Spratt’s vote comments spark ruckus

HURLOCK — There was an anticipatory air at the Nov. 13 Hurlock Council meeting. It was the first meeting after the contentious Nov. 4 election when former police chief Michael Henry defeated two-term incumbent Mayor Joyce Spratt by 10 votes. Those expecting fireworks were not disappointed, although the level of hostility was low compared to vitriol from years past.

Mayor Joyce Spratt reported that Shore Health will not open at the Hurlock Medical Center. The center’s current tenant, Nanticoke Health Services, closed their location and the town will seek another medical group to lease the space.

Shifting topics, she said, “We all know how the election turned out” and added she wished to address some comments to Mr. Henry. After thanking supporters for flowers, phone calls, and cards, she said, “Hurlock did not come out to vote. We have 1,200 people eligible to vote and they did not come out to vote. They thought it was in the bag so they chose not to vote. As far as I’m concerned and everyone else I talked to, Hurlock suffers for that.”

That started the first back and forth squabble. Some audience members shouted, “No, they don’t.” The mayor retorted it was her “time and you will not talk during my time.” More arguments. Police Chief Les Hutton stepped in and said firmly, “The way the rules are you cannot speak until it’s your time. I understand how people feel but you have to be quiet and that’s the rule.”

Mayor Spratt said, “I’m fine. I have said for 8 years if I hand this gavel to somebody else who I think can do a better job I’m all for it.” It was apparent she did not feel the mayor-elect could. “I have issues with the things that have been put on Facebook by several parties.”

After offering her version of events that had transpired over the course of their association, she asked the mayor-elect, “Mike. Isn’t that how it happened?”

Mr. Henry responded, “No ma’am, it isn’t. But carry on.” Ms. Spratt continued by noting her administration’s accomplishments and criticizing some of Mr. Henry’s ideas, particularly the proposal for a “weak mayor” system, used in many municipalities, where a town council assumes more responsibility, a mayor assumes less, and day to day operations fall to a town manager.

Several moments of accusatory and defensive comments flew back and forth between the mayor and members of the audience. Ms. Spratt concluded by saying, “I just want you to know. That’s how I feel. Don’t trust anybody. You can support them but don’t trust them. So now we’ll move on.”

By that time the tension in the room was palpable and threatened to erupt at any moment. Mr. Henry’s supporters were angry; Ms. Spratt’s supporters were on edge. At that moment Council President Charles Cephas stepped in.

He said, “Tomorrow we still have to be in Hurlock.” The Rev. Cephas explained he lost the mayoral election against Don Bradley twice and against Ms. Spratt once. “When I lost I recognized the mayor had won and we came to common ground. That’s what I hoped would happen with the mayor and mayor-elect. They need to sit down with department heads; not to iron out what happened and all the dirty stuff that happened but to move on to another level.”

Councilman Cephas suggested a charter addendum to recommend that newly-elected officials attend classes in ethics, finance, and good governance to “help them move into their new positions comfortably.” To update Mr. Henry and Councilman-elect Charles Cummings he gave them a packet of recent council projects. “I want to make sure,” he said, “that when you come on you have any tools you need.”

He added, “I would also ask the council to work diligently. That’s something no council has done. The weight was always on the mayor … We’re going to be a working council and we’re going to work together.”

Town Attorney Robert Merriken introduced Councilman Cephas’ charter resolution 2017-2 to hire a town manager. He explained it is modeled on Cambridge’s charter provisions and noted it is a “fundamental change to the way this town does business … and is a work in progress.” He requested council input.

Mr. Merriken reported the state ethics commission approved the draft revision of Hurlock’s ethics commission increasing membership from 3 to 5. The Rev. Cephas asked Mr. Merriken to send the final version immediately to the state commission for its official approval.

In council member comments, Rev. Cephas said, “It hurts me to see the hard feelings.” He told Mr. Henry, “I wish you the best and I’ll do everything in my power to make you successful because then the town is successful.”

After thanking his supporters, Councilman Earl Murphy said, “I was asked to help with the Christmas parade and I’m looking forward to working with you. If anyone wants to help let me know and we’ll coordinate with those who are already working on the parade.”

Mayor Spratt said, “If I came across angry, I’m not. I’m blessed because I had 8 of the best years of my life … I put my heart and soul into it and I think everything I mentioned (in her opening statements) you should have heard from me because it’s things that we heard and things that we did. If anybody sits there and smirks and acts like I’m crazy that’s not what I am. I have a huge future ahead of me and I’m looking forward to it. I wish him (Mr. Henry) all the luck in the world. He’s going to need it and everybody who works for him is going to need it too. I’m disappointed that he did not call me and sit down with me and I would have been more than happy to work with him but he chose to call the town administrator. There are no hard feelings with me for anybody. I don’t care who you voted for.”

At that point Mr. Henry rose from his seat in the back of the room and said, “While Ms. Spratt’s speech may warrant a response she’s not going to get one. I’m not into that. I’m energized, ready to go. Had I lost I would still be sitting back here fighting for the town. So I just want to say ‘thank you.’ I’m ready to go and I hope you are, too.”

When the meeting opened for public comments, the tension level rose again. Samantha MacDonald began: “As a town the division I have seen has been sad. I’m very disappointed with the rhetoric coming from both sides. I’ve never heard Mike say a mean thing, or a negative thing about Joyce Spratt but several of his supporters did say them. As one of his supporters I’m ashamed.” She said although she voted for Ms. Spratt twice she chose Mr. Henry and was dismayed that the mayor criticized her personally.

With rising voices, the back and forth continued between a few audience members and Mayor Spratt. When the audience threatened to erupt Chief Hutton intervened. “We have to maintain peace. Let’s remember you’re on television; you’re representing the town.”

Blanche Powell thanked Ms. Spratt for her contributions and added, “It’s time to put aside our bitterness.”

Amy Cyr summed up by noting that listening to others and taking sides without examining the facts caused much of the dissension. “We’re adults and those that are adults need to speak to those who don’t know they’re adults … Investigate. Don’t take people’s word for something. Make your own decisions.”

Not everyone paid attention to her. As voices rose again, Mayor Spratt said, “This isn’t a debate, girls.” The gavel struck. The meeting adjourned.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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