Letter: Dan Kolenda defends his free speech

by beth on November 10, 2017

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

The right of Americans to freely speak, associate, advocate and vote is ingrained in our Constitution and has been secured for us by generations of brave Americans who have fought and died for that right. We will honor and celebrate them, those who have served and continue to serve in our military, this Veterans Day. An informed electorate helps preserve and promote a vibrant democracy, and I intend to continue to exercise my rights as an American citizen and resident of Southborough. Recently, and after advocating for candidates I thought best to represent our town, a very small number of vocal residents have questioned the propriety of me exercising that right. While I appreciate their opinion, I could not disagree with it more.

Ever since returning from my military service in Iraq, where our military helped ensure the first free and fair elections in many Iraqi’s lifetimes, and where people waited though long security lines, through multiple checkpoints, literally risking their lives for the opportunity to vote, I vowed to participate in my own democracy in a greater way, both through public service as well as through public awareness and advocacy for people and issues I feel passionate about. 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. While I disagree with virtually everything that candidate stands for, including a dual tax rate that would hurt our local businesses/employers and increase prices, advocacy to forego millions of dollars of state funding to fix our Main Street which would have cost the taxpayers of Southborough millions, as well as recent Citizens Petitions to recall elected town officials, and even volunteers on appointed boards or committees, petitions that if passed could have had an incredibly negative effect on our ability to attract candidates and volunteers to serve our town, I chose not to list those and other negatives. In retrospect maybe I should have, but I chose to simply highlight those candidates I thought would be “excellent” for our town, and with whom I’ve had very positive experiences with in town government. I had always planned on sending an email on election day itself, to again encourage people to vote and to thank all of those candidates who put their names on the ballot, and thus subjected themselves to public scrutiny, much of which can be simply mean, especially when ill-informed. 

I received a number of positive, thankful messages to my short notes, but unfortunately also received 4 emails filled with anger and hateful speech. Frankly I was shocked. At last night’s Board of Selectman meeting, two individuals chose to use our Public Comment time in an effort to try and disparage me, and that was shut down per our Public Comment guidelines. I offered to speak with either of them afterwards to inform, but only one stayed. I also asked to speak with the candidate himself, and apologized to him for how this was received by some, as that was absolutely not my intent. My email was not about him, but some decided to read into it their own way. The emails I received from the 4 individuals, most if not all whom have or continue to serve in an official capacity in our town, and all of whom consistently advocate for people and positions they care strongly about, including during this same election, were hurtful to say the least. I know each of them, and each knows how to call me. They chose not to. I remain surprised that they instead chose to disseminate an attack against me, instead of at least simply first calling or emailing me to discuss their concerns.

While I don’t expect an apology from the 4 residents/board/committee members for the hateful mail sent to my personal email, something my family and kids can read, as well as to my town email, copying others, I do expect a much higher level of public discourse than what I have all too often seen recently in our town. It’s certainly not why I chose to run for office when I returned from service, and it’s something that has already caused good people to resign, and others to question why to even run in the first place. I remain hopeful that that will soon change. I for one remain positive for the future of our town and the volunteers who help run it, and will continue to do my best to only highlight the good in our people, our policies and our politics.

No elected or appointed member loses their constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association simply because they’ve been elected or appointed. Good people may disagree, but my personal advocacy through my personal email on my personal time for 3 people I considered “excellent” candidates is and remains my right, and the right of every other resident. 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.

Dan Kolenda

1 Arborist November 10, 2017 at 8:07 AM

ARMY STRONG Major, Happy veterans day !!

2 Sobo Resident November 10, 2017 at 10:11 AM

You are entitled to your opinion and free speech; enough said. Thank you for your service to this town.

3 Joe Landry November 10, 2017 at 2:51 PM

Unfortunately we all slip up at one time or another. Usually best to own up and move on. But if the selectman wants to make it about freedom of speech, he might begin by permitting citizens to have their say at public meetings that he chairs—even when he disagrees with what they have to say.

4 Kelly Roney November 13, 2017 at 2:49 PM

Just as I vehemently agree with Mr. Kolenda’s right to endorse, I vehemently disagree with his use of policy to trump citizens’ right to publicly take him to task – within the bounds of civil speech, of course – for his endorsement. Elections are not the only time we citizens get to speak.

There are some town gadflies I wouldn’t want to listen to, but that’s part of the job.

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