Outside New Gloucester Town Hall seen earlier this week. Some residents are calling for Colby’s removal and say that the Dec. 3 incident is the latest in a pattern of “racist” behavior. Emily Bader/Lakes Region Weekly

NEW GLOUCESTER — A selectman’s comments at a Dec. 3 meeting that some residents deem racist were scratched from the publicly available record at the behest of the town clerk, the local cable access station confirmed this week.

Colby

Selectman George Colby, at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance during the meeting that lasted less than five minutes, said “Liberty and justice for all, for everyone. Even us white folks!”

The video was edited sometime between when resident Brian Whitney contacted the town earlier this week to complain about Colby’s comments and when Whitney’s letter decrying the incident was published on the online community website NGXchange Wednesday morning.

NGXchange editor Debra Smith said she had seen New Gloucester Television’s video of the meeting earlier in the week but did not realize when she added its link to Whitney’s letter that it had been switched out with the edited version. Colby’s comments were cut out of the video attached to the link she included.

NGTV is funded by the town and run by a committee of volunteers. All public meetings, which have been held over videoconferencing platform Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic, are broadcast on the cable channel and archived on the website. Colby is the nonvoting Board of Selectmen liaison to the committee.

Smith said Friday morning that another editor, Joanne Cole, had saved the unedited video, which is not accessible on NGTV’s website without the direct URL, and was able to re-post it to their website.

Richard Erwin, who handles all of the technical operations for NGTV, said he received a phone call a couple of days ago, though he couldn’t recall the exact day, from Town Clerk Sharlene Myers telling him to take the unedited video down.

“I got a call from the Town Office that requested that I (edit the video) with a tone of voice that said it was urgent,” Erwin said Thursday.

Myers “did not tell me (why), just that it had to be done,” he said.

With the exception of one other instance earlier this year, when a minor’s parents asked him to mute their daughter giving their home address during a public comment session at a town meeting, Erwin said he’s never received a request like the one he got earlier this week. He has worked at the station in some capacity since 1998.

Myers, Town Manager Brenda Fox-Howard, Colby and Board of Selectmen Chairperson Karen Gilles did not return Lakes Region Weekly’s requests for comment.

Smith, from the NGXchange, said she spoke to Fox-Howard earlier this week, who told her: “I am not the supervisor for any of the Board of Selectmen as they are my supervisors. While I do have a very strong opinion of it, I cannot comment.”

Sigmund Schutz, an attorney and expert on Maine’s Freedom of Access Act who represents the Lakes Region Weekly, said the town is likely within its right to post an edited recording of the meeting, but it raises questions about whether the town is acting transparently in other matters or has suppressed information before.

“It’s not illegal for the town to edit video, but if they do that, they’ve got to disclose it,” Schutz said.

There was no disclosure attached to the edited video on the NGTV website as of Friday.

Schutz said the fact that the video had been on the Internet for more than a week before it was edited is “weird” and shows the “futility” of trying to get rid of something already on the web.

The town confirmed the video had been edited in their response to a Freedom of Access Act request from the Lakes Region Weekly for the unedited version, in which they said the original video would be provided sometime in the next few days.

On NGXchange’s Facebook page, many called Colby’s comments racist and demanded he be removed as selectman.

“I was appalled by Mr. Colby’s racist comment. I was equally disturbed by the giggles in response to the comment. Shame on you,” wrote Carole DeTroy in a comment.

Janet Clemons called the Board of Selectmen “misguided.”

“Even in a small town like New Gloucester, racism clearly exists and is tolerated. In my humble opinion, that is not acceptable,” Clemons said in a message to the Lakes Region Weekly.

Whitney, the resident who wrote the Dec. 16 letter posted on the NGXchange, said he received an apology from Gilles, who also told him the only way to remove Colby from the board is through a recall, the process by which residents vote to remove an elected official before their term is up. Colby was elected in 2019 and served on the board before, including as chairperson.

“I’m outraged that this benighted fool thinks he’s being denied ‘liberty and justice’ due to his being white,” Benjamin DeTroy said earlier this week. “He should be removed from his job because it’s not the first time he’s issued racist sentiments.”

The Lakes Region Weekly has also made a Freedom of Access Act request to the town to provide it with emails from December 2010, in which Colby apparently used derogatory slurs in an email to then-Selectman Josh McHenry. Colby was not on the board at that time.

“I went to Walmart and saw they had Obama Christmas tree ornaments. Now ain’t that a (expletive)???? Suddenly it’s OK to hang a (expletive) from a tree again,” Colby wrote in an email to McHenry dated Dec. 16, 2010.

McHenry confirmed this week that the emails obtained by the Lakes Region Weekly were authentic but said he no longer had the originals.

He said he received the emails “out of the blue.” In his reply to Colby he told him he found his remarks “inappropriate” and “offensive to me” and reminded him that communications with town officials are subject to public records requests.

The 2010 emails began circulating on Facebook earlier this week after the spouse of a selectman who served on the board with McHenry posted photos of them to a private Facebook group.

The town said it would take up to 30 days to provide the documents.


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