AUGUSTA — City officials plan to continue to pursue enforcement of an alleged noise ordinance violation by the Red Barn restaurant despite angry response from across the country after the restaurant owner posted a video rant that has been viewed online 1.4 million times since Friday.

Mayor David Rollins said Monday the city’s code enforcement action, in which the city hand-delivered a consent agreement to the Red Barn, proposing it pay $200 for allegedly exceeding the maximum decibel limits of the city’s noise ordinance at a July 6, 2016, event, will continue. Rollins, after meeting with City Manager William Bridgeo earlier Monday, said neither he nor city councilors will interfere with that enforcement process, despite being besieged with calls and emails from people who saw a video posted on Facebook in which Red Barn owner Laura Benedict urged viewers to contact the city to complain about what she described as a $200 fine she said was for exceeding noise limits at a fundraiser for Honor Flight Maine. However, the noise violation cited by the city occurred not, as Benedict incorrectly thought, at the Honor Flight Maine event but, instead, at a later concert at the Red Barn that was not a fundraising benefit show.

Bridgeo said he’ll update councilors on the issue at their meeting Thursday with a description of the history leading up to the consent agreement. Bridgeo also said a number of people who left messages indicated they planned to attend Thursday’s council meeting to voice their opinions. He said in a memo to councilors he has asked the police department to have “a low-key presence at the meeting should they be needed to ensure proper order.”

Benedict posted the video Friday but later acknowledged to a reporter she had not read the consent agreement before posting the video and was incorrect in stating it was for the Honor Flight Maine, a nonprofit organization that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to see their memorials. She has since apologized, in another, much-less-well-traveled Facebook post, for saying the incorrect event is what prompted the city’s action.

The emotional original video, which was taken down from the Red Barn’s Facebook timeline Saturday but as of Monday afternoon was still viewable on a “videos” link on the site, had received more than 1.4 million views, 8,900 “reactions” and 2,700 comments.

Benedict’s post including her apology, meanwhile, had received about 450 comments, 2,500 reactions, and 418 shares as of Monday.

“I think, with the local and Maine media, we’ve done a pretty good job getting the rest of the story out, but when you get beyond the state, we can’t compete with one million views,” Rollins said. “We all, in this age of false information and the internet, need to be very wary of what we read in a non-substantiated format like that. It can be lethal and it spawns serious problems and sometimes bad consequences. Here we are, the city of Augusta, on the defensive, and the event had nothing to do with veterans at all.”

HOSTILE RESPONSE

Bridgeo said between Friday evening and Monday morning, his office’s phone received more than 130 voicemails, which he characterized as negative toward the city and, unfailingly, each of them referenced the inaccurate information from the video.

Matt Nazar, the city’s director of development services, in a three-page memo to Bridgeo about the issue, said he was concerned about the social media posting and the hostility expressed by people locally and across the nation. Nazar’s department includes the city’s code enforcement officers who visit properties throughout the city and are responsible for enforcing ordinances.

“My employees spend a great deal of time out of the office working with residents, some of whom are hostile to start with,” he said in the memo to Bridgeo. “Giving such people one more unwarranted reason to react violently is irresponsible and dangerous. Folks may think I’m being hyperbolic, but during my career I was a code enforcement officer and I was threatened with a shotgun, a knife and fists on more than one occasion just for doing my job.”

Nazar said he reached Benedict by phone Friday around 11 a.m. and their conversation started pleasantly but as soon as he mentioned the consent agreement she became angry. He said he tried to tell her he would drop off the proposed consent agreement for her to review, so they could discuss it, but she hung up on him.

He then dropped the consent agreement off at the Red Barn, around 11:30 a.m., leaving it with an employee to give to Benedict.

The July 6, 2016, event was a concert at the restaurant that prompted two visits by police over noise complaints. A second event, on June 11, 2017, was also cited, although city officials are not proposing a fine for that event.

Bridgeo said city staff didn’t take action on the 2016 complaint until another, similar complaint was made about the June 11, 2017, event.

The city’s noise ordinance, adopted in 2012, limits noise from commercial activities from exceeding 60 decibels at the nearest property line. However it includes an exemption to those noise limits for events that have other permits from the city. The Red Barn was thus allowed to exceed noise limits at events in the past because it obtained a mass gathering permit from the city.

While Benedict’s employees dropped off an application for a mass gathering permit for the June 11, 2017, event, no one was available to sign it before the event took place. When neighbors complained about the noise, police found no mass gathering permit on file.

Benedict could not be reached for comment Monday. The Red Barn, a popular Riverside Drive restaurant known for hosting numerous fundraisers for charitable causes and groups, is closed Mondays.

MORE EVENTS APPROVED

Benedict said, in a Facebook post Saturday, she was headed to the Augusta Police Department to apply for two mass gathering permits for concerts planned at the Red Barn this Tuesday and Wednesday.

As of Monday, the Tuesday event had been canceled but the Wednesday event was still scheduled, according to the Red Barn’s Facebook page.

Police Chief Robert Gregoire said two applications for mass gathering permits for Red Barn events this week were waiting for him Monday morning. He approved both. He said the permit requests are usually granted, after he reviews them after consulting with other city officials to make sure the events won’t pose a risk to public safety. He said he knew of no permit requests from the Red Barn ever being rejected.

“The way the ordinance is written, any event, as long as it is done appropriately, probably wouldn’t be denied,” a mass gathering permit, Gregoire said. “We have a long history with the Red Barn doing these permits.”

Gregoire said police receive noise complaints about concerts at the Red Barn “infrequently” but noted neighbors to the property, who have complained to the city about noise from concerts there in the past, know the Red Barn usually has a mass gathering permit for the concerts which exempts those events from the noise ordinance decibel limits.

Red Barn officials have, twice, sought to get an exemption to the city’s noise ordinance limits, but the Planning Board, in 2013 and 2015, rejected both requests.

Two neighbors to the Red Barn complained, then, that noise from events there made it impossible for them to relax, with their windows open, after getting home from work.

Rollins said he and city councilors have received vulgar, uncivil and demeaning emails citing Benedict’s video. He noted he has volunteered at previous events involving the Red Barn and he personally spoke at the Honor Flight dinner himself.

He said he has not had any conversations, nor have other city officials, with Benedict or Red Barn employees about the incident. He encouraged people to support both the Red Barn and the city.

“At this point I don’t really know how to approach her; I think it’s best, right now, to give her some time and space,” he said. “It will work out, hopefully. We should be proud of the Red Barn and love them and help spread the message. And we should forgive Laura and support the city of Augusta.”

Nazar said he tried, in 2016, to contact Benedict to discuss the July 6, 2016, noise violation and the proposed consent agreement, but was unable to reach Benedict other than in a phone conversation during which she became angry when he brought up the consent agreement. Nazar said he then lost track of the issue in the following weeks and the consent agreement lay dormant until the June 2017 noise complaint again raised the issue.

Nazar said the $200 was proposed as the payment in the consent agreement because that would be twice the cost of the mass gathering permit, had the Red Barn obtained one. He said doubling the cost of a permit is standard for providing an after-the-fact permit.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj