Home News and Features Montpelier City Council Ousts Mulholland from Public Art Commission

Montpelier City Council Ousts Mulholland from Public Art Commission

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The Montpelier City Council voted to remove a local plumber from the Montpelier Public Art Commission during its Dec. 14 meeting, but exactly what happened is not publicly known. 

This action occurred just a couple of months after the city council unanimously approved the appointment of Thomas C. Mulholland on Aug. 24. Mulholland is listed as being a plumber in several online directories, but he also considers himself to be an artist and writer, particularly of poetry. He became involved in the doings of the Public Art Commission in July, when he attended a meeting as a concerned citizen, offering feedback on the commission’s mission. At that time his input was recorded in meeting minutes conveying a lengthy criticism of their projects. He then applied for membership in the commission along with a couple of others and, like the others, was unanimously approved by the city council during an August meeting. But this led to the art commission requesting his membership be rescinded shortly after. The situation arose publicly during the Sept. 14 city council meeting.

Those involved with the incident now just want to put it behind them. “City council rescinded his appointment,” said Art Commission Chair Ward Joyce on Dec. 18 by phone. When pressed further, he said, “I don’t really want to go into it. It is too subtle and too complicated.” The Bridge asked about the remarks mentioned in a Times Argus story concerning comments aired during a public art commission meeting about a “sexy librarian,” but Joyce said he was the one who uttered the words “sexy librarian,” and not Mulholland. Joyce would not further discuss any other potentially offensive things that were said, nor would he say whether or not he agreed with the decision to rescind Mulholland’s committee membership. Committee member Monica DiGiovanni, the only other art commissioner to speak to The Bridge, did not offer any information either, saying, “I don’t care to talk about it.”

Mulholland told The Bridge by phone later on Dec. 18 he was also eager to put the matter behind him. After the council came out with their decision to remove him from the commission, Mulholland asked for an explanation, but said none was given. “I was like, OK Thomas, you are just going to have to let this go and move forward.” The whole affair has caused mental fatigue he said, pointing toward months of not knowing who wanted him off the commission and why. While the information has not been made public, Mulholland told The Bridge one member of the commission had accused him of making the member uncomfortable. He disputes that member’s version of events involving both his actions and his words. And, he has no memory of saying some of the suggestive things the person claims he said. But in the end, he was not officially accused publicly of anything in particular by the city council. 

Chronology of Mulholland’s Recent Appearances in City Council

Mulholland spoke to the council during the general business and appearances time of the Sept. 14 meeting, where he said he learned the art commission had asked the council to rescind his appointment shortly after it was made. Mulholland framed the situation as an unfair character assassination. He said he was told of the request for his removal by commission chair Joyce hours before the meeting. “He (Joyce) said that this was because some members of the commission felt threatened and unsafe by me, that I had made offensive remarks, and that I was sexist. He advised me to quietly agree to yield. Otherwise, he said, things could get messy,” Mulholland said. 

Mulholland traced the bad blood between himself and the arts commission to his appearance at their July 22 meeting. “It is this meeting that resulted in agenda item no. 13” (request for the city council to rescind his appointment), Mulholland said. He further asked about the manner in which the art commissioners communicated to one another regarding his removal and that the city council hold their discussion in public. City Manager Fraser said neither the art commission nor city council had previously discussed the matter.

Then, toward the end of the Sept. 14 city council meeting, the municipal body voted to go into executive session. Afterward, they voted affirmatively to adopt council member Jack McCullough’s motion to (1) place Mulholland on administrative leave, (2) refer the issue to the Community Justice Center “in the hopes of reaching a resolution,” and (3) “if resolution is not reached that this would come back to the council for fact finding and action based on our determination.” 

Mulholland told The Bridge he approached the Community Justice Center director, Carol Plante, with the idea of smoothing things over with the key art commission person who expressed the most concern. Mulholland said he spoke with Plante for over an hour, and Plante asked him what he could do to make the other person feel safe. He said he is not responsible for how the other person feels. “I am willing to go into a mediation process, but not like I am defending myself,” he said. Still, he wanted to go through the process to “clear the air and get to know each other,” as Plante suggested. But after three weeks passed, Mulholland said Plante told him there would be no mediation after all.

A resolution was not reached, and the city council voted again on the matter at the end of its meeting on Dec. 14 following an executive session. This time they voted to remove Mulholland from his committee appointment.

The decision followed a full council meeting on other topics, which again started out with Mulholland speaking on his own behalf during the general appearances time. He addressed council members, then haltingly greeted Mayor Anne Watson as “Madam Mayor.” 

“I remember a show on TV, ‘Madam Secretary,’ so I thought it must be appropriate,” Mulholland explained.

“That’s fine,” Watson responded.

Mulholland then said his character was being maligned while he was just another agenda item to councilors. He took exception that the council published plans to enter executive session on the agenda since a memorandum about his situation was circulated among city council members that had flawed information. It would lead to a “profound injustice” if a decision were made based on the memorandum, especially since it contained disputed facts and important omissions of facts, in his view.

Watson responded that it is up to the council whether they go into executive session and that they will take it up when they get to the agenda item. Then, when the time came at the end of the five-hour meeting, Watson suggested the council go into executive session to discuss the next course of action regarding Mulholland. She further suggested if they decide to discuss the matter publicly, they ought to do it on a different night. 

Mulholland came forward and spoke again, asking whether the council could make a decision relative to rescinding his appointment that night. He further asserted that the council cannot make a decision based on the information they had because of flaws and omissions. He then talked about how he is 74 years old, meditates, and does not believe in eating animals. He said his “days on this planet” are numbered and the truth is important to him as he prepares for the next life. He also said people may describe him as “being contrary, contentious, maybe even irascible, but sleaze is one thing that people would never ever say about me.” He then told the council the omission in their information he earlier referred to was how he believes one of the art committee members is exhibiting “emotional responses disproportionate to reality” based on an internet search he did about the symptoms of a serious injury the person confessed to having during an arts presentation he attended. The person had told audience members at the outset of the art presentation how art is helping the person’s healing process, Mulholland said.

Watson reiterated the council could very well make a decision that night following the executive session. A voice off-screen, presumably a council member, could then be heard making a motion to go into executive session, even though it is not a requirement to do so. “It is possible to not do this in executive session, but there is more than one public officer involved, and so, that is part of the reason I think it is appropriate to go to ex session.” The motion carried unanimously.

Just after coming out of executive session, members voted unanimously to remove Mulholland from his post on the arts commission. Watson made the additional statement that she just wants “to recognize it was an appointment that was not working out for the committee.”

Messages were left for, but not immediately returned by, art commission members Jody Brown, Josh Jerome, Rob Hitzig, and Jesse Jacobs.

Mulholland in the News Before

The Bridge learned that Thomas Mulholland had made the news before, for several instances of publicly evocative behavior. For example, he appeared as a “concerned citizen” during the 2011 Vermont Board of Libraries hearings to rename the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award after someone raised an issue with her involvement in the eugenics movement. He sided with Fisher, saying she was a product of her time and was “purely innocent.” The award was renamed the Vermont Golden Dome Book Award in 2020. He earlier appeared in Vermontartzine.com in 2009 for posting “Bulletins from Neptune” in a vacant building in Montpelier. He also appeared in Seven Days in 2011 for driving around in a pickup truck with his “Bulletins from Neptune.” He even made The Bridge in 2017 in Dot Helling’s column for his “roving bulletin board” pickup truck art.

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