Ed Engler - Semantics: you yell, I just talk loud

The Daily Sun has come under some criticism for its reporting of the April 28 meeting of the Belknap County Convention, at which the lawmakers in attendance, by a vote of 9-7, declined to fund a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the county administration with a union representing nursing home workers. Specifically, our report of that meeting included words like "yelled", "screamed" and "shouted" to describe an exchange between Convention Chair Rep. Colette Worseman (R-Meredith) and Belknap County Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia).

I was not at the meeting but I have gone back and watched a video tape of the proceedings that was recorded for broadcast on Lakes Region Public Access television. This is what I observed:

Near the end of the meeting, a motion was made and seconded to approve a $366,000 appropriation to fund the union contract and members of the convention were taking turns making statements as to why they were in favor of, or against, the agreement. Except for some occasional cheering from the audience in response to comments made, all was calm.

When Chair Worseman recognized Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), he stated that if even the convention agreed to fund the contract there was no guarantee that the Board of Commissioners would in fact use the money for that purpose. That statement was an apparent reference to the situation where the convention appropriated money in the county's 2014 operating budget to fund two additional positions at the House of Corrections but the commission chose instead to use the money to fund benefits for existing employees, arguing that the convention had deliberately shorted the county of funds to meet its contractual health insurance obligations.

Rep. Sylvia concluded his remarks by suggesting the convention could not trust the commission to spend the money appropriately and that the November elections would provide an "assessment of who is right and who is wrong."

Those words provoked an immediate reaction from Commissioner Philpot and chaos reigned for the next 38 seconds.

The convention members sit along tables arranged in a square-off "U" shape. At the open end of the "U" is another series of tables and the three county commissioners are seated behind those tables. At the conclusion of Rep. Sylvia's speech the LRPA camera is looking over his shoulder, with the commissioners in the background. Chair Worseman is not in the picture.

As soon as Rep. Syliva stops speaking one can hear eight or nine quick bangs of a gavel and it becomes obvious that Commissioner Philpot has begun speaking directly to Rep. Sylvia, who is perhaps 20 feet away from him. Philpot is angry about the accusations just made by the lawmaker and intends to offer a rebuttal. The commissioner is out of order because the conservation, at that point, is limited to members of the convention, which he is not, and Chair Worseman immediately tries to get him to stop talking. She says "commissioner" three times, each attempt louder than the last, then bangs her gavel hard, two more times.

Commissioner Phlipot keeps talking as the camera focuses in on him. His voice is getting louder as he strives to be heard over the gavel and Worseman's repeated calls for him to be silent. Other voices can also be heard. The chair can be heard saying "out of order" a few times and then she says, "Commissioner Philpot, you are out of order". At that point, the commissioner turns his attention from Sylvia to the chair and says, "No madam, you are out of order. . . this whole process is out of order." Another male voice yells, "You're out of order".

Commissioner Philpot stops speaking. LRPA switches to another camera that is focused on Worseman and she seems calm and is smiling. She quickly recognizes another representative who wants to speak and the meeting goes on.

I heard nothing that I would characterize as a "scream". I heard a lot of "loud talking" that at points could probably fairly be described as "yelling". The entire scene reminded me of one of the those cable TV talk shows where they invite several people with contrasting views to be on air at the same time and they wind up just trying to talk over one another. Everyone is talking loudly (yelling?), no one is listening.

The video tape of the meeting is still being broadcast at times on LRPA. Judge for yourself.

— The editor