New Gloucester selectmen on Monday censured a Dec. 3 statement by their colleague, George Colby, that has been interpreted as racist. Screenshot / Zoom

NEW GLOUCESTER — A petition to recall Selectman George Colby is underway following a public outcry against his comment at a Dec. 3 meeting.

The Board of Selectmen on Monday night issued an official condemnation of Colby’s comment.

Colby, at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance during the Dec. 3 meeting that lasted less than five minutes, said, “Liberty and justice for all, for everyone. Even us white folks!”

George Colby

Board Chairwoman Karen Gilles and board members Linda Chase, Tammy Donovan and Peter Bragdon voted in favor of censuring Colby’s comment. Colby abstained from the vote.

Gilles said Monday, “We are disagreeing with the statements that were made,” though Colby’s comments are still in the official record.

“Regardless of your interpretation of whether there was racial intent or what that intent was,” Gilles said, it was “ultimately a statement that was not necessary.”

Colby said little except to ask Town Manager Brenda Fox-Howard why his comments are “racist.”

Fox-Howard replied that his pointing out a particular race could be “construed as bias.”

Colby could not immediately be reached for comment.

The publicly available record on New Gloucester Television’s website, which is town-funded and run by volunteers, was edited to cut out Colby’s words.

The video was edited nearly a week after it was posted, after a resident complained about Colby. A nonspecific disclaimer that the video was edited has since been added.

Fox-Howard said Monday night that the video was edited after consulting with the town attorney, Matthew Tarasevich, of Portland law firm Bernstein Shur.

The decision was made “to mitigate further continued upset and angst from the citizens that found it offensive,” Fox-Howard said Monday. “I felt that was in the town’s best interest.”

Tarasevich provided the Lakes Region Weekly with the unedited video last week in response to its Freedom of Access Act request.

The Lakes Region Weekly also requested from the town a December 2010 email exchange between Colby and then-Selectman Josh McHenry in which Colby apparently used racial slurs. Colby was not a selectman at the time. Those documents have yet to be provided.

Thomas Jordan said the decision to edit the video was “denying citizens the opportunity” to use their own judgment.

“You are entitled to your opinions, but I am entitled to choose my representatives,” Jordan said Monday night.

“We should all have the appropriate opportunities to make amends,” but if Colby does not do so, Jordan said he would “vigorously support” efforts to remove him.

Pamela Slye disagreed with the notion that Colby was acting in an offensive manner.

“I think this is a violation of his First Amendment rights,” she said. “If you listen to his comment, you don’t get a racist comment out of him. He was merely commenting on the current situation on how people are, for lack of a better word, trashing white males.”

Penny Hilton said Colby “has a right to his opinions but they have no place in a public forum.”

She also said she supported the recall petition effort started by resident Stephen Hathorne.

A recall allows residents to remove an elected official before their term is up. To send a recall question to a special election, a petition must have signatures equal to or at least 10% of the number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election, or about 293 signatures.

“The citizens have given more than enough time for George to come forward with either an apology or the opportunity to resign,” Hathorne wrote on his public Facebook page last week.

Hathorne is a former selectman who lost his bid for reelection in 2018. More recently he led the effort for the creation of a town charter commission that voters approved in November.

He said Tuesday morning that there are 12 other residents working on the petition and he estimates they’ve collected about 100 signatures so far.


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