By Sharon Kiley Mack of the Bangor Daily News - Michelle Dumoulin said it took her until 4:30 a.m. Wednesday to get to sleep after a particularly rough afternoon at work the day before.
Dumoulin is the town clerk of Corinna, a peaceful town where Old Home Days is the highlight of the year and community spirit flows freely. The town clerk's job is important and busy, but certainly Dumoulin had never thought of it as dangerous.
But about 4 p.m. Tuesday, Dumoulin was forced to lock the doors to the town hall and call the police. She was threatened by the attitude and language of a woman who had been denied general assistance.
The police came, no one was arrested, the woman and her mother left the town hall with a stern warning, and Dumoulin went back to collecting taxes, albeit with shaking hands.
"We are certainly a long ways from a danger zone," Town Manager Dalton Mullis said Thursday. But he acknowledged that when Dumoulin called him for assistance and he was working on road repairs miles away, it was his first reaction to call the police.
Many town clerks said Wednesday that the incident in Corinna was an isolated one but that security and safety are always on their minds, particularly the safety of clerks in towns without organized police departments.
Mullis said that a couple of times a year, there is an inappropriate incident at the town hall. "This spring, it was all about the muddy roads," Mullis said. "Sometimes it's about the inability to license a car or taxes."
After a despondent 71-year-old man walked into the Brewer City Hall last February carrying a gun and committed suicide in a public restroom, town hall security became a common topic of conversation.
"That raised a lot of concerns," Newport Town Clerk Paula Clark said Wednesday. "I mean, he brought a gun into the town offices."
Many town clerk's offices already are outfitted with panic alarms that immediately notify police if there is a serious problem.
"We installed the panic alarm four years ago after we had a particularly belligerent man at the counter," Clark said.
Skowhegan also has a panic alarm system.
Town Clerk Rhonda Stark said the system was put in last year, not because of a problem, but to be proactive.
Whenever you are dealing with the public, particularly when you are taking their money, tempers can flare, Pittsfield Town Manager Kathryn Ruth said Wednesday. "But in 25 years, I've never had to call the police," she said.
In Pittsfield, the police department is just feet away and may be a deterrent, but Ruth said training courses taken by clerks are invaluable in "talking someone down."
"We have a policy here that if anyone at the counter appears to be getting angry, a supervisor immediately comes up to assist," she said. "Let's face it: There are a lot of stresses in life, and people can get upset about any number of things."
Dexter Town Clerk Shelley Watson said people often vent at town employees. "They're mad at us because their taxes went up, or their car costs too much to register, or we have a specific ordinance," she said.
For the most part, however, town clerks said they feel pretty safe.
At the Burnham town hall, clerks have both a panic button and a glass partition between them and customers.
Deputy Town Clerk Ann Goodblood said she has never felt threatened, even when she previously worked at the Clinton town office, which has an open counter.
"I've been here at Dexter for 20 years, and I've only tossed one person out," Watson said. "That was for using vile language, and he was drunk."
She said that even though the general assistance office has a panic alarm, it has never been activated in an emergency.
"We try to kill them with kindness," Watson said. "We've found that a smile goes a long, long ways."
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