NORTH ADAMS -- A no-trespass order banning Robert Cardimino from City Hall was lifted earlier this week, ending a five-month span where the City Council's vocal critic was unable to attend meetings.
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said Friday that the decision to lift the ban, put in place in June, follows a discussion between City Solicitor John DeRosa and William Newman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who had written a letter to the city on behalf of Cardimino in September.
Newman's opinion was that banning Cardimino from City Hall violated his "free speech and associated rights." It was also his opinion that Cardimino's sign, for which he was removed from the council's March 27 meeting, was also protected under the First Amend ment. He also pointed out that the council has no rule prohibiting signs.
City officials originally issued the order in June, citing a verbal altercation between Cardim ino and Coun cilor Marie Harpin as the latest in a lengthy pattern of "disruptive behavior" that was no longer acceptable. City officials also cited concerns for Harpin's safety during the incident.
"We did receive a letter from Mr. Cardimino's attorney at the ACLU in Sep tember -- it was a letter; an opinion," Alcombright said. "It is my understanding the City Solicitor spoke with the ACLU attorney about that opinion. While I don't think his opinion was necessarily wrong, it did acknowledge and point out some of the bad behavior of Mr. Cardimino."
He added, "It is my understanding that Mr. DeRosa and the ACLU attorney came to some sort of terms in respect to Mr. Cardimino's behavior at meetings. One thing they discussed is that [Cardimino] would no longer bring signs to meetings and cause that sort of disruption. It's my feeling that it's been five months and that everyone deserves a second chance."
While Cardimino says he's happy to be able to enter City Hall once againand voice his opinion at City Council meetings, he said Friday that things are far from done from his perspective.
"What the mayor isn't telling people is that it was either come to an agreement or go to court -- that's my understanding," he said Friday. "I agreed not to bring any signs to council, because I figure I don't need a sign. I do find it interesting that in the same week I'm allowed to return to council meetings, that [Council Pres ident Michael] Bloom brought forward a rule change to ban signs. I think the mayor talked to Bloom and said ‘you bring this up and I'll look like the good guy.' It's a little fishy."
During Tuesday night's council meeting, Bloom proposed a change to the Council's Rules of Order stating "No member or official or visitor shall be allowed to publicly display any form of messaging, whether lettered or graphic, on a sign, electronic device or printed article of personal clothing at a City Council meeting."
City residents Wayne Good ell and Mark Trottier decried the rule change during the council's hearing of visitors at the beginning of the meeting, arguing that the broadness of the language would prohibit veterans from wearing hats, invited visitors from making presentations and the media from using laptops or smart phones.
"Perhaps this is a bit too ambiguous," Bloom said when the rule was brought forward, noting that his paper was prompted by the discussion between DeRosa and the ACLU.
"My point is, I don't want signs. The council doesn't want signs," he said. "I want the council to have decorum and respect."
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said during Tuesday's meeting that Cardimino's actions were the cause for the no-trespass order, not his sign.
The paper was sent to the council's General Govern ment Committee and to the City Solicitor for review.
Alcombright said Friday that the impetus for the ban was Cardimino's actions.
"Sometimes things are in the delivery," he said. "What end ed it for me was the confrontation with Councilor Har pin. I was fearful for her and for [Cardimino]. I'm hoping that after five months off, we'll have calmer heads prevail. I have no problem taking criticism and at times have agreed with what he has had to say. I think it's all in how the message is delivered."
Cardimino said Friday that he believes Bloom's proposed rule change will become a moot point.
"I filed an Open Meeting Law violation with the state Attorney General," he said. "We're still waiting to hear back on that. I don't think the rule change will stand. I contacted the Attorney General about the lack of a rule about signs in March. They said they needed an incident to make a ruling. I held a sign up long enough on March 27 to get thrown out. I gave them the incident. If the Attorney Gen eral's office rules that signs are OK, then it won't matter."
But Cardimino says he does take issue with accusations that he "threatened" Harpin.
"I just called her a deadbeat. It's not a threat," he said. "I would like to know exactly what the mayor thinks I said. If I threatened her, I'd like the proof. It's like a chess game. We keep going. It's not over until it's over. I went to [Northern Berkshire District Court] today and filed charges against Bloom for filing a false police report against me. He had me removed from council chambers when there was no rule against it."
Cardimino added, "If they want to be amicable, then they need to treat us that way. Let us have our say at the meetings and we'll be polite. There's a lot of acrimony in this city. It's not just me. The council's behavior has generated a lot of resentment out there."