“When you know better, you do better,” Louise MacLellan-Ruf began, seemingly expressing remorse for her past actions, when she took the mayor’s gavel at the Rockland City Council organizational meeting on Nov. 21. Every year at this formative meeting, councilors-elect are sworn in and the mayor is chosen. This year, the councilors voted 4-1 for Louise.

I watched the meeting on Vimeo. Listening to Louise’s speech, concerns arose in two major categories: One, non-adherence to the Rockland City Charter and two, the possibility of regressive history continuing and enabled by non-adherence to the charter.

I realize that many Rockland residents may not have studied the Rockland City Charter. As a former Rockland City Councilor who still loves Rockland deeply, I have studied it in depth. According to codified municipal law, none of what Louise outlined in her speech as goals or actions is supposed to be the mayor’s job. Secondly, her past actions may make forgiveness for her “being human,” as she assured viewers she was, difficult considering her following statements that seemed to allude to business as usual.

Read this quote:

“City manager Luttrell and I have gone over this for many many years- the need for more grant writing. It’s always a little upsetting when we see other communities receive grants that we were eligible for.”

This may seem like an innocent enough statement, until you stop and remember that this is someone who has spent considerable energy not only interfering with city staff, but has engaged in actions to have staff, council members, and committee members removed.

According to the Rockland City Charter, the duties of the mayor are ceremonial. The mayor shall “preside as the chairman of the council and shall be entitled to vote on all questions but shall have no regular administrative duties.”

In other words, the mayor of the City of Rockland isn’t supposed to do jack squat other than wield the large scissors.

The other problem with Louise’s statement is that the city has indeed been receiving important grants of late. As recently as Dec. 4, VillageSoup reported a $50,000 grant being received by the city, on top of a previous $50,000 grant, both for mitigating the effects of climate change on the waterfront.

Louise went on to outline her agenda. She talked about how volunteers on the Harbor Trail Committee had secured an easement so the El Faro sculpture could be placed (sorry, that’s the job of the legal department and the manager) and she talked about future negotiations she planned to engage in with “this billion-dollar company” so that the waterfront interests of the city were protected.

Also not her job. None of what Louise MacLellan-Ruf outlined in her speech is the purview of the mayor according to the charter, except maybe the pizza party for volunteers. The mayor is not supposed to be negotiating with anyone, nor encouraging volunteers to arrange legal easements, nor hysterically calling people up and asking them to mow their lawn. But she discussed all these items and more. Perhaps the other councilors also don’t know the charter, they feel helpless, or they have their own reasons for letting her proceed with her agenda.

I served two terms on the Rockland City Council. The end of my second term overlapped with Louise. When Louise MacLellan-Ruf was first elected in 2013, she used to call me up and say, “We’re gonna (expletive deleted) with ‘em, Lizzie.” She would outline what that meant. By name, she would list out the people she wanted gone on city staff, on committees, and on the council and she’d go into detail about her plans.

I’m not sure who she thought “we” were. At the time, I was packing up to move to Colorado, which I did in 2014 at the conclusion of my second city council term. I was gone a little over four years.

In 2016, I received a concerning phone call from a friend in Rockland who was worried about Louise’s now full-sail attempts to purge volunteers, other councilors, and staff members. Rockland resident Mike Grondin had just come forward and outed Louise with recorded proof that she had tried to recruit him to do her dirty work to get Larry Pritchett off the council. Not too long after that, I noticed in the press that several city staff members seemed to be running for the exits, and in one case escorted out.

I am very concerned that Louise’s statements at the city council organizational meeting about “frustrations” with grant writing might not bode well for city employees — people who need to provide for a family, have bills to pay, or have been with the city for long enough that leaving would be difficult. The manager, not the mayor, oversees the staff, and given the nature of the phone calls I fielded from Louise MacLellan-Ruf early in her council career, and the actions I observed subsequently, it very well may be that a statement about the perceived inadequacy of a city department may signal another attempt to go after individual staff members.

I’m also concerned that no one seems to be telling councilors that they are going beyond the charter. The charter is clear about who is supposed to be doing what. And, on top of that, the Community and Economic Development Department seems to be doing its job.

We all know that even if the councilors vote for mayor, the real way the mayor of Rockland gets chosen is by the movers and shakers around town: whether it’s in a parlor with tea and antimacassars or beer at the Elks Lodge, that’s the way it has always been done. You get the votes in a private room, by making promises to support things that the other councilors and their people or their special interests want.

Louise worked that old boy system. If you drink coffee anywhere at all in Rockland, you can hear how it all went down, and you know who promised what and who couldn’t vote for whom. And now, the person who will set the tone for the city is not only shockingly unprofessional and seemingly vendetta-driven, but she’s already laying out a course of action outside of the rule of the charter.

Isn’t it time to change how the mayor is chosen in Rockland?

Our modern times have seen political transformation of a progressive nature. #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and getting serious about climate change have taken a firm footing not only on the worldwide stage but also in the city of Rockland. The fragility of democracy has been proven. The importance of above-board dealings is paramount.

Isn’t it time to finally end the grip of the old boy network on Rockland City Council?

For example, if every councilor simply got a turn, there would be no popularity contest. No reason to make promises or to grease the wheels. In one fell swoop, the special interests — whomever they may be — would no longer have leverage. No more 3-2 voting blockade.

Another way would be to change the charter and let the mayor be voted in by the people.

Rockland will be facing complex and challenging problems over the next few years, and the last person the people need in the mayor’s seat is someone who not only doesn’t follow the city’s charter, but who has shown herself to be capable of allowing her personal agenda to interfere in staff business and in the lives of the city’s hard-working staffers, councilors, and volunteers — all of which comes at the expense of the people.

Lizzie Dickerson is a former Rockland City Councilor and State Rep. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect the editorial position of The Courier-Gazette. She lives in Union.