BELFAST, Maine — A Belfast woman is calling for a longtime city councilor to resign after he posted videos of himself on YouTube and Facebook lighting off illegal Roman candles in his yard to celebrate the inauguration of President Joe Biden last month.
In the past few days, Councilor Mike Hurley, 70, has been fiercely criticized by some people for violating the city’s fireworks ordinance, which he voted in favor of back in 2011.
“A few people were very cranked up about it. I get that. I’m not a scofflaw,” he said Monday. “It really didn’t occur to me that this was illegal. People pointed out that it’s a violation. I thought about it, called up the Belfast cops and I said, ‘Hey, give me a ticket.’ And they did.”
But that hasn’t stopped the dispute.
Kelli Bucklin of Belfast said she plans to call for the city official to resign at Tuesday’s council meeting in an effort to hold elected officials to a higher standard.
“I get that he has passions and was in a celebratory mood,” she said. “But this is the time that leaders should be leading by example …. As an elected official, you take an oath to uphold the law.”
It’s not just about disregarding the fireworks ordinance, she said — it’s also about Hurley’s approach to social media. The incident was discussed broadly on Facebook, including a local page that Hurley moderates.
“I think there’s a long-standing history of poor behavior on social media,” Bucklin said. “While the issue at hand is that a city councilor broke the ordinance, it’s a bit of a snowball issue, or an onion …. I think there’s an entire populace of Belfast that’s disenchanted with his behavior.”
Hurley said he does not know all town ordinances by heart, but doesn’t believe he should step down for disregarding one.
“This would mean if someone got a ticket for not having their seatbelt on, or for talking on a cell phone, they should resign,” he said.
According to the Belfast City Charter, officials can be removed from office if they have been convicted of a felony. In contrast, Hurley’s citation is a civil violation, for which he faces a fine between $200 and $400.
Hurley believes the outrage is political, and rooted in him celebrating Biden’s inauguration.
“Some people with a political ax to grind, or an ideological ax to grind, are much more upset with this,” he said.
As for his approach to social media, Hurley said he “doesn’t agree with idiots.”
Not everyone in Belfast is upset about the councilor’s actions, including Anne Saggese, who doesn’t think he should step down.
“Who hasn’t violated a code at some point? It’s just no big deal,” she said. “And everyone has a different idea of what is acceptable social media behavior. I don’t agree with everything Mike posts, but he has every right to post it.”
It’s a slippery slope to say that an elected official can’t post their thoughts and opinions on social media, Saggese said. She offered another solution for critics.
“If people don’t like what Mike writes, let someone run for that seat instead, and see if people like them better,” she said.
Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders said many people have contacted him about the firework incident over the past five days, and he expects to hear more about it at Tuesday night’s meeting. He would like city officials to create some sort of social media guidelines, and hopes the council can find common ground there. Still, what Hurley does on his own time is not a council issue, he said.
“I think Mike’s passions, and how he communicates passion, is sometimes a little different from me. It doesn’t mean he’s bad, or done anything wrong. The rocket thing, he’s already written himself up,” Sanders said. “I try to herd cats as best I can, but at the end of the day, I’m not there to tell Mike, who is an equal member of council and who has done more for the city than anyone I personally know, what to do. In terms of picking battles, this isn’t one I would be picking.”