Honeymoon's over: Schilling and Lynch trade barbs
Usually press conferences are pretty tame affairs, so when lone Republican Rob Schilling called April 15 to say he was holding one to explain why he voted against City Council's just-passed $93.6 million budget, The Hook didn't attend. Big mistake.
The Daily Progress account of the argument that ensued between Schilling and co-councilor Kevin Lynch removed any doubt that Schilling's honeymoon with City Council is officially over. The article quoted Schilling as saying to Lynch, "You and others have been very rude, and I'm not engaging with you right now," and described Schilling shielding his face with his hand.
Lynch accused Schilling of doing the least amount of work on the budget, according to the article, and that included skipping a budget work session. Schilling retorted that his mother-in-law had died unexpectedly.
Clearly this wasn't City Council putting on a show of unity. What happened?
Schilling says he scheduled the press conference for immediately after the budget vote, and he didn't invite his fellow councilors. "Before it even began, Kevin Lynch started yelling at me from 10 feet away," says Schilling.
Lynch asked for a copy of Schilling's remarks. "Then he started yelling at me for not being at work sessions," says Schilling. "That was one of the most disrespectful things with my wife standing there. And then he started yelling at me about engaging other councilors before I even started the press conference."
That's when Schilling says he told Lynch he had been rude.
"Of course I wasn't rude," Lynch tells The Hook. "I think it was extremely rude of Rob to have this press conference right after we'd made this decision that he was party to. Of all the councilors, Rob Schilling did the least amount of work."
But isn't the death of his mother-in-law a legitimate reason for missing work sessions? "He didn't ask to do the make-up session," says Lynch, "and he left another session early."
"He doesn't know what I do at home or in talking with the city manager," Schilling retorts.
"He's taken a page out of the Newt Gingrich playbook where he doesn't do anything to help the process to create legislation, and then holds a press conference when he thinks no one will be around," says Lynch.
After the meeting, City Council planned to honor Council Clerk Jeanne Cox's 20 years of service. "He apparently thought that would be a good time to grandstand and then got insulted when he got called on it," continues Lynch.
Schilling denies he was grandstanding with the press conference. "It was to get the word out why I voted the way I did," he says. Schilling takes issue with a budget that raises fees for trash collection, vehicle decals, and the meals tax.
Lynch also denies he yelled at Schilling. And since the press conference, he says he's been asked, "What did you do to Rob?"
WINA's Chris Callahan was there. "Kevin was visibly annoyed," reports Callahan. Because the event took place outside, Callahan doesn't characterize Lynch as yelling so much as just raising his voice to be heard over street traffic.
Was Lynch rude? "He wasn't uncivil," says Callahan. "There was an air of being a bully. His side had prevailed on the budget."
Adds Callahan: "It's just a little pissing match."
Mayor Maurice Cox also was there, having followed Schilling outside when it became apparent that something was going on. He says Lynch was neither rude nor yelling.
"Kevin simply asked him a question, and he didn't appreciate being asked by anyone other than the press," says Cox. "It was clear this press conference was not for his colleagues."
The confrontational press conference comes after almost a year during which Schilling often found himself the minority vote on a Democrat-heavy council. He acknowledges that it's difficult for one person to effect change.
To Cox, the press conference was the result of Schilling's frustration with the realization that council works as a collaborative process and building alliances has not come easily to Schilling.
"It's very frustrating because I've been where Rob is," says Cox. "I remember being the lone vote on many issues. My ideas that I thought were brilliant were not being accepted, and at some point, I realized I was going to have to work harder to build trust with fellow councilors."
Cox doesn't concur with Lynch's charge that Schilling does the least amount of work. "I would suspect he goes over the material methodically," says Cox. "What Kevin may have been addressing is that he hasn't been working with council. And Rob would say council hasn't been working with him."
"I've tried to be cordial to him," says Lynch. "I've invited him to several meetings, which I do with other councilors. But it's never gone the other way. He's never initiated a meeting."
Cox, too, mentions that Schilling rarely contacts his colleagues outside of City Council chambers. "That has been raising tensions because that's how Council works not as a loner. You've got to be able to work with at least two other people. Otherwise you will never generate public policy," the Mayor says.
Did the press conference further damage Schilling's relationships with his fellow councilors? "I think he's going to have to work that much harder to build trust," says Cox, "because holding a press conference you don't tell your colleagues about or don't share your statement with even afterward does not build a lot of trust."
Schilling's public statement on the budget appears more popular with his constituents than with his colleagues. "An awful of people agree with him," says Bob Hodous, head of the local Republicans.
Rather than seeing Schilling as ineffective because he's the minority vote, Hodous says he's heard from people across the community who want to elect more people who think like Schilling. "It's not just Republicans, it's some Democrats who've told me that," Hodous says.