A post I never expected to write

by susan on March 19, 2010

Southborough selectmen mull legal action over blog comments. That was the headline in the Metrowest Daily News today. The blog they’re talking about is this one. Here’s the story.

One sunny afternoon last September I got a letter from the town’s lawyer demanding I reveal the identity of one of the commenters on this blog.

I admit my first instinct after reading the letter was to rush inside and fire off a blog post to share my outrage that the town would “expect” (their word) me to hand over personal information about participants of this blog. And my outrage that with all the challenges facing our town, this is how our elected leaders chose to spend their time and money.

I wrote the post, but I never published it.

The thing is, we’re all part of the same community. We shop at the same stores, say good morning to each other at the coffee shop, cheer shoulder-to-shoulder at our kids’ soccer games. And we all care deeply about this town. So I decided to give the selectmen the benefit of the doubt and not make a fuss.

As much as I disagree with the selectmen’s threat to take legal action against me and commenters on this — or any — site, I sympathize with their frustration. They don’t like what’s being said in the comments. Truth be told, I don’t like much of it either. But we all know free speech isn’t always pretty.

In any community there will be people whose opinions make your blood boil. It’s true of this town, and it’s true of this blog. But how different it would be if selectmen saw this site as a place to engage with their community instead of making it “us versus them.”

Needless to say, I have not revealed the identity of any of the commenters on this blog, nor do I intend to.

1 GreaterGrafton March 19, 2010 at 3:35 PM

And what, exactly, would knowing the identity of the commenter allow them to do? Really, what an absolute waste of time.

2 Corey Jackson March 19, 2010 at 3:45 PM

You’re doing the right thing and a nice side effect is exposing these “leaders” for who they really are….

3 Patricia Zucker March 19, 2010 at 3:45 PM

Free speech all the way! Threats mean no blog participation. OR TOWN PARTICIPATION.
Have you ever wondered why people don’t participate? Could it be that people are worried you’ll look down your noses at what they have to say and share? This town can be very small (size and minded) at times.

Selectmen- if you want us to listen to what you have to say; say it, engage us, we are here, but don’t threaten the messenger.

4 Al Hamilton March 19, 2010 at 3:53 PM

If this is what we are thinking about spending our legal budget on then we are spending way too much money on this budget.

The current BOS is somewhat thin skinned. They do work very hard and even if we disagree the are due respect in my book. BUT there have been some games played in the past.

As an example, the Advisory Committee does not always see eye to eye with the BOS. The BOS has consistently refused to post a link to the Advisory Web Page on the Town’s official web page. In fact Advisory had to go out and develop its own tools and web page because we refused to have our content filtered by the Town.

Free speech is not always pretty and town officials (including me) are fair game for a coating of mud whether it is warranted or not.

5 Pat March 19, 2010 at 7:57 PM

GREAT point Al.

-Pat Quill

6 Stefan March 19, 2010 at 4:18 PM

We either live in a country of free speech on one that represses speech. There is no middle ground. I guess the members of the bos believe it would be better to have speech repressed and edited. Then feelings would not be hurt and people would not be mean. Please. I am amazed that the town tolerates such whimpy so called leaders. Was I wrong, but were two of the three on the verge of tears during the meeting? Please. I am sure much of the banter is not true or justified, but PLEASE. And, take legal action? PLLLLLLLLEASE! Lets vote at town meeting. Great message to send to residents and kids in particular. OMG.

7 Mom March 19, 2010 at 4:31 PM

We live in America. We have free speech. If you can’t take it, don’t live in our country. And definitely DON’T be involved in politics, where you are always fair game, like it or not.

The fact that Susan had to write this post makes me sick to my stomach.

8 Brian March 19, 2010 at 4:46 PM

Well done! I run a small blog for Dedham, and I share your sentiments. I’ve never been placed in a situation where I was asked to release the contact information of posters, but even if I was I wouldn’t hand it over without a court order. Keep up the great work!

9 mike benedict March 19, 2010 at 5:28 PM

Seems to me you’re confusing lots of mostly unrelated things in order to make your point. There’s the town’s legal elbows, which you find too sharp for your tastes. Then there the typical anonymous loons who post on your blog.

– You offer a forum for people to complain, then are put off by the fact that the town returned the favor, doing so the way towns do: by applying some legal muscle.
– You say you want the town to engage in a dialogue, but don’t you realize that Open Meeting laws make participating in forums like these difficult for elected officials to do?
– Free speech is not the same as “you can say anything, any time, anywhere, to anyone.” This is YOUR blog. If you cringe at certain anonymous comments, you can
happily restrict them, or raise the bar. Discourse should be vibrant and flowing, but if run your forum like a high school playground, don’t be surprised when the participants act like high schoolers.
– Free speech *should* also include the ability to confront one’s detractors, don’t you think? And how can you do that if you don’t know who those detractors are, or what their biases might be? The loons can be and will be loony anywhere. Why do you need to let them do it in your blog? (If it’s just for the traffic, then you’re not the one to take the high road.)

10 Al Hamilton March 19, 2010 at 7:35 PM

Mike

1. Just remember, the “towns way of applying muscle” is to spend your and my tax dollars to have Aldo try to strong arm another citizen into shutting up.

2. Open meeting laws do not prohibit a selectmen from posting their opinion. There is a proscription against conversations or emails between a majority of selectmen or any other board but communicating with the public in various forums is permitted. If one of the selectmen does not like what is being said they have a fundamental right to defend their opinions in public like any other citizen. The fact is that they appear to be unwilling or afraid to do so.

