Belfast Mayor Samantha Paradis was elected to her position in November 2017, and since then has found herself at the center of many controversies and moments of turmoil in the midcoast city.
But she has never voted on a single motion at a Belfast City Council meeting — until this week.
That’s because according to the Belfast charter, the mayor presides over council meetings and acts as the ceremonial head of the city, but has no veto and only votes in case of a tie.
At Tuesday night’s regular meeting, Paradis cast her first vote as mayor when Councilor Mike Hurley was absent, and the remaining four councilors deadlocked on an item that she had asked to be put on the agenda in the first place.
She had asked if the city would consider sponsoring the Build Maine 2019 conference, which will be held in Lewiston on Wednesday, June 5, and Thursday, June 6. On its website, the event is described as bringing together “all people participating in the act of building our cities,” including builders, investors, elected officials, engineers, lawyers and more.
A sponsorship would cost Belfast $1,000 and allow the city to send 13 people to the conference. Last week, Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge had weighed in, telling the mayor via email that he had previously attended the event and did not think it would be worth spending $1,000 on, especially in light of the current municipal budget challenges.
While discussing the agenda item, Paradis told the council that she thought the conference sounded valuable, although acknowledged the budget struggles by saying that the city did not need to sponsor it but could simply send attendees.
“To me, the value is that folks would be able to network and get to know each other,” she said. “In my experience, attending conferences allows for networking among peers, and also an opportunity to spark an idea to be able to bring back to the larger community and offer forward progress.”
After learning that a one-day ticket costs $83, Councilor Neal Harkness moved to send up to four relevant staff and board members from the city to the conference if they want to go. He and Councilor Paul Dean voted in favor, while councilors Mary Mortier and Eric Sanders were opposed.
Upon realizing the council was deadlocked, the mayor looked delighted.
“Do I get to vote on this tie?” she said, while laughing excitedly. “Wow. All right. Well, I will cast a vote in favor, so the motion passes three to two.”
The gavel came down, but the giddiness did not.
“That’s the first time that I’ve voted,” she said to the crowd.
In other business, the council heard an update on shoreline erosion projects at City Park and the east side of the Armistice Bridge, and decided to send a letter to the state with comments on potential impacts caused by Nordic Aquafarms’ proposed installation of intake and outflow pipes on submerged lands off U.S. Route 1 near the Northport town line.