The Fitchburg City Hall was the scene of a contentious, emotionally fraught Budget Amendment hearing on Tuesday night, including a walkout by the Mayor and some alders and at least two residents being threatened with police intervention.
As anticipated, the Fitchburg Common Council voted to approve an amended version of Mayor Jason Gonzalez’s proposed budget. The amended budget still does not include $50,000 to fund a service agreement with the Boys and Girls Club, but puts $75,000-$100,000 in a fund to be distributed to nonprofits through a competitive grant process.
During the public portion of the hearing former Urban League of Greater Madison CEO Kaleem Caire, the founder of One City Early Learning Centers, was asked to leave and threatened with being forcibly removed by police.
During his opening remarks, Caire noted that he and other community leaders had repeatedly asked Mayor Jason Gonzalez to meet with them during fall, before the 2018 budget was released. Mayor Gonzalez and City Administrator Patrick Marsh said that Kaleem Caire was out of order and would not be allowed to continue speaking. Caire said he would finish his statement regardless of them asking for him to step down from the podium.
At that point, the Mayor and the members of the Fitchburg Common Council adjourned for a recess so that the police could be called to remove Caire from the space. Marsh told Madison365 during the recess that Mayor Gonzalez runs these meetings and that citizens who came to speak were not to say the Mayor’s name in a personal or editorial way during their statements. Police arrived and Caire left the room, but no arrests were made.
“He walked out when I said it’s important for him to meet with people in the community,” Caire said of Gonzalez. “He said I was out of order I guess because I used his name. You gotta meet with people or it feeds the perception that they just now lent themselves to. The people in this community deserve support. They’re human beings. But because of saying that I was out of order.”
Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson, who has been at the epicenter of this months-long community turmoil, was flabbergasted outside the council chamber. While various members of the council were presumably calling the police to remove Caire, Johnson stood overwhelmed with emotion.
“I just cannot believe the behavior that is being exhibited by this city council,” he said. “It is unfortunate and hopefully we’ll get past this but this was another prime example of the lack of respect that they have for leaders in our community. Kaleem Caire is a well-respected leader in this community and they threatened to call the police on him? They walked out on him? I just cannot believe it.”
It was the first of several instances in which the council either did or threatened to have police enter the chamber. Later in the proceedings, activist Nathan Royko-Maurer, was threatened with police removal when he confronted Mayor Jason Gonzalez for his behavior during Kaleem Caire’s comments.
Later, as the budget hearing entered its third hour, the council adjourned for an additional recess. Michael Johnson took that opportunity to confront council member Julia Arata-Fratta about her position on the boards of several non-profits that could potentially benefit from the amended funding. Marsh told Johnson to sit down, despite the proceedings being paused for a recess. Johnson would not. For a third time in the evening, Marsh threatened to have the police intervene.
Johnson did not feel vindicated by the restoration of funds for nonprofits. He said he fears the contentious nature of this process will most likely result in other nonprofits receiving the funding capped at $10,000 per entity, just twenty percent of the money the Boys and Girls Club had previously been receiving.