Saturday, September 23, 2006

Of Politicians and Thin Skin

Those who were unable to catch Thursday’s cable broadcast of the Milton Board of Selectmen’s meeting missed what must be the most bizarre and disappointing political spectacle ever seen on local access cable.

Deep into a long agenda, the Board heard from the Milton “No Place for Hate Committee”. Co-Chairs Jeff Stone and Deborah Felton reported on the group’s activities during the past year and previewed some upcoming events.

At the conclusion of their remarks Chair Jimmy Mullen, ably assisted by member John Shields, began to castigate Mr. Stone and Ms. Felton, and their organization for failing to address “hate” directed toward them! They offered as an example the most recent annual Town Meeting. Mr. Mullen claimed to have never seen so much “hate” and Mr. Shields once again raised the subject of emails received, or exchanged or intercepted that he found disturbing.

Apparently sensing that none of this political debate has anything to do with the “No Place for Hate” committee, Mullen and Shields tried harder to make a connection. Mr. Shields complained that Ms. Felton had made reference to Shields Park, named after his father, as “Shields Park, so called” in a speech made at Town Meeting. Ms. Felton appeared dumbfounded at the somewhat paranoid reading into this innocent comment an act of hate. Then Mr. Mullen read an almost 2 year old letter to the Boston Globe written by Ms. Felton in which she disagreed with statements about voter registration made by Mr. Mullen in a Globe article on the subject.

What are we to make of all this? The actions of the two Selectmen would be almost droll if not so mean spirited. After all, equating spirited political disagreements with the “No Place for Hate” Committee’s agenda to combat racism, anti-Semitism and other serious forms of hatred which have throughout history resulted in marginalization, persecution and killing is absurd on the face of it. It raises serious concerns that they even understand or appreciate what those efforts mean, efforts characterized by Mr. Mullen as “singing kum ba yah”.

Apparently Mr. Mullen and Mr. Shields are among the most thin-skinned of politicians. Just what have they experienced that predecessors haven’t? Mr. Shields touted in his recent campaign a return to civility. Was he referring to the unremitting attacks his opponent endured for the better part of a year over a town issue –complete with public conduct every bit as intimidating as the recent Town Meeting, scandalous emails, and charges of dishonesty? Of course not, some of those same citizens bankrolled his campaign. Is Mr. Mullen blind to the fact that dividing town citizens into “the real people of Milton” and presumably those who are not, specifically talking about the majority of elected Town Meeting members, constitutes a remark that skirts the boundaries of political discourse while raising questions about the criteria he uses to make this distinction?

No Selectman is untouchable, or immune to criticism. We expect elected officials to conduct themselves with dignity and to treat citizens who come before them with respect. Mr. Stone and Ms. Felton are highly respected members of this community who have given much as volunteers to making it a better place to live. Their treatment on Thursday was but the latest escalation of petty political vendettas that have characterized Mr. Mullen’s term as Chair of the Board of Selectman.

The Board of Selectmen will next meet this coming Thursday. This may mean that cable re-runs of the last meeting will run for a shorter period of time than usual. You should make an effort to see the tape of this last meeting.

13 Comments:

Blogger Letsbehonest said...

When are those Selectman Meetings broadcast?

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Shields Park neighbor said...

OK, the DPW development is dead. Will all those "abutters" now admit that it's time to get the embarrassing buffoons out of the real people of Milton's local government?

1:57 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

The meetings are broadcast live on Milton Local Access Cable, Channel 8, and are usually held on the first and third Thursdays of the month.

Local access cable then re-broadcasts the meeting a few times during the week. In fact, it is being re-broadcast right now on Channel 8.

When not broadcasting, Channel 8 scrolls the schedule of programming along the bottom of the screen.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Right on, Phil. Without getting academic about it, a long, long time ago the Greeks pretty much perfected the notion of "antagonistic democracy," in which one's position on ideas could be agressively debated in public forum without perception as personal attack... in fact, it was expected of the citizen that they take and defend a position.

What a long way from Athens is Milton... it seems sort of obvious that you shouldn't run for office if you aren't willing to absorb input from your constituents, of which some will agree with your position, and some will conflict. Want to be in a position of authority in which no-one will disagree with you? Either become despot of a small authoritarian country elsewhere in the globe, start a private company and never take it public, or stay home and get a lot of pets. But by no means will you find satisfaction in governing a democratic entity.

Is it too much to suggest that we actually elect officials with the assumption that they will attempt to ascertain the opinions of the townspeople? Apparently it is. Thanks for the insights, Phil.