3, “Confronting ones detractors” is not a fundamental right. Look at the Federalist papers which were authored anonymously (Not that Marty is up to the standard). If you think this discourse is nasty look at Jefferson’s smear campaign against Adams or vice versa. Free speed is not a tea party it is a boxing match.

No this is petty politicians abusing their power and using money we desperately need for to educate our children or protect our community to do so.

11 Sue Grinblatas March 19, 2010 at 10:53 PM

Welcome to the perils of the internet, Mike, and any other forum where people can exercise their choice to be anonymous bullies. As my dear friend Pat was moved to point out a few weeks ago on this blog, such conduct is indeed juvenile, repulsive, unfair, and bullying. That said, it is EXACTLY what the First Amendment protects.
Exercising “legal muscle” when there are no legal justifications for doing so is not an acceptable or Constitutionally proper use of government authority. Yes, all sorts of government entities, towns, states, or the federal government apply such “legal muscle.” And when they do it, they usually know that it is violation of the State and United States Constitution. But even if they lose the legal battle, they also know that the chilling effect on speech they’ve brought about is enough to curb dissent in most cases. I fail to see how the Town of Southborough, in demanding identities of bloggers here, is any different than China putting the squeeze on Google.
I despise the cowardly and vacuous statements by the anonymous “resident(s)” regarding Bonnie Phaneuf and others on this site, as well as emails that I have circulating to mailing lists around town. I, too, have been personally attacked and been subject to veiled threats on this blog, also by some weasel without the gumption to say what he had to say while identifying himself to the community. So be it.
“Free speech” is not some black and white notion, it is a body of law stemming from our Constitution and formed over the centuries. There are limits on it, but over the centuries, those limits have been consistently narrow. That we “should” be able to confront our detractors is not one of those rights, absent significantly more such as danger of immediate and grave harm; libel/slander (as opposed to opinion), and even then it’s narrow; child pornography. None of these issues is present here. I recommend reading “The Pentagon Papers” for starters.
I urge Bonnie and anyone else bullied in this forum not to cowed or silenced by such weak individuals. I also urge the continued support of our townspeople in speaking out against such anonymous (or not) personal attacks.
I also applaud the support I see here for our Constitutional principles, and for Susan’s right to keep this blog anonymous if she so chooses.

12 Marnie Hoolahan March 19, 2010 at 5:48 PM

When a story like this emerges into local headline news frankly I am embarassed to be a resident of Southborough . Ms. Phaneuf, I am surprised that you would resort to legal action and that you proudly state that is legal action is a feasible tactic to pursue. I think you have done more to harm the image of being in town politics then any blogger with a anonymous identity could have.

We live in an extremely litigious society and you (Ms. Phaneuf) are feeding that beast of disruption. Unfortunately, the social media and viral spread of truth or rumors is a part of our 21st century culture. People have used social media to spread information; unfortunately, information is not always accurate or timely. The reality is that everyone can be a victim of these attacks. I would not applaud the use of our limited town finances to chase a statistically winless battle nor do I feel this particular battle is worthy of pursuit.

I do not agree with bloggers using social forums for communicating inaccurate or harmful information. In making a threat of legal action, your supposition is that the reader’s of these blogs do not have a mind of their own and take the information shared as accurate. I would hope that you would give credit to participants in blogs that we have brains and are not unduly influenced by comments made by posters.

Please reconsider any Legal action, I would imagine that Aldo’s bill for writing that letter could have supported the purchase of at least 10 more books for our library or school system.

13 Annette Flaherty March 19, 2010 at 5:59 PM

So sorry that you’ve had to go through this, Susan. I’m in agreement with the comments so far on this post. Whenever one reads comments on any website there are bound to be divergent opinions. People can choose to reflect upon, respond to, or ignore these comments as they see fit. There are a number of sensitive issues facing this town that are not clear-cut. I appreciate this forum as one means to keep in touch with these issues.

If there is something factually incorrect out there, wouldn’t BOS rebuttal comments on this blog be a great opportunity for them to straighten things out? I’d be happy to hear their clarification. I’m not sure which comments they are concerned with but what are they really afraid of? Please don’t shoot the messenger.

14 Lisa March 19, 2010 at 6:43 PM

They are awfully thin-skinned!

15 Mark March 19, 2010 at 7:14 PM

Slander is not protected by the 1st Amendment. So in reality, BOS have the right to seek legal action.

16 Al Hamilton March 19, 2010 at 8:12 PM

If any of the Selectmen think they have been slandered then they have the right to bring individual action against their alleged slanderer. That means spending their own money on their own lawyers. I am not aware that a town can be slandered and it is a complete waste of your money and my money to spend a single penny on this when we have much higher needs than soothing bruised egos of local politicians.

17 Sue Grinblatas March 19, 2010 at 10:54 PM

opinion is not slander

18 CapeEsq March 20, 2010 at 6:21 PM

Mark,

They are public figures, if they want to bring a suit for LIBEL not slander they could but they have to prove actual malice on the part of the author. Not going to happen because its almost impossible to prove actual malice, so unless they accused someone on the board of being a child molester (oh wait we use to have one of those on the board), they won’t prevail.

19 Southie April 4, 2010 at 5:29 PM

The best defense against slander is the TRUTH.
How do we know that what is being said is NOT the TRUTH?
Don’t assume slander just because its not pleasant.

20 Mark Ford March 19, 2010 at 7:41 PM

Susan,

Yikes! I’m sure it didn’t say THIS in the blog creation brochure…

Free speech is free speech, and if you’re in the elected (or appointed) hot seat, it kind of goes with the turf. I’m not happy about what I surmise was the content–I didn’t see the posts–but what are you going to do? Certainly not sue. Resign, I suppose, if you felt you couldn’t take it.

I don’t believe Open Meeting Law prohibits an individual voter from making an individual comment, even on a forum such as this.

Sue, I suppose you could (and perhaps do) edit the posts to this forum, but it kind of defeats the purpose.

Hang in there. You’ve managed to build an important and popular resource for the town, and should be congratulated.

21 Pat March 19, 2010 at 7:55 PM

As I have said to you before Susan, thank you for the great work you do for the town
of Southborough. You give us a place to check on local news and a place to chime
in when we feel moved to do so. How wonderful it is to have a place where I can make
my voice heard, my opinion put out there to share and a place to have a healthy debate
on the issues facing MY town. How great that I have the opportunity to perhaps make a perfect stranger (yet a fellow resident) see an issue from a different perspective or better yet, have an epiphany myself !

MORE SPECIFICALLY, TO MIKE: You couldn’t be more wrong. I have seen some pretty ugly posts on this blog and kudos to Susan for putting them through. She doesn’t “happily restrict them” and discourse is certainly vibrant and flowing on this blog. I don’t think anyone is shocked when participants act like high schoolers…..maybe disappointed that a fellow adult human being would feel the need to stoop to name calling and ugliness… but never surprised. Some take it too far and can’t contain their anger or just plain have no tact, but that is the nature of a frustrated person, I suppose.

How ludicrous for anyone to expect Susan to divulge the identity of anyone who posts here. For the selectmen to threaten legal action is frankly, assinine. Perhaps Open Meeting laws do make it difficult for elected officials to participate, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the rest of the taxpayers/residents cannot make their voices heard, does it? Are you suggesting that we all keep quiet because selectmen cannot post here? Furthermore, are you suggesting that Susan only post the “nice” opinions or the ones she thinks are most agreeable? Is there a special rating system you use to identify the “loonies” from the “non-loonies”?

Mike, just how does the town’s “applying some legal muscle” by threatining a lawsuit constitute “returning the favor” of providing a forum for people to complain? Are you kidding me? You don’t think that it is both a little overzealous as well as a total waste of the towns time and money? I think certain bloggers were nasty and out of line (and perhaps out of touch) but don’t think it warrants the threat of legal action against the facilitator of the blog. Frankly, the towns legal muscle it too sharp for my taste as well. If you haven’t figured it out by now, when you choose public service ,on any level ,you need a thick skin. If you are going to serve
the public then you are exposed to the public, that includes All of the public…. the nice AND the nasty. Rise above it and get down to the REAL issues facing this town. Stop wasting
our time and resources.

Pat Quill

22 John Boiardi March 19, 2010 at 7:56 PM

I can’t belive the todo about comments on the blog. We live in the blogasphere era. Check out Moveon.org or the Huffington post or any of the thousands of blogs out there if you want to read bitter evocative comments.

23 Kelly Roney March 19, 2010 at 10:02 PM

If you really want delusional, there’s no substitute for the tea-bag right wing! The Freepers, Fox Nation, the RNC…

24 John Boiardi March 20, 2010 at 3:54 PM

Kelly,

I was not aware that all comments are moderated. Perhaps you should do a harsness check before you post. My perspective is fine thank you. I asume I can continue to use Susans blog even though you may not agree with my perspective.

25 Kelly Roney March 20, 2010 at 8:56 PM

Context tells me you were actually replying to this comment.

Let’s review:
– I made a comment that I later found too harsh, and I pulled back from it without being asked.
– You took offense anyway, despite acknowledging that you had not been aware that all comments are moderated here (for now, anyway).
– The perspective I thought you might gain is about the sometime need for comment moderation, nothing more. I wish I had been clearer about that.
– We in fact agree about the BoS needing a thicker skin.
– Only Susan gets to decide how either of us uses her blog.

26 John Boiardi March 21, 2010 at 6:11 PM

Kelly,
You are correct regarding my response to the correct comment.
I take no offence. I don’t know why you think I did.

Regarding your previous comment regarding Tbaggers ,FOX, etc. Did you mean to leave out Soros, Moveon.org, the left coast (California), CNN, MSNBC, Kieth Oberman, leftists, socialists etc.

Please don’t be to harse in your response.

27 John Boiardi March 19, 2010 at 7:57 PM

By the way, Susan I resent having my comments always awaiting moderation.

28 Kelly Roney March 19, 2010 at 10:06 PM

If you don’t want comments moderated, you’re welcome to have your own blog. You might find a new perspective if you did.

29 Kelly Roney March 20, 2010 at 10:30 AM

Sorry, John, this sounds harsher than I intended. You may not be aware that everyone’s comments are moderated here.

30 Kathryn Marous March 19, 2010 at 9:35 PM

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
-Thomas Jefferson

Susan provides our town with a great service and I am glad for it.

31 Worried March 19, 2010 at 10:01 PM

How sad is it that I am worried about putting my real name on here? If someone disagrees with my comments, no opinions is a better word, am I in jeopardy of legal action? To me an opinion is what I think, it does not imply that others have to agree with me. While I would hope that other commentors would be respectful in how they disagree with me, it doesn’t always work out that way.

I have not seen Marty’s comments and while I hope he or she has learned to be more careful in their manner of commenting a part of me is appalled that I even feel the need to write that. Our Country was built on many principles and varying opinions and many have fought and died for that right. Free Speech is a privilege that many Countries do not have and people are killed daily for trying to have their voices heard. While we may not agree with comments and the tone may be offensive, we must fight and believe in our right of free speech and what it stands for.

The voice of dissent if what this country was built on, Mr. Martin Luther King died for voicing what he believed in. Without him would the blacks in this country be treated as equals or would their still be segregation? Would Women be allowed to vote? Everyone has the right to speak, and if we try and ask Susan to regulate who can speak we have set progress back 50 years. Again, if we choose to disagree with the tone of the comments that were written we have the choice to respond or ignore them. We have the choice to think someone is insightful in what they say or ignorant. And choice is what this Nation was built on.

While I can appreciate Mrs. Phaneuf and Mr. Giorlandino being upset about what was written, I don’t see how this is a Town matter. If they choose to pursue action, that is their choice, but before Southborough monies are spent of this matter I believe the the voting public has the right to make this choice. If I was faced with the choice of losing a teacher at our schools or paying for this legal action to me their is no question on what I would choose. All of the Town Budgets are being cut and I wonder if the monies and time that are being spent of this could be better spent on the Library, Recreation, or Schools.

I am sorry that feelings were hurt by what could have been construed as unkind and libelous words, but as a taxpayer I feel my taxes could have been spent better in other place. This is my choice to comment on this matter and it is only my opinion and while many will disagree I welcome and am grateful for the the chance to speak and have my voice heard.

To me this is small potatoes in the real world, let’s talk about health care, what we can do to help the recession and get people working and bringing our Troops home. To waste so much time and talk about hurt feelings in the scheme of things doesn’t make much sense.

Thank you Susan for giving me a voice.

32 Amy March 19, 2010 at 10:31 PM

Susan-well written, well done! It is sad that the officials of the town have chosen to take the lowest road. The result of their actions is to attract a larger audience to that which they find offensive and so desire to squelch. Additionally, they have succeeded in blowing a minor quibble into a heated discourse-via la blog!
Hang in there Susan, we are with you!

33 Sue Grinblatas March 19, 2010 at 11:21 PM

Having just re-read the Metrowest article, I am even more sickened by the BOS’s words and actions. My initial feeling was sympathy for someone so crudely lambasted as Bonnie was. But the utter disregard for the First Amendment by the BOS is genuinely disturbing. These people are supposed to be our “leaders.” None of these words justify suspending the First Amendment:
–“concern” that people such talk will “discourage” people from running for office — one person’s “concern” is not justification for ripping up the Constitution, even if it’s a concern about “discouraging” people, heaven forbid
–that such talk is “not focused on the merits of the issues” — the First Amendment only covers things “focused on the merits”?????
–that such talk has “denigrate [sic] to personal attacks” — personal VERBAL attacks are protected speech; that’s the WHOLE POINT of having protected speech; we protect the speech we don’t like, so that when someone else wants to shut us up, they can’t!!!
–Sal Giorlandino was “offended” — so he calls in a lawyer, that we have to pay for, who is not a First Amendment lawyer by any means, so he can shut up people who “offend” him? — “offense” is subjective
–Sal says crude comments about Bonnie “went over the line” and that’s why they called in a lawyer to violate the Constitution. What the…? Who made Sal and Bonnie and Bill the arbiters of what’s “over the line” and thus not protected by the Constitution?
–that this legal action is “about promoting civil discourse” — you think you are encouraging “civil discourse” by clubbing people with a legal mallet to restore order and silence and make nice? How is that more “civil” than telling someone they suck at their elected job, for example (pardon the crudeness, just trying to show an example)
The BOS’s actions are profoundly disturbing. They, and our town counsel, show a shocking respect for the rule of law, and truly make me afraid to live in a place where our “government officials” would try to issue such a fascist crackdown. Sickening.

34 Al Hamilton March 20, 2010 at 8:38 AM

Very well said!

35 Kelly Roney March 20, 2010 at 3:14 PM

Just remember Sue that the MWDN reporter picked which quotes to use.

I know Sal respects the First Amendment, despite appearances.

36 Sue Grinblatas March 20, 2010 at 10:23 PM

Good point, Kelly. I certainly recognize the possibility that MWDN could misquote, quote out of context, get facts wrong due to getting wrong information, or interpret information wrongly. I welcome anyone who feels they were wrongly quoted or who feels they have more accurate or different information to use this forum, or the MWDN, or the telephone, or town website, or email chain, or any other means they choose, to set the record straight.

Are Sal and/or Bonnie contesting the story, facts, or quotes in the article? As you say, it does appear from the article that the BOS collectively as well as Sal and Bonnie individually would make a mockery of the First Amendment. I hope that you are right and that this perception is incorrect. Having heard no other public statement from them and/or BOS except what was in the paper, it’s hard to know. I would welcome any new facts…

Thanks.

37 Kelly Roney March 21, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Absent any contrary information, Sue, I too assume that the bare outlines of the story are correct. The BoS had Cipriano send the letter, and that’s bad enough.

I don’t assume however that the nuances are all captured by the story. It’s easy for a reporter to omit context (imagine: we don’t want to trample the 1st amendment, but we think a specific comment is libel) or to get a word in a quote wrong (‘denigrate’ vs. ‘degenerate’), usually for quite innocent reasons on the part of the reporter (focus on the main points, hard-to-read notes, …).

I do know that a lot of people who serve on boards sincerely suffer from what pseudonymous commenters say about them. My absolute preference – and as it happens the law of the land – is to meet even ugly speech with speech, not with legal process.

38 Matthew Brownell March 22, 2010 at 8:00 PM

“Free Speech” and the First Amendment is not a shield against libel.

The immediacy and presumed anonymity of the Internet encourages people to post things that would otherwise never be acceptable for print in traditional news venues.

A blog is like a wildfire on a windy day. With very little effort, and little to no oversight, character arson and unchecked stories are almost assured.

More troubling and frustrating are those that post from anonymous user names. It is a sickening, sad, and masturbatory hallmark of a society that substitutes easy access to the blogosphere for quality interaction, social discourse, and problem-solving To post from the amorphous Internet cloud and cause injury to a person’s reputation, only to cower behind an anonymous user name and seek refuge under the rubric of the “First Amendment” and “Free Speech” is just plain asinine, dangerous, and disingenuous.

While you may not agree with the BOS, one can at least find solace in the fact that there are still people on this Earth who work hard, take action, accept responsibility and confront irresponsible, incendiary trolls.

39 Seymour Goode March 19, 2010 at 11:30 PM

Moral courage. Many Blog comments speak to it even if a person’s name is not attached. Rebuttal is the way to go when one feels wronged. Telling “Aunt Polly” to get retaliation is just plain juvenile.

Keep up your good work and continue to let us, who do have the ability to exercise intelligence, sift the chaff from the wheat.

Seems as if some people never grow up. Never progress. Don’t know how to cope with disagreement.

Thanks for your stand!

40 Neil Rossen March 20, 2010 at 2:08 PM

Despite many of the egregious left wing moonbat comments (even supporting Health care – an example of a closed process and the abandonment of free speech, debate, and the majority of voters), I entirely support Susan.

41 John Butler March 20, 2010 at 2:35 PM

Susan, the community is overwhelmingly in support of you, your hard work and the important service you provide. Please, if you can, do not lose sleep over this. Keep up your fine contribution, and your courage, for which we thank you.

For us, it appears that our Town’s public funds have been used in an attempt to intimidate free speech. For the full description I commend Sue Grinblatas’s comment.

In addition to the courage in her refusal, Susan also showed, most notably, enormous restraint, in service of community civility, by not writing about this event in September. Courage and restraint are a rare combination of virtues.

To get this behind us, I would ask that the September letter from Town Counsel now be published. We have a lot of tough decisions to make as a Town, at our upcoming Town Meeting. It would be best if this unfortunate incident did not fester in an extended drip of slow disclosure.

Lastly it is important for the future of free speech on this forum that correspondents, and one would hope, Selectmen, know something about the law of libel. In this regard, the Police Chief and the Selectmen are all public figures. That creates a high hurdle for any claims of libel. Even when there are false assertions of fact about public figures, it must be proven that those assertions were known to be false, or known to be probably false, not by others but by those making them, at the exact time that they made them. As difficult as that standard is, it only applies to claims of facts. By contrast, obviously, almost everything in comments here is clearly opinion, which, in Massachusetts, is completely protected from all libel claims. If your opinion is that a public official is bad and should not hold the office they do, you are entitled to scream those words to the corners of the Town, if you choose, without fear of successful libel claims. Lastly your rights to speak are not abridged by your desire to remain anonymous. In short, when writing, do not knowingly lie about facts so as to hurt someone. Otherwise do not fear. Of course it is better to avoid hurting people’s feelings whenever doing so can be consistent with the public good. Furthermore, recourse to anonymity, in my opinion, more often degrades the quality of public discussion than it fosters the emergence of truth.

All in all, this site is a great service. Neither Susan nor its correspondents deserve intimidation. I am pleased to join those who stand with her.
-John Butler

42 CapeEsq March 20, 2010 at 6:18 PM

Aldo its called the First Amendment you’ve spent too much time hanging out with Democrats because its the only way you could come up with something like this!

43 Kelly Roney March 20, 2010 at 8:59 PM

CapeEsq, this isn’t a partisan issue. Aldo is a Republican, as is Bonnie in spirit if perhaps not in registration. Sal is a Democrat.

You’re apparently a Republican. I’m a Democrat. Yet the two of us agree on this. Go figure.

44 Not Marty March 20, 2010 at 9:15 PM

If the bos had town counsel send a letter to Susan seeking an identity because of a bogus claim of personal slander, a violation of the town’s by laws has happened. Under the by laws, town counsel’s role and duties are clear as day, and stated in the first sentence: “Such Town Counsel shall act as the legal adviser of the Town.” What say you bos? You can’t say the town was slandered as I do not believe it is possible to slander a town. So what advice was being sought by the town? It looks like it was advice for a personal attack.

Are the residents allowed to see the request to town counsel and whether it came from the entire bos and are we allowed to see the letter written by town counsel? Surely we should be allowed to see the time and amount of our money that was spent on this ridiculous attempt to silence opinions. Do we request this a town meeting or someplace else? When will we all stop complaining and take a stand?

45 Al Hamilton March 21, 2010 at 8:37 AM

Not Marty –

“All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

I agree that we need to stand up for free speech.

1. Discussions between the BOS and Town Counsel do fall within the Lawyer-Client Privilege. I support this as it is sometimes necessary to permit the BOS or other executive body to do their job effectively.

2. The letter, on the other hand is a public document, in my opinion, since it was a communication from the BOS via Town Counsel to a citizen and there can be no expectation of privilege or confidentiality. Any citizen would be within their rights to make a public records request to the Town Administrator for the document.

3. I agree with you that I would like to understand who and under what circumstances this letter was authorized. Was there a vote by the BOS? Was it done in public or hiding behind the veil of executive session?

4. The Chair of the Advisory Committee is supposed to receive copies of all legal bills. I will ask about this at the next meeting.

46 Hopeful March 20, 2010 at 11:02 PM

As a lawyer himself, Sal should know better. Good Lord. Shame on him.

Meanwhile, Not Marty just wrote “When will we all stop complaining and take a stand?” It’s a great question, but fortunately it has an easy answer. It’s called Election Day — May 10, 2010. Mark your calendar, get to the polls, and “take a stand” with a black, felt-tip marker. For sure this episode is a silly and embarrassing waste of time and money, but it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ineffective leadership by the BOS. To say it is high time for a change is a gross understatement.

