DERBY – Heated debate degenerated into name-calling during the height of the Derby Line Wind Project controversy, leading one Derby resident to seek an apology from the chairman of the Derby Select Board or face a lawsuit.
Wind opponent Glenda Nye has demanded that Brian Smith apologize to her, at a public meeting and in the local media through paid advertising, for calling her a “god-damn nutcase” at a March select board meeting.
Nye said Tuesday that the name-calling, which was repeated at a May meeting, rose to the level of slander and defamation. Nye said she would consider suing Smith if he does not apologize in some very public fashion – under terms that she has dictated. She is waiting for Smith’s attorney to get back to her attorney about what he will do.
Nye hired attorney Gertrude Miller who sent a registered letter on Nye’s behalf to Smith and the four other selectmen in Derby. The letter was sent May 30 to the Derby town office.
Both Nye and Smith are outspoken at public meetings. Nye, along with other wind opponents, have interrupted Smith and challenged his actions as chair. At one point Smith had to leave the room, saying he did not feel well, after an intense debate overwhelmed yet another meeting.
Smith, an early supporter of Derby farmers who want turbines on their property, is not used to being challenged as chairman at meetings by either residents or members of the board.
Smith and other selectmen brought the letter to Monday’s select board meeting, where Smith indicated that he wanted to discuss it with the board under “personnel” in executive session at the end of the meeting.
Selectman Karen Jenne, under other business, revealed the nature of the letter by saying that Nye sent it and saying that Nye characterizes the name-calling as “false, destructive and defamatory statements.”
Jenne did not read the rest of the five-page letter. Jenne said that the topic shouldn’t be for executive session.
“I think you just made a mistake,” Smith said to Jenne.
Selectman Beaula-Jean Shattuck went further.
“Is this a board problem?” she asked.
“No,” Smith said.
Shattuck then asked why the board should discuss it at all.
Smith said he had retained an attorney.
An audience member asked if the town was paying for that attorney.
“There’s not going to be any legal charges paid by the town of Derby,” Smith said, ending the discussion and moving on to other business.
Jenne said Tuesday that she was uncomfortable making the entire letter public and refused to provide a copy to The Orleans County Record and other reporters.
Nye did not provide a copy of the letter to The Orleans County Record, but read sections of its contents in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The first time that Nye said she heard that Smith had called her a name occurred during a meeting in March. It was the first time that Nye, a newcomer to Derby, had attended any meeting of the select board, she said.
A fellow wind opponent, Vicky Lewis of Derby, was outside the meeting room in a hallway and overheard Smith talking while coming out of executive session at the end of a heated meeting over the Derby Line Wind Project, Nye said.
“People in the hall heard Brian Smith say I was a f**** nutcase,” Nye said.
After the meeting, Lewis told Nye that she approached Smith and told him that she was embarrassed that a selectman, never mind a board chairman, would say that, Nye said.
Lewis later told Nye that she urged Smith to apologize, Nye said.
In response, according to Lewis, Smith said: “Thanks for bringing the nutcase” to the meeting and drove off.
Since then, other interactions between Nye and Smith at meetings have been heated or strained.
At a meeting in May, when Smith wanted to have a vote of the board in support of the wind project, Nye said she sat next to Lewis in the audience and tried four times to get permission to speak. She claims that Smith ignored her.
The Orleans County Record reported that Nye stood and, in a loud voice, announced that the vote had not been warned on the agenda and would violate open meeting rules. She threatened to sue the board if it moved ahead with the vote. She repeated that complaint several times.
At one point, Nye also accused Smith of name-calling.
“You called me a nutcase,” she said.
“If the shoe fits …” he responded.
Nye said she was “absolutely shocked” to hear that he said it the first time.
Nye said the meeting where he said “If the shoe fits…” was taped and has played repeatedly on the local public access channel NEK-TV. She has a distinctive voice, and says that she has been approached by strangers in local stores who have asked if she is the woman that Smith called a nutcase.
“Rules are made for a reason to keep people from slandering others,” she said.
“I am embarrassed for myself. People keep coming up to me.”
She says she worked in town government in the past and is retired. She is used to having people recognize her knowledge about town operations, not disparage her for it.
Nye has demanded in the letter that Smith put on the select board agenda that he will make an apology to her. She had wanted him to do that at Monday’s meeting, but he did not.
His attorney, Gregory Howe, wrote to Nye’s attorney saying that Smith needed more time to respond.
She said she accepted the delay.
She wants him to stand up at the meeting and read a written apology.
She also wants him to buy ads three columns wide by eight inches tall with print in block letters in a specific size, saying “I Brian Smith sincerely apologize … for calling her a god-damn nutcase.”
She wants the ads to run seven times in The Orleans County Record and also seven times in the other two local papers. That would mean it would run seven weeks in the weekly Chronicle of Barton, she said.
She would not accept a public apology in person from him, saying he has been told he cannot contact her in person.
But if he does make a statement at a meeting, she wants to it to be on the agenda so she will know when to attend.
Nye said she might consider an alternative to forcing him to buy paid advertising. But a letter to the editor is not enough, she said.
She said she could have sued immediately, but felt a meaningful apology would be sufficient.
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