MONTPELIER — Former mayoral candidate and active local government critic Stephen Whitaker was arrested, and forcibly escorted from the City Council meeting on June 8, after he refused to step away from the microphone following warnings that he had exceeded his speaking time limit. Mayor Anne Watson asked Whitaker twice to step down after he nearly doubled a two-minute time limit.
After four minutes, Watson, who is also a Democratic candidate for the Vermont Senate Washington 1 district and a high school science teacher, asked Whitaker to step away from the microphone after he had exceeded the council’s two-minute limit. She gave him two warnings and then asked him to leave. The first warning came after Whitaker spoke for three minutes. At four minutes, Watson interrupted a still-speaking Whitaker to say “Thank you so much Steve. So we’re going to move on.”
“I still have a couple more items,” Whitaker said.
“Nope, nope,” Watson retorted, “Thank you. You’ve already used up more than your two minutes.
Whitaker argued that he had more to say, but Watson reminded him that he’d already used up more than his allotted two minutes.
Whitaker: “I’m allowed …”
Watson: “No you are not. Thank you so much Steve.” (Whitaker kept speaking). “Steve, I’m asking you to stop and you need to go sit down now. Thank you so much.”
“I am not finished …” Whitaker said.
“No. That is incorrect,” Watson said. “This is your first warning, Steve. If I have to speak to you again, I am going to ask you to leave.”
Whitaker then continued to speak. “Who pays for the flags …?” he began.
“Steve, I’m asking you to sit down,” said Watson.
Whitaker continued, “You gave me my warning and I’m going to finish my list.”
“No,” Watson said. “You are done now.” (Whitaker continued talking). “Steve … I’m asking you to leave,” Watson repeated.
At that point Whitaker could be heard saying “I am not leaving,” to which Watson replied, “If you are not going to leave of your own volition, I’m going to ask that you be escorted out.”
“I’m entitled to be here under open meeting law,” Whitaker said.
At that point, Police Chief Brian Peete and Deputy Chief Eric Nordenson escorted Whitaker from the room. In the ORCA Media video of the meeting, Whitaker can be heard off camera saying “Don’t put your hands on me. Don’t you dare put your hands on me,” followed by comments such as “Trespassing in city hall?”
At that point one of the members of the police department said, “You are under arrest” and forcibly but quietly removed Whitaker from the room.
Watson called a short break of the council meeting after the incident. After the break, Montpelier resident Vicki Ann Lane spoke up through Zoom:
“I do hope that you weren’t enjoying yourself,” Lane said. “Because that was difficult, although it may have been a long time coming, that was difficult to see.”
“Thank you Vicki,” Watson said. “It was also difficult to be a part of.”
Whitaker was the first to speak during the “General Business and Appearances” section of the meeting — a time set aside at the start of every city council meeting for general comments unrelated to specific agenda items.
Whitaker, who regularly shows up to city council meetings to complain about a variety of issues around the city, frequently has said that he believes the two-minute speaking rule does not allow enough time for the public to voice concerns. The June 8 meeting was no exception, and also included his comments related to trash on the river banks; the city’s toilet committee having not met yet in a year; and the fact that he believes a vacuum system for street sweeping would work better than the street sweeper (“I think the council members should be … out walking on Main Street and eating dirt the way all the rest of us are,” he said as part of his argument that the city street sweeper is “dysfunctional”). He also spoke of a fire escape blocked by a Christmas tree (“Where is our enforcement?”); an overflowing dumpster near the river; human feces on the river banks; and a public records request (City Manager Bill Fraser commented that Whitaker was given the records he requested, but Whitaker wanted them in an editable Excel file rather than as a fixed pdf).