City Council members, accustomed to meeting in front of 100 or more spectators plus a cable television audience, usually choose their words carefully.
But when the council held a Saturday meeting on Jan. 16 to act on matters held over from a previous session, there were no television cameras and no spectators present in a City Hall conference room.
Perhaps forgetting that their meetings, usually held in the City Council chambers, are always taped by the city clerk's office and that those tapes are made available to the public, council members spoke bluntly and candidly.
So bluntly, in fact, that Councilman Cam Briglio wound up apologizing at this week's council meeting for having called a city volunteer "a son of a bitch."
And so candidly that Councilman Barry Hatch said he hopes the council has learned the lesson that "we need to watch our mouths and stay on the subject."
Council members at the Jan. 16 session sought more visible credit for new projects in the city. They also agreed to spend $300,000 for a computer system, but to defer payment until after the April 12 municipal election to avoid public attention.
Briglio, who is running for reelection, criticized the city staff for asking him to vote on the expensive computer system after the city had just raised water and trash rates. He said he could not vote for the system, even though it is needed, until after the election.
And he complained that he was having trouble coming up with ammunition for his reelection campaign.
"The public wants to know what the hell did I do for four years," Briglio said.
"You know, I had to stop and think: what the hell have I done? I don't know."
Briglio said this week that he did not remember making those remarks, but "in the heat of things, you're liable to say anything."
He said he believes he has accomplished a great deal in office. "I've done a lot in four years," he said, citing his opposition to the Operating Industries landfill and utility tax and his support for the city's award-winning volunteer program.
But, Briglio said, he fears that the tape of the Jan. 16 council session will be used by his political opponents and could be damaging.
Mayor Christopher Houseman, who is not up for reelection until 1990, complained at the Jan. 16 meeting that council members are not getting enough credit for public improvements and suggested that the city put up signs at improvement sites with the names of council members in big letters.
"The only sign in town that's got our names on it is the one at the Boys' Club, and you have to slow down to 2 miles an hour and have binoculars to see the names," Houseman said.
Tapes Widely Circulated
Several residents who had listened to tapes of the Jan. 16 session criticized council members at their meeting this Monday. One resident, Joe Rubin, said the tapes have been so widely circulated that if the council members have not heard them "you're probably the last people in town not to hear them."
"What disturbs me very greatly," he said, is that the tapes show "what our government is like when they think the citizens aren't listening. It's hard not to be disillusioned about the whole democratic process when you hear the cynicism and the self-serving nature of that cynicism."
Most of the complaints were directed at Briglio for his treatment of Jerry Lemire, a city volunteer who for more than a year has operated one of the cameras at televised council meetings. Briglio accused Lemire during the Jan. 16 session of trying to make him look bad to the home television audience. He said he had complained several times but no changes were made, and at every council meeting "the same son of a bitch is out there."
Question From Son
Briglio said his son told him that the camera had lingered on him while he was wiping his nose during a council session. Briglio said his son asked him, "Why are you picking your nose?"
Briglio attributed the camera work to his political differences with Lemire, whose wife, Pauline, quit her job as city clerk last year after complaining about a lack of support from the council.
Lemire said he heard about the Jan. 16 discussion and listened to the tape. He said he was then told that the cable company would have a new crew at this week's council meeting and his services would not be needed.
But Lemire showed up at Monday's council meeting anyway, not to operate a camera but to demand an apology. Lemire said he had never tried to make Briglio look bad on camera, and, in fact, had cautioned Briglio and other council members to be careful about their appearance.
"For your information," Lemire told Briglio Monday, "the camera can only photograph what it sees."
Briglio offered his apology to Lemire for the derogatory reference to him and said he was merely using "a figure of speech." But, he said, he does not want Lemire operating a camera at council meetings.
Three City Council candidates, Betty Couch, George Ristic and Marie Purvis, addressed the council Monday to criticize members for their statements at the Jan. 16 meeting. Although most of the attention was focused on the remarks by Briglio, Couch said Councilman G. Monty Manibog, the only other incumbent facing reelection April 12, also must bear responsibility because he sat silently and did not censure Briglio.
But, Manibog said he regarded the whole matter as a "petty thing." He said that Briglio uses colorful language and did not mean any harm. And, he said, there is nothing unusual about delaying action on unpopular issues until after an election.
Councilwoman Patricia Reichenberger said she listened to the tape and that Lemire deserved an apology, and she regrets that she did not speak up in his defense.
But, she said, she was surprised that people seemed to have been offended by the other remarks. "When you sit in a room (without television cameras and the public)," she said, "you talk a little more casually."