WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – A police officer will be assigned to City Hall during City Council meetings because of a disturbance Thursday night in which council members contacted the Police Department for assistance.
The incident occurred during the public participation segment of the City Council agenda when Frank Mills of Overlook Drive, a citizen well-known not only to the council members, but also to much of the community for his robust oratory and strongly held opinions, exposed his dramatic flair by not only quoting William Shakespeare, but also through the use of stage props.
Mills said that City Hall reeked of corruption and then he produced an aerosol can and sent a spray mist about eight feet as he arced the can around the council’s semi-circle arrangement of desks, enveloping several of the nearest council members and City Clerk Karen Fanion in that mist.
City Council President Brent B. Bean II immediately rebuked Mills for acting unprofessionally in the city’s legislative body. Mills responded that the can was air freshener, a product needed to clear the air. Shortly thereafter the three minutes allotted to residents speaking during public participation expired, At-large Councilor David A. Flaherty made a motion to suspend the council rules to allow Mills to continue, a motion that had several councilors responding at the same time. Bean banged his gavel and ordered a roll call vote of Flaherty’s motion, which was defeated by a vote of council members present.Three councilors voted to allow Mills to continue, eight voted to end his tirade.
Mills said that he planned to exercise his right of free speech regardless of the will of the council members and that he would continue to speak until police officers dragged him out. Bean called for a recess and took action on Mills suggestion calling for police assistance at 7:25 p.m., requesting an officer to respond to an incident of disorderly conduct.
Meanwhile another city official, in the Council Chambers on other business, went to the cable television control room and requested that the televised feed be cut while Mills continued to rant from the podium. Mills finally sat down and left the chambers just prior to the arrival of responding police officers who searched the entire building trying to locate Mills. An officer confiscated the aerosol for further examination. Investigating officers later located Mills at his residence where he said that he was just exercising his First Amendment Rights of speech and that on the advice of his attorney would make no additional comment.
Police Chief John Camerota said Friday that he had reviewed the incident and that if Mills had remained in the Council officers may have taken measures needed to control the situation, but that Mills had left the chambers by then. Camerota said that his department will not pursue criminal charges for Mills comportment.
“There will be an officer present at (City Council) meetings in the future,” Camerota said. “I think that is an appropriate response to this. All of us would be more comfortable with that. It doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose by going further (with a complaint).” Bean said Friday that he is “obligated to ensure the safety of City Councilor members, staff and members of the public present in the Council Chambers during our meetings.” “In this instance that safety was brought to question,” Bean said. “That spray went right over the head of the City Clerk. Anybody in there could have had an allergic reaction.” “We had no idea what Mr. Mills was spraying,” Bean said. “It’s unfortunate that you have to think like this, but in this day and age, it’s a reality.” “I may have given the person in the incident too much leeway because we know the individual. He has appeared before us before to express his concerns on a range of issues,” Bean said. “I should have acted more quickly. I probably gave him too much time.”
Media Credit: The Westfield News