HONESDALE — Honesdale Borough Council member David Nilsen called for a vote to remove James Hamill as president at the monthly meeting Tuesday evening. Some people in the room knew it was …
HONESDALE — Honesdale Borough Council member David Nilsen called for a vote to remove James Hamill as president at the monthly meeting Tuesday evening. Some people in the room knew it was coming; others were caught off guard.
Citing disapproval of Hamill’s leadership style and his level of involvement in committees, Nilsen, Jason Newbon, William McAllister and Michael Augello voted to unseat Hamill, while James Jennings and new member Eric Cooley voted against his removal. Hamill has held the seat for just over a year.
The group then voted Augello in as president — a position he held from 2016 to 2022. He said in his return he plans to stay “more in the background” than did his predecessor.
“I want the group to lead, not an individual to lead. I want the group to take credit for their work, not an individual,” Augello said. “This council is a council of individual members who should be able to make their own decisions.”
In response, Hamill said, “It’s unfortunate certain members of council perceive the borough’s success over the last year and my leadership as an abuse of power, but personal politics seemed to have seeped into the governing body. That’s at a detriment to borough taxpayers and residents who deserve a positive, responsible approach to solving problems.”
The discourse surrounding Hamill’s removal did expose deeper rifts between Honesdale’s elected officials.
Two hours into the three-hour meeting, the council was discussing whether or not to accept the application of Honesdale resident Noelle Mundy for an open position on the planning commission. Mundy had previously applied for the open council seat filled by Cooley.
Jennings made a motion to appoint Mundy, seconded by Hamill. That’s when Nilsen chimed in to say he wanted to exercise the council’s right to remove Hamill as president.
Nilsen and Augello argued that Nilsen, rather than Mundy, should take the planning commission slot because he was already an alternate on the commission and has zoning enforcement experience. Ultimately, the majority of council voted in agreement.
Later, it became clear that Augello, Nilsen, Newbon and McAllister had broader concerns than just this one appointment.
Nilsen, who did not respond to further requests for comment, accused Hamill of removing him from committees, exercising undue power over meeting agendas and taking credit for the council’s successes.
“You’re good, because you tell the truth, but only half – just enough to really get a person to be on your side about it,” Nilsen said to Hamill. “We just find Facebook videos going around with you smiling about successes that we had as a group, as a team.”
McAllister indicated that he knew the vote was going to take place, through private conversations that did not break Sunshine Laws, which require formal meetings between elected officials to be made public. He said he voted to remove Hamill because he agreed that he “micromanages.”
“Mr. Hamill was involved in every committee and managed to influence the actions of the committees,” McAllister said after the meeting, “which I don’t think is his responsibility.”
Hamill and Nilsen have clashed publicly and privately. Hamill said he recommended Mundy over Nilsen because he doesn’t consider him a good “public face” for the council, based on some of his past comments—likely referring, in part, to a snarky comment Nilsen made, and refused to apologize for, about gender identification.
Hamill also said that Nilsen’s interactions with borough staff behind the scenes “resemble that of a bully” and “create a hostile work environment.”
The rift between these council members is what Jason Newbon said drove him to vote yes on new leadership. He said the other council members who voted Hamill out had been “wanting to do this for the last six months.”
“They were calling me weekly,” Newbon said, adding that he’d heard gripes from Hamill as well. “I was always the guy in the middle… I just couldn’t handle that anymore. [It was] way too much of both sides coming to me; we weren’t getting borough business done.”
Council member Jennings and borough solicitor Richard Henry said they were “flabbergasted” by the sidelining of Mundy’s application discussion in favor of a back-and-forth about the president. At the last borough council meeting, several council members had encouraged Mundy to apply for a committee.
Several electeds have also noted that the all-male council is not representative of the community.
“Regardless of personal opinions, I think that we’re doing the public a disservice by not taking them into consideration when they come forward and offer their time, talent and expertise to serve on these commissions,” Jennings said.
“Why would anybody volunteer now to be on any of our important commissions when we don’t seriously consider their application?”
What everyone seemed to agree on was that the public debacle—which involved a fair amount of mud-slinging—was not good for the council’s reputation.
“We are scrimping when it comes to getting volunteers for everything; our public service workers are working bare bones; it’s difficult to get people to participate, come to a meeting, [and] be more involved,” Honesdale Borough Mayor Derek Williams said. “I think this discussion tonight is one of those things that the public will see and have difficulty taking us seriously going forward.”
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