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one of these characters was also involved in the midnite destruction of the Kelly Field Basketball Fields a few years back

You usually get what you vote for.

Recall anyone.

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing this out, Phil. I watched the re-run and was aghast at what I saw. Does Mr. Mullin keep a "clip file" of every letter to the editor in which he is the subject? Then, presumably, he will lay in wait for the writer to come to "his turf" so he can pounce? Ridiculous!!! Also, I think he said the NPFH folks sing "cum laude," not kumbaya -- a Freudian slip?

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Philip for bringing this to the public's attention. Milton needs people like Deb and Jeff and groups like, "No Place for Hate" to keep people like Mullen and Shields in check. They are an embarrassment. The real issue is these men did not want to hear what the group had to say - nor let them promote their Leadership Forum that addresses the diversity in Milton. We need to be a town that promotes respect and diversity and reflects the real world. I do not think these leaders have the skills or the insight to bring this town into the 21st century.
We should demand better of our public officials.

9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I'll have to watch the rerun to see how/if the third select person participated in the rant by Mullen and Shields

9:37 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

The third Selectperson did not participate, although disappointingly she did not express outrage at the conduct of the other two.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 3rd Selectperson seems to have redeemed herself in this article:

"At anti-hate meeting, hostile talk"
MILTON
By Sandy Coleman, Globe South | October 5, 2006

For five years, Milton's No Place for Hate committee has worked to promote inclusion and respect in the increasingly diverse town. But the group's goal of peace and harmony hit a snag recently when hostility flared during a selectmen's meeting.

James Mullen Jr., chairman of the Board of Selectmen, questioned the group's inclusiveness Sept. 21, confronting Deborah Felton, who co-chairs No Place for Hate, over a letter she wrote two years ago criticizing him.

Milton's No Place for Hate committee is one of many similar organizations around the state that work with municipalities to promote tolerance and encourage residents to speak out against acts of discrimination or hate.

``The selectmen agree every year to be a part of this No Place for Hate effort. Our support is important, and it's not appropriate to attack people we have agreed to support," said Selectwoman Marion McEttrick after the heated exchange between Mullen and Felton.

Last month's meeting began as a cordial discussion about No Place for Hate's annual recertification by the Anti-Defamation League and coming civic engagement workshops. But it quickly dissolved into a back-and-forth between Mullen and Felton.

As Jeff Stone, who co-chairs the group with Felton, stood at the podium and she sat in the audience, Mullen began to ask questions about whether the group excludes people it doesn't like, saying that he personally has felt hate from the committee.

Mullen took issue with a letter to the editor that Felton wrote to Globe South two years ago criticizing comments he made in a news article regarding voter registration. ``She wrote a very hateful letter about me and damaged my credibility. And I didn't like it," he said in an interview this week. He also pointed to a recent e-mail that Felton sent to the town administrator asking whether she and Stone would be welcome at the selectmen's meeting or ``non gratis."

``That's confrontational right there. That's what got my attention," said Mullen.

The night of the meeting, Felton responded by objecting to being personally attacked at a public meeting, and later called it ``a public disgrace."

Mullen disagreed, saying Sunday that if he thought his behavior during the public meeting had been inappropriate, ``I wouldn't have done it."

Selectman John M. Shields , who during the exchange sided with Mullen, said in retrospect that it was regrettable. ``It probably could have been handled differently," he said.

Shields said the exchange had nothing to do with the organization, which he said has great intentions.

``It's more personal than anything else," he said. ``I got dragged into it. For my role in it, in evaluating my own behavior, I could have handled it differently and more professionally."

He said he tried to set up a meeting with Felton to make amends. However, Felton -- who continues to work with selectmen on official business -- said if the Board of Selectmen wants to issue a public apology, she would be willing to discuss matters.

McEttrick, meanwhile, said she is concerned about how the incident reflects on the board.

McEttrick said that although she did not say anything during the discussion between Mullen and Felton, she spoke to Mullen about it afterward. ``It was wrong to use that occasion to have a personal argument. I do think it is hurting the Board of Selectmen," she said. ``If we start to engage in personal discussions rather than talking about factual material, we aren't going to get anything done."

Although people have the right to express themselves in all forums, McEttrick said, selectmen, as public officials, have to be able to take criticism as part of the job. ``Our job is to get people to see that we have common interests," she said. ``The board should try to be above the personal attacks. It's not easy to do that."

Mullen said the tension is political in origin because the members of No Place for Hate supported another candidate for selectman during the town election. He also said the Town Meeