Discord over BOS Chair’s endorsement of all but one candidate

by beth on November 10, 2017

Post image for Discord over BOS Chair’s endorsement of all but one candidate

Above: Selectman Kolenda silenced criticism aimed at him on Wednesday night, citing the board’s comment policy (image from SAM video)

An emailed political message that sparked discord has raised questions about what is fair free speech and respectful advocacy vs mudslinging.

A day before this week’s election, Board of Selectman Chair Dan Kolenda sent out a message endorsing three “excellent candidates” running for one vacant seat. The message didn’t mention the existence of a fourth candidate.

The message was from his personal account, and informally signed Dan. Still, some residents were angered by the action the criticized as an unethical political attack from a sitting selectman.

Now, Kolenda is turning the tables, calling the critics’ words hateful and hurtful. In a Letter to the Editor on this blog, Kolenda argues his right to “freely speak, associate, advocate and vote”. And he defends not naming the candidate he opposed, Sam Stivers, as done out of respect.

Post election, no one has publicly claimed Kolenda’s email changed the final outcome.

In Tuesday’s results, Stivers lost to Brian Shifrin by 58 votes (3%). Shifrin and his family are well known in town, and he appeared to have a strong base of supporters among voters with school aged children.

The issue raised publicly on Wednesday focused on whether Kolenda’s message was truly a positive endorsement or an “underhanded” attack

On Monday morning, Kolenda sent an email to a list he has “created and maintained” over the years. In it, he referred to the vacancy left by the resignation of former Selectman John Rooney and stated:

there are 3 excellent candidates who can continue his legacy of selfless service. . . I have had the honor of working with each candidate.

In between the words of praise, Kolenda listed Doriann Jasinski, Brian Shifrin, and Bill Boland.

Multiple complaints about the email were lodged with Kolenda and/or the board that day.*

The following morning, Kolenda sent a new email urging people to vote that day. That message referred to all four candidates, stating:

Each has an extensive public record for you to research, and each has put themselves up to public scrutiny in running for office. They should be thanked

According to Kolenda’s letter, that second message wasn’t a response to any controversy. He states it was always his plan to send that message out on the day of the election.

Two residents addressed the political issue at Wednesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting. Louise Barron read sections from each email aloud and called Kolenda’s sending them “underhanded”. She argued that selectmen shouldn’t be endorsing any candidates in town. In a later comment, Karen Shimkus opined, “it was beneath the dignity of the office.”

Kolenda shut down both rebukes, citing the Town’s policy not to allow Town employees to be disparaged in public meetings.

The Chair also claimed that the emails read aloud were “completely out of context”. He followed that since they were sent in his “individual capacity”, he would be happy to speak with them after the meeting.

Following up on the public comments, I reached out to Kolenda for more information on the email distribution list he used and a statement on the issue. He responded with the Letter to the Editor posted just prior to this story. The letter defends the exercising of his free rights and details his rationale for the message.

In it, he doubles down on his right to endorse the other candidates by wondering “in retrospect” if he should have specified his reasons for opposing Stivers. Instead, he explains, he had chosen not to mention Stivers out of respect:

Like in other elections, I am often asked for my opinion on candidates that I think would positively add to our town government, and help move Southborough forward in a responsible way. This election cycle was no different. One of the best avenues for this is through email, and, not unlike so many others, over the years I’ve created and maintained my own list. I was excited about the list of candidates, and saw 3 of the 4 that I considered would be “excellent” for our town, and stated so. The one individual I personally thought would not be
excellent for the town I chose not to mention, simply out of respect.

Kolenda followed that he disagreed with “virtually everything that candidate stands for”, specifying several examples of stances Stivers took with which he passionately disagreed.

He summed up:

Elected officials throughout our Commonwealth and Country are often the most vocal advocates for people and policies. Were those rights taken away, that would be the real controversy.

Kolenda’s letter also states that he apologized to Stivers after Wednesday night’s meeting. Stivers only comment to me on the story was that the email speaks for itself.

*Kolenda’s first email came to my attention on Friday evening. It was sent to me in messages from multiple angry supporters of Stivers. I chose not to cover it at that time.
Among my concerns was the timing. Focusing on a dispute about one candidate on the eve of an election could be perceived as helping or hurting the candidate.

Below is the full text of both emails:

[Monday, November 6, 8:17 am]

Please remember to Vote tomorrow, Tuesday, November 7 for our next Selectman to fulfill the remaining term of former Selectman John Rooney who resigned last April. John dedicated years of outstanding service to our great Town of Southborough, and there are 3 excellent candidates who can continue his legacy of selfless service:

Doriann Jasinski
Brian Shifrin
Bill Boland

I have had the honor of working with each candidate. Please head to Trottier Middle School (our one voting location) tomorrow and vote for the candidate of your choice. If you’ll be away tomorrow, you can vote absentee at our Town Hall today. A thriving democracy requires active participation from the electorate. Please remember to vote tomorrow!

Thanks,
Dan

——

[Tuesday, November 7, 8:06 am]

Today is Election Day in Southborough and there are 4 qualified candidates from which to chose as your next Selectman. Each has an extensive public record for you to research, and each has put themselves up to public scrutiny in running for office. They should be thanked:

Bill Boland
Doriann Jasinski
Brian Shifrin
Sam Stivers

Freedom is not free, please vote today and exercise the right that so many before us have fought and died to preserve.

Dan

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Djd66 November 10, 2017 at 8:14 AM

Dan, first of all, on Verterans Day, I want to truly thank you for your service to our country. As far as endorsing candidates- not sure what the issue is here? It is absolutely your right to endorse anyone you want and there should be no issue with this. Standing Presidents, Senators, Congressman and Mayors do this all the time. This is fundamental to our system. You did nothing wrong and I solute you for your letter today.

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2 Townie November 10, 2017 at 8:59 AM

First, Happy Veteran’s Day Dan. Thank you for your service.

Second, he did nothing wrong. This is the usual small percenters, like Louise Barron, who say “you’re entitled to your own opinion as long as it’s the same as mine”. This small group has nothing nice to say to anyone who opposes them. I could not help but notice these were the same residents were very vocal on this blog about endorsing Sam Stivers. I knew, if he had lost, they would have put targets on peoples backs.

Shame on you.

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3 Jane Smith November 10, 2017 at 9:17 AM

To suggest that his letter was not an insult to Sam is disingenuous, at best. He listed three candidates “who can continue [Mr. Rooney’s] legacy of selfless service.” By omitting Sam from the list, Mr. Kolenda was saying, loud and clear: Take my advice. Don’t vote for Sam. Such an assertion — that Sam wouldn’t continue that legacy — is absurd. Sam spends more time at town meetings than any citizen I have ever known. Regardless of who people supported, very few would dismiss Sam as an unqualified candidate, even if they don’t like his stand on particular issues. Of course, Mr. Kolenda has every right to endorse whomever he wants, but this tactic seemed a little juvenile and petty. I would like to thank Doriann, Bill, Sam, and Brian for running. It’s not easy putting yourself out there for public scrutiny. I am confident Brian will do a good job. I was very impressed with him at Candidates’ Night at the Library. I do hope Sam stays involved in town affairs. We need his intellect and ideas. I also want to thank Mr. Kolenda for his service to his town and country. He is a man of high principles, but I think he slipped a bit this time, and it was disappointing to see.

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4 YY November 10, 2017 at 9:38 AM

Mr. Kolenda:

You are right that you have the constitutional right to do what you did but that does not mean is sound judgement. After reading your defense, I am even more sure of my position on this.

“there are 3 excellent candidates who can continue his legacy of selfless service”

By not listing the 4th, you are implying the 4th can not “continue his legacy of selfless service”. How can you imply this with a clear conscience? What is your argument to support this? As far as I know, this person has spent countless hours trying to understand the issues and serves on a town committee… how is that not “selfless service”?

While it is true you spoke as an individual but you are clearly the current chair of the board that these individuals are seeking to be a member of. While you have every right to do what you did, I still disapprove how and what you did. Just like I can say whatever I want, you don’t have to agree with anything I say or think what I say is right.

Also, in spirit of free speech, how about letting residents speak more during public comment? People can say uncomfortable things to hear but is their right is it not?

Sincerely,
YY

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5 ZZ November 10, 2017 at 8:51 PM

Why not use your real name? Mr. Kolenda is allowed to endorse anyone he chooses as is any other citizen elected or not. It seems other candidates had no problem posting people publicly that endorsed them.

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6 YY November 11, 2017 at 11:23 AM

How about you doing what you suggested? I would absolutely have no problem submitting what I said in actual letter form with my real name and address to BOS/Mr. Kolenda and/or getting up and saying exact same thing during public comment — if I am allowed to.

There are many reason why individual use an alias and in my case, I want my message to speak for itself.

The reason why I chose to post on this blog and not the former is because Mr. Kolenda does have to right to do what he did so I didn’t feel it raised to that level. However, by submitting a letter to editor of this blog, why should I not have to right to express my opinion?

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7 Publius November 10, 2017 at 9:47 AM

Elected officials endorse candidates all the time. Locally it often extends far from simple endorsement to actually volunteering and working for a candidate which is the loudest endorsement of them all. The email was a personal email, from a personal list on personal time. Does anyone seriously have a problem with it ?

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8 n November 10, 2017 at 10:47 AM

The only problem I have is that by suggesting only 3 of the 4 would “continue his (Rooney’s) legacy of selfless service” that Mr. Stivers’ service has in some way not been “selfless”.

That is offensive and inaccurate to anyone who knows Mr. Stivers or has any awareness of his contributions to the town.

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9 G. Manley Hopkins November 10, 2017 at 10:08 AM

How much courage would it take for Mr. Kolenda to offer an apology?

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10 djd66 November 10, 2017 at 10:41 AM

Why should he offer an apology?? The is no need.

While we are on the topic of courage – He is a veteran that has done a tour in Iraq. The guy does not need to show he has courage – he has proven.

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11 n November 10, 2017 at 11:02 AM

A public apology for exercising his 1st amendment right? No need and not going to happen IMHO.

A public apology for implicitly suggesting Mr. Stivers’ would not continue Mr. Rooney’s “legacy of selfless service”? Unlikely, despite that being the fastest and best way to put this behind him. Expect more of the pivot to “it’s my right to say stupid and inaccurate things” and “I will not apologize for that”.

And yes, it should be public as this has become public as anyone sending such an email would have reasonably expected. Anything less is weak IMHO, no matter the courage one has demonstrated in other areas of their life.

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12 Frank Crowell November 10, 2017 at 1:52 PM

A public apology for a private email sent to a list of friends – ridiculous.

What’s next – a federal investigation off phony allegations from a paid for opposition research dossier.

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13 Rose Mauro November 10, 2017 at 1:19 PM

A lot of Tito Jackson’s supporters were angry at Elizabeth Warren for endorsing Marty Walsh in the recent Boston mayoral election. However, I didn’t hear anyone saying that she did not have a right to endorse whomever she wanted to, either as a politician or a private citizen.

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14 Resident November 10, 2017 at 3:14 PM

Mr. Stivers, whom i do not know, did not win for reasons unrelated to Mr. Kolenda’s private email to his list of friends. Instead, I, along with at least 20 people I know well in town, could not give Mr. Stivers a vote because of one resident’s endorsement of him. This resident is a vocal complainer on just about everything, because if you do not agree with her, then you come under attack. (Just like we are seeing in DC and Alabama today. If you don’t support Trump or don’t support Roy Moore, you will be attacked or you comment will be called Fake News.) It tells a lot about people by the company/endorsements one has, and endorsements work both in getting votes but also in scaring voters away. I also echo Mr. Crowell’s common sense note.

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15 louise barron November 10, 2017 at 6:19 PM

Resident Toots What we’re seeing in D.C. is the draining of the swamp. We are beginning to investigate why almost $150, 000,000.00 that originated in Russia was laundered through Canada, and donated to the Clinton Foundation. Along with several million dollars paid to Bill Clinton, for a one hour speech, in Moscow. The U.S. turned over 20% of it’s uranium to a foreign company. As for Roy Moore, innocent till proven guilty in a court of law. As for the Town Of Sobo, this swamp is also in need of draining.

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16 Jojama November 11, 2017 at 3:25 PM

Wrong Louise… too much Fox News!

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17 D. McGee November 12, 2017 at 5:14 PM

So the arch-conservative alleged pedophile is “innocent until proven guilty”, but the Clintons are guilty despite being proven innocent in years of congressional investigations? You just showed your true hypocritical colors.

And you accusing someone of complaining? My god, I can’t even read your posts anymore. Always so negative and nasty. Maybe Southborough just isn’t the town for you anymore.

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18 louise barron November 13, 2017 at 11:49 AM

Gee, “D. McGee,” talk about “negative and nasty,” suggesting that your neighbor leave town seems pretty “negative and nasty” and certainly extreme. This comment is a pretty good reflection of who you are and where you are coming from. Obviously you can’t handle opposing viewpoints. Last time I checked, it was still America.

Regarding Mr. Kolenda’s controversial emails, it is less a matter of first amendment and free speech. It seems to be more a matter of right and wrong and further dividing this town. SHOULD he have done it? That’s the question. Do you get it now??

BTW, since you don’t appear to be a registered voter or a resident of Southborough and no one seems to know who you are, are you a resident? What are you doing on a blog for town residents?

PS – keeping a sense of humor here, is “D. McGee” any relation to “Mr. McGoo?”

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19 D. McGee November 13, 2017 at 2:58 PM

Thanks for proving my point, Louise! I KNEW I could count on you to be nasty. And my comment has nothing to do with being accepting of opposing views and everything to do with highlighting your selective hypocrisy.

For the record,
a) I am indeed a registered voter in Sboro.
b) Why are you searching the voter rolls for my name? Kind of creepy.
c) Not related to McGoo, although give his extreme myopia, maybe you are?

20 em November 13, 2017 at 9:17 PM

I, too, did not vote for Mr. Stivers because of a few residents’ endorsements. I was in the booth and undecided. The frequent alarmist hyperbole, condescension, and apparent greed of a few commenters on this blog were ringing in my head as I decided instead to cast my vote for Mr. Shifrin. I decided that whomever they were with was someone I should not be with.

I expect that this comment will be met with evidence of my assessment.

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21 Publius November 10, 2017 at 3:39 PM

So a cursory search of one of the losing candidates face book page identifies by name and official town position members of at least the following: open space, planning , ZBA, EDC and Community Preservation. These are current members identified by town position implying some sort of official endorsement. I urge anyone who takes issue with a personal email to look at the pictures and especially the prominent identification by town position. Inappropriate ? The reader can decide.

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22 Louise Barron November 10, 2017 at 6:54 PM

Apparently only Mr. Kolenda can disparage others. Everyone else has to put up and shut up. Talk about limiting free speech! He does everything possible to eliminate and quell opposing opinion, under false premises.

Having the support of others on a webpage is much different from sending out an email that intentionally leaves out the name of one candidate. Was this slander / libel by inference, i.e. is he inferring that one candidate is not qualified by limiting it to three? Did it sway the election results?

Did Mr. Rooney endorse this email? Did he know of its content? Did he know it was to be sent before the election? What about the other candidates named in the first email? Were they aware that their names would be used in such a manner?

Mr. Kolenda’s emails do speak for themselves. Did he do anything wrong? The reader can be the judge: Clearly he chose to alter his first message and send it out as a revised second message later on the morning of the election, too late for some readers / voters.

Mr. Kolenda cut off public comment section of Wednesday’s BOS meeting and closed the meeting. Well here’s the balance of what was to be said, an opinion letter submitted to the BOS by a prominent, strong, articulate smart taxpayer:

Good Evening BoS,
I am writing to you to express my shock, dismay and feeling of disloyalty as I have been forwarded Selectmen Kolenda’s personal email promoting 3 “excellent” candidates for BoS. To my knowledge, there are 4 candidates.  Regardless of Mr. Kolenda’s personnel and quite public dislike for Mr. Stivers, resorting to a tactic such as email to undermine a candidate shows significant bias against Mr. Stivers and extremely poor judgment.

Selectmen Kolenda’s communication effect publicly discredits Sam Stivers (by exclusion from the list of candidates) and shows a very childish display of bullying and a manipulative attempt to use his power and influence as Selectmen to sway a vote away from another eligible candidate.

My shock comes from Selectmen’s career path as a lawyer, one would think he would have thought twice, maybe three times before pressing send and yet he did not. 

Having this in writing, in my opinion, shows his low level of integrity and lack of ethics. Apparently, there are no bylaws covering expected behavior of an elected official, but this behavior and action in my opinion demonstrates, lack of leadership, poor judgment and zero ethics. Is this behavior suitable for a Chair of the Board of Selectmen?  I am disgusted by his decision to send this communication.  

Mr. Kolenda you ought to be ashamed of yourself for attempting to sway a vote and trying to use a “thriving democracy” as a platform.

PS
To “Resident” — imagine another resident’s (a woman, no less!) endorsement (or not) transfixing the minds and votes of 20 people!! Talk about Vulcan Mind Meld !! Holy cow!! The next election is in the bag by endorsing the other candidate !!

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23 concerned_resident November 10, 2017 at 7:39 PM

Hello fellow residents,

I love the passionate debate, the give ‘n take, heated but honest positions on issues like this that are at the heart of true democracy! First, let me say that I am/was a solid supporter of Sam Stivers for BOS. Go Sam!!

That said, Dan K. did nothing wrong in any respect with this matter which seems to be more than a kerfuffle but less than a brouhah. The MA State Ethics Committee advisory (11.1) says that elected officials can voice their opinions as private citizens, just as we all do. see http://www.mass.gov/ethics/education-and-training-resources/educational-materials/advisories/advisory-11-1.html Things only get sticky when favors are exchanged, and clearly this is not a concern in this matter.

Still its probably not good politics to stray into the election fray if you are a sitting BOS member. On the other hand, it was a privately transmitted endorsement and so even voicing an opinion shouldn’t trigger negative reaction. From my perch, I say, lets move on build a better SBororugh. I also hope that Sam Stiver will run for BOS again and with our help, he’ll make it next time.

Speaking of moving on, when can we hear something about an updated five or ten year Master Plan for Southborough? Given our current civil, political, fiscal trajectory, what will SBorough look like in 2027? Ready, Aim, Fire or Ready, Fire, Aim…. Failing to generate one will certainly result in a brouhaha in the future.

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24 Kelly Roney November 11, 2017 at 2:52 PM

Dan Kolenda doesn’t lose his free speech rights by getting elected to the BoS. He’s absolutely entitled to endorse candidates or to anti-endorse one candidate, which is what he did.

There’s also nothing underhanded about Dan sending an email to his own list. If he had sent his message to a government list, that would have been a problem, but he didn’t do that.

He’s in politics. People disagree in politics. Politics is how we decide what to do without violence. It’s not guaranteed to leave everyone’s feelings unhurt.

However, Dan’s interpretation of town policy – or the policy itself – is completely wrong. He used it for exactly what worried people when the policy was put in place, as an excuse for cutting citizens off. Dan doesn’t become a town employee by accepting the small stipend he gets from his public service as Selectman. He’s an elected town leader. It’s essential to self-government that citizens be able to criticize their elected leaders in public meetings, even to the extreme of Louise Barron’s intemperate use of “childish,” “bullying,” and “manipulative,” none of which Dan’s emails justify. His emails are very temperate.

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25 Joe Landry November 12, 2017 at 12:17 PM

As the dust settles it might appear that Mr. Kolenda’s letter was a cheap-shot that reflected more poorly on himself than Mr. Stivers.

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26 Resident November 13, 2017 at 10:53 AM

I agree. I have voted for Mr. Kolenda in the past (although not for his recent re-election) and received his emails. I didn’t question his right to send them but I sure did question his character in doing so.

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27 SB Resident November 13, 2017 at 12:35 PM

Yup, this is exactly the point. According to the Pew research center, “Public trust in the government remains near historic lows. Only 20% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right.”

It is behaviors like this action by Mr. Kolenda that are the embodiment of the source of this distrust.

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28 concerned_resident November 13, 2017 at 4:04 PM

hello SB Resident,

I like your comment, in that you cite some authority to support your opinion. Its your conclusion that piqued my interest. That’s a pretty big brush you are tarring Mr. Kolenda with. A national poll says one politicians can’t be trusted (i would generally agree) but to do a deep, deep dive from national stage to little local BOS politics gave me the bends. No. Mr. Kolenda action does not embody the source of mistrust in politics. You must be referring to U.S. Congressional Acts that permit Senators and Representative to PERSONALLY keep whatever money remains in election/reelection coffers once they decide to skip town, er.. i mean, go back to the private section after serving their country (I say “self-serving’ is more appropriate). Its obscene!
https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/summary?cid=N00006424&cycle=Career

Mr. Kolenda is NOT that politiciant . He’s simply a guy who stepped up to do a local job and serve the community.

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29 Publius November 13, 2017 at 10:38 AM

Perhaps Mr. Kolenda should have simply flat out endorsed the other three. Of course that would have been odd with only one opening. Better yet maybe stood outside Trottier with a sign. Endorsements are common place in politics, even at the town level as anyone who has ever paid attention to an elections knows. And as often and commonplace endorsements happen, they rarely change the result like some would hope and others would complain about. There appear to be a small handful of people that want to make something out of nothing. Any wonder fewer and fewer decide to serve.

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30 Joe Landry November 13, 2017 at 3:38 PM

Still. It was a cheap-shot directed at a fine person, and made too close to the election for time to respond. You can try to defend this by pointing to Freedom of Speech, the Constitution, and for that matter, the Magna Carta and the Sermon on the Mount—if you wish. End of the day it was petty. And “something” would not have been made of “nothing,” if the Selectman had simply owned up.

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31 D. McGee November 14, 2017 at 10:13 AM

…when you wish there was a “Like” button…

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32 Lucy November 14, 2017 at 2:01 PM

Joe puts this very well! Can the nonsense stop downtown? I think it’s time for the reset button. The distrust started with Park Central and for good reason. I feel like the town has now tried to shift the blame to the citizens which is upsetting them more. I do hear there are some that may go too far, but it’s not because they don’t care. Many just don’t pay attention and a lot of what is happening is usually not fully transparent. We need to eliminate the backyard old school we do what we want mentality. Either listen and communicate and understand the towns citizens and all of them (even the 50% that are Sam’s voters) or simply go home.

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33 Kelly Roney November 13, 2017 at 2:38 PM

I have to say that I’m getting an education on this thread – on a topic I thought I knew more about! So help me out here.

I fully expect Donald Trump to endorse Elizabeth Warren’s Republican opponent in 2018.

I fully expect Elizabeth Warren to endorse Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent in 2020.

I think both these expected acts are fair, above-board, and normal in politics. Does anyone disagree? If so, why?

If not, what makes Mr. Kolenda’s endorsement different? Is it the fact that we all know each other? That our town elections are non-partisan? Is there something else?

Would it have felt better if Mr. Kolenda had said in so many words that he preferred not to have Mr. Stivers on the Board? Or would that have seemed less respectful, as Mr. Kolenda’s letter explained?

There’s democratic usefulness in Mr. Kolenda’s endorsement, too. It’s better for us (isn’t it?) if our elected officials are open and clear about their preferences and beliefs. I’d rather know the truth and vote accordingly than find out too late.

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34 Joe Landry November 13, 2017 at 5:20 PM

Good God. I hope that you’re not advocating Washington politics for Southborough. To answer your question: What made Mr.Kolenda’s letter of endorsement different is that it didn’t appear to be an endorsement as much as it appeared to be a cheap-shot made made too late before the election to permit a fair response. You make a good point though—we now know the candidates better than before.

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35 Lucy November 14, 2017 at 1:10 PM

I think most concerning is that Sam still received 50% of the vote. Dan disagrees with everything Sam stands for which is essentially 50% of this town. This is the problem with politics and people using their power to only hear and act on one side. We don’t need people like this in government. Dan has done all he can to keep Sam off BOS as well as not supporting him for ZBA. He’d rather see Real Estate Developers that are new to our town that he can help pave the way for his agenda. It’s sad really. On a flip note, I’ve never seen a Veteran play the Veteran card to this magnitude. It’s not very often that it is done. While I respect the Service of our Country I don’t think it gives you the right to act in a specific way.

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36 Eileen November 14, 2017 at 2:41 PM

When you wish there was a “like” button…

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