I signed papers today for an EXCELLENT candidate for Selectman. Check him out, and the choice on May 10th will be the ultimate no-brainer.

Hopeful.

47 Sue Grinblatas March 21, 2010 at 11:18 AM

You raise a very good point here. We hear the cries for “throw the bastards out” about everything from our own school volunteers to Congress! But it’s not as if there are folks lining up to run for office, or take volunteer positions for that matter. If you see the same names over and over and year after year, it’s because not enough people are willing to stick their own noses in, to use a phrase I’ve heard on this blog. And with the way Bonnie Phaneuf and other town officials have been personally attacked (as opposed to criticized in their capacity as elected officials), it would seem unlikely were going to see more people want to stick their own necks out. Who’s the new Selectman candidate? Kudos for putting yourself out there.

48 Maryann Sachs March 21, 2010 at 1:00 AM

” I disapprove with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it”
-Voltaire

Almost makes you want to practice Constitutional law, doesn’t it?

49 John Doe March 21, 2010 at 3:25 AM

Wherefore art thou, Marty?

Interestingly (maybe), having read Marty’s post from August (I think I found the right one), I am compelled to wonder if he wasn’t right. Maybe this has been clarified in subsequent posts, but it seemed to me that he made a quite lucid, and somewhat compelling argument that the committee in question did act in a manner not in accordance with applicable state law. As these initial comments appear to have been the kindling for this little campfire, the truth of the matter seems at least somewhat relevant.

The later comments seem to have been removed, so are more difficult to assess. From the MWDN report, he appears to have lamented that one of the Selectmen is not masculine enough to do his job, and that another’s undergarments should be set ablaze. Out of context, this is tricky to decipher (although I’m not sure all the context in the world would help).

So I imagine him there, in his lair (he MUST have a lair), leaning back in his armchair, tapping his fingers together, howling with joy at the civil unrest he has inspired. Finally, his Master Plan for unraveling the fine weave of local government hatching before him like so many spring chickens (seasonal reference).

But can they find him? Even if the scrupulous manager of this blog, feet held to the flames, finally, with her last breath, divulged the contact information provided by the post’s author, is that enough? When I entered mine, I was John Doe, with an email of JohnnyD@BatCave.net. So maybe Marty is not even his real name? Maybe it’s something completely unknowable to the minds of the local authorities. Something unthinkable, something like . . . Martin. Nah, impossible.

Of course, the computer hackers could pry the real information from the jaws of the hard drive. Guard your laptop, Susan, it’s soon to be dismantled and purged in the interest of intimidating good old Marty into silent submission.

Marty appreciates your protection, Susan. Frankly, the Marty in all of us does. Sooner or later we will all have the urge to voice an opinion that someone in authority won’t like. Thanks to the open forum you have created, we can. And who knows? We might even be right.

Stay strong, sister.

50 Southie April 5, 2010 at 2:45 PM

JohnnyD@BatCave.net if it is a real email address has a real ISP and a real IP.
Of this blog logs the WAN IP address of the blogger then that is also enough to find someone without rummaging through a hard drive.

Now that being said, if Marty has real evidence of OML or Exec session violations then Marty can just file a complaint with the DA. If he hasn’t done that then I question his motives and proof.

But not his right of privacy or free speech.

51 Al Hamilton March 21, 2010 at 8:51 AM

Singapore, which is nominally a democracy, is in fact a one party state. The bar for political liable is very low there and the ruling party uses liable suits against any potential competitors who say anything even remotely oppositional to the ruling party and financially ruin any potential competitors. It has been a very effective practice. Amnesty International has regularly expressed concern about this practice.

The BOS has put us on this slippery slope.

52 TrixieAnn March 21, 2010 at 10:35 AM

As a faithful reader of this blog, I must agree with most of the comments above and commend Susan for her journalistic integrity. I recall reading many of “Marty’s” comments and do not recall anything out of line. Perhaps I missed one. However, in my opinion, its time for some new and thicker skinned folks on the BOS.

53 Hopeful March 21, 2010 at 2:37 PM

Sue, the new candidiate will make it “official” tomorrow when he turns in his papers. I (and many, many others) think he will be a fantastic change for Southborough.

54 Harold Reaz March 21, 2010 at 2:59 PM

John Doe, One of the best written efforts I have seen in a long, long, long time.

I am new in town, but commend Susan on her stance and those that have wrote in to support her.

It is obvious that the readers of this site are intelligent, thoughtful and, though many author under vague and common names, proactive in their written words. Sometimes “people demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they avoid. ” (Kierkegaard). That is not the case from what I have read and observed. The town has many educated and reflective people and the ability to speak free is a cornerstone of our country. How dare the selectmen even hint at an effort to curtail such a fundamental part of our democracy.

With the intelligence and concern level so deep seated, I am troubled by Sue G.’s comment about no one/group willing to champion the cause. Complain as we/you will, but failure to do more beyond the typing of letters will further the decay. Change cannot be accomplished by Monday morning quarterbacks snuggled warmly in their huts with masks tightly secured.

Let us all attend meetings and make changes that are clearly required. Remove your false appearances and anonymity, open the doors to your huts, and make this a proud place to live as it was before.

55 Peter Aspesi March 21, 2010 at 9:35 PM

I no longer live in Southborough but I keep up with what is going on there. Before anyone gets wrong information I am not Peter Aspesi who owns Ted’s. I am Charlie and Jackie’s oldest son. I am an attorney. I can’t believe that the Board of Selectman have skin this thin. Granted many things are said on blogs that no one is responsible for, but as public figures they need to be able to take the heat. It’s almost impossible for a public figure to prove libel, the standard is actual malice. It rarely happens! I am sure Aldo was doing what he was asked to do, but I cant’ believe that he would agree with the stance that the board has taken. Go back to the 80’s and see some of the things that were said at Town Meeting. We should be able to agree to disagree without it defaulting to name calling, but if it goes there the writer or speaker has a right to do it. However, it normally reflects worse on the speaker/writer than it does on the person who is the target. What the offended members of the Board of Selectman should do is defend themselves in a public forum and then not let if bother them. This is an issue that should die a quick death. Instead, the Selectman, with the help of the Metrowest Daily News have given the writer a whole new life by drawing attention to it. They should pay no heed to the comments on this blog, the people of Southborough are smart enough to get all the facts before making a decision on what they think, it would be a sad day when educated people formed their opinions based on the statments of one person on a blog. Billy and Bonnie you are better than this!

56 imposter March 22, 2010 at 9:41 AM

Even though I disagree with all the loony left mantra I hear here, I understand the way they feel because they do not know how to take care of themselves. If left to their own devices, they would run in circles in the woods, and simply wither away. they need assistance and hence a liberal government. I do however support Susan, (and the very sensitive and vocal other Susan) to the death for free speach. Even if one considers others comments High School, juvenile or Facebook. ( I dont let me children go there for that reason. Why if you declare Facebook juvi would you in your own self-incrimination allow your 3,4,5 gradeers go on Facebook?). We have been saying for years that the town has used the legal assistance wrongly in many ways. I am not calling anyone out by name and hearby declare my innocence if someone yells it is slander, but the town lawyer should be repremanded at the least and not used for such parochial issues as “Suzy didn’t like what Johny said on the playground”. Sounds like and overbearing and overprotective parent making up for a shortfall in theri own life. The Legal Advice has been used wrong in the past in my opine for such issues as real estate, building, zoning et…. Seems to be a conflict of interest to me. And again it is my opiniion that when an individual resorts to capitol letters and repeated exclamation points et.. there seems to be some phycological instability there. So folks be careful what you listen to on any site. I never heard one conservative name call or call out Media sources but I see it everywhere on the blogs from libs. One reveals themselves and many ways. Thanks Susan and thank you for your hard work (and in some cases editing).

57 Sissy Hinkshaw March 22, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Big thumbs, I presume.

58 John Boiardi March 22, 2010 at 12:06 PM

Susan,

I support your stance. It would not even be an issue if bloggers used their full name instead of pseudonyms or nicknames.

59 Sick and Tired March 22, 2010 at 1:21 PM

And conservatives will follow anyone who screams religion and morality right over a cliff without opening their eyes and looking at where they are going. What is your point? This, for once, is not a liberals vs. conservatives issue. We can all have our own opinions on the First Amendment and not have to have it divided along party lines. Your writing is so convoluted that I don’t even understand what you are trying to say.

“I never heard one conservative name call or call out Media sources but I see it everywhere on the blogs from libs. One reveals themselves and many ways.”

Are you saying that only liberals call their opponents names? This after referring to the “loony left” in your opening sentence.

I agree with some of what you say and you would probably call me a “looney left liberal.” So what is the point of calling people names?

60 Pat Quill March 22, 2010 at 7:10 PM

Somehow, certain types of people are not capable of making their point known without
also throwing in a few jabs or a back handed compliment. I shake my head. Whether it’s the “loony left” or not, THAT’S NOT THE POINT! ! (Oh, wait a minute…I used all caps and repeated exclamation points, that makes me psychologically unstable, doesn’t it?) Aren’t you capable of making an intelligent point without making obvious your political leanings which, by the way, have nothing to do with the original situation? People’s political rants are not the center of this issue nor do they have ANYTHING to do with this issue (nor does anyone care for that matter). I don’t care if you are black, white, green or pink, liberal,or conservative….. we are all entitled to our opinions (nameless or not) without being afraid that we will be served legal papers for doing so…. THAT is the point.
Get over yourself.

61 John Kendall March 22, 2010 at 8:37 PM

No matter what anyone says or does here, I am behind Susan 100%.

62 Pat Quill March 23, 2010 at 7:00 AM

Same here………..enough said.

63 Beth Melo March 23, 2010 at 8:20 AM

I just want to add my support. I love this “blog” and check it regularly. Most of what I love has nothing to do with the comments posted. But once in a while I do check them out to see what others in my community have to say. Sometimes I agree, sometimes my blood boils, and sometimes I am persuaded by what seems to be a valid point that hadn’t occurred to me. But I find it hard to believe that anyone assumes that items posted anonymously are accurate. I can understand that if personally attacked your first impulse is to want to confront your attackers. But those angry impulses should be reigned in. I applaud Susan for taking the high road on this issue and not making it personal. That is the same approach the selectmen should have taken. Sometimes first amendment issues seem tough to stand on — when people’s safety or national security is at risk. This isn’t one of those times! I’m not a legal scholar, so I won’t claim that the town has no legal foot to stand on, just that they should let this go. It only serves to worsen their image. (It certainly did with me.) Besides people should have a forum where they feel safe to post unpopular opinions without personal retribution. First, they might actually make valid points that otherwise wouldn’t be heard. Second, they might learn something from someone’s response to their posts.

64 Alej Soares March 23, 2010 at 9:22 PM

In reading all the comments, I believe that town officials have to stop complaining about getting their feelings hurt when town residents speak up. Newspapers and TV stations have for many years controlled what we as citizens are allowed to read and say openly. The Internet and the world of blogging as allowed individuals who would otherwise feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the media or town officials, to speak up.
Sadly, what we are seeing here is a group of town officials who feel pressured and have decided to hide behind the legal system in order to prevent people from speaking out. Since when is it wrong for people to speak out and defend what they believe in? Since when do we as individuals have to feel intimidated by anyone, just because we have opinions or want to express our thoughts? If town officials can’t take the criticism, then they should find a job at a local restaurant or get a 9-5 job in an office where they can just blend in with other coworkers and just be a town resident. Let’s see how long before they begin to develop an opinion on how things are done.

As a town official you take an oath do represent the town and the people who voted you to that position. As a result you are in the spot light every single day and your words, actions and decisions are a concern to every single person who lives in that town. You can not use the legal system to protect you from being accountable for your decisions, actions, etc. If you choose to be in the limelight then you have to develop a thick skin and defend your position when someone states incorrect facts. In others speak up and voice the truth otherwise move over and let some who can do the job right.

Alej Soares

65 Tara April 1, 2010 at 11:41 AM

I applaud your decision to refuse the “request” of the town to share the identity of the poster. Keep up the good work!

66 Sue Grinblatas April 2, 2010 at 6:29 PM

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2010/04/01/town_of_southborough_considers_suing_annonymous_online_commenter/?page=2

Interesting article in the Boston Globe “Globe West” yesterday, citing Atty. Cipriano, acting in his capacity as Town Counsel on behalf of Town and his letter to Susan Fitzgerald:
“We strongly suggest that you more closely monitor remarks made on the communication site ensuring that when individuals speak to issues that they do so accurately and without false allegations of violating state law,’’ Cipriano stated in a letter in late October. He also asked Fitzgerald to retain all records of Internet addresses, messages and any online communication from her forum in relation to the Police Chief Search Committee .
I am wondering if Atty Cipriano made the same demand when Town official Al Hamilton (Advisory Committee) alleged on this site that Supt. Charles Gobron and School Committee member Kathleen Polutchko violated state laws and ethics by informing townspeople directly of school budget matters. See http://www.mysouthborough.com/2010/01/28/attend-an-information-session-on-the-school-budget/
Is Atty Cipriano applying his legal muscle “on behalf of the Town” consistently???? I think not.

:

67 Al Hamilton April 3, 2010 at 8:20 AM

Sue:

For the record, my comment questioned whether the Superintendent, as a public employee, should be engaged in lobbying for the budget which is a very political act. State law, which I cited, is pretty clear on this. I have since met with Dr. Gobron and he has given me his word that he understands the limits and I take that at face value. I believe Dr. Gobron is a dedicated and honest public servant.

My comments never extended to Ms. Polutchko who, as an elected official, should be engaged in the “cut and thrust” of political activity. I fully expect and support members of the School Committee lobbying and organizing support for their budget. These activities are the building blocks of democracy.

I am not afraid of Aldo or the Board of Selectmen. The will not muzzle me.

68 Sue Grinblatas April 3, 2010 at 12:35 PM

Nor should they!!!

69 Resident April 3, 2010 at 12:59 PM

Do anyone other than the selectmen have oversight and approval for legal fees? In other words, who authorizes the expenditure of money for Aldo to write these letters? Aren’t the residents allowed to know where and how their funds are spent?

70 Al Hamilton April 3, 2010 at 3:04 PM

Town meeting authorizes a budget for Legal Fees. I believe that for this fiscal year the budget was $95,000. There is also a budget for Special Legal Counsel for $55,000 I believe this second budget is normally used for labor negotiations.

Both of these budgets are under the control of the Board of Selectmen and they would be the only body that would be responsible for authorizing expenditures from this budget.

If you want to know how much money was expended you could make a public records request to the Town Administrator.

If you think these monies are being spent frivolously then you might consider issuing a hold on these budgets and making a motion for a smaller amount on the floor of Town Meeting. I would recommend having someone handy to second your motion so it can be debated. You will also have to hand a written copy of your motion to the Clerk. There is an easy form that is available at the table by the check in or a simple piece of paper will and all you would have to do is write “I move that the Legal Budget be reduced to $XX,XXXX (your number here)”

71 Kim Reichelt April 5, 2010 at 2:00 PM

What an interesting discussion! I don’t know how I could be more ambivalent about it… I run WaylandeNews.com, which has a similar mode of discussion on our Discussion Forum. Our forum does not allow anonymous posters, because we have found that people are far more civil when they are required to use their real names. We have debated the virtues of anonymity (more postings, “freer” debate) and whenever we consider relaxing that requirement (e.g, this post), we end up concluding that we are doing the right thing by not allowing it.

That said, I notice that most of the posters above are using their real names.

Further, I read the post by “Marty”, and fail to understand the reaction by Southborough’s BOS, and do not see what the value of identifying him would be. I’ve seen much worse on other discussion boards. Why not just address his concerns and questions, and move on?

72 Resident April 7, 2010 at 10:55 AM

Ms. Reichelt,

You could not be more correct. There was nothing in the posts of the now infamous Marty that are in any way libelous and the entire matter can and should be resolved by the bos just clarifying and discussing the important matters Marty raised. Their unwillingness to take a stand or respond has caused a severe negative impact to the chief. How can they all vote for the chief and then not support here by responding to these issues? Just answer the questions asked and if all was done properly, that ends it.

Now if they remain silent, what does that tell the residents? Either that their questions do not warrant a response (which no one would believe) or that they are hiding something that will not reflect positively on the process (which most everyone believes).

73 The Natural Truth April 13, 2010 at 9:21 AM

What a complete wast of time. Useless! What would the identity of the person do? Divert away from the real issues.

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