a slanderous, libelous word to use. What do you say to that?”
Donnelly: “I just answered that, and Mel has got the floor.”
Hawley: “The agenda makes reference to public comment. It does not make reference to interrogations by the public, and I view this discussion here as being an interrogation.
“And I know, Lynn, that this is focused on you and it puts you in a difficult spot to call this interrogation out of order. But I just want to say for everyone watching this meeting here, that really city council meetings are not to be some interrogation. There are other venues that Andrew might wish to take if he wants to interrogate somebody, but I don’t think that they have any place at a city council meeting.”
Donnelly: “I think all of this has been answered publicly in many forums. I’ve given a private meeting on Zoom for everyone to ask me these very same questions. And at this time I’m going to move on.”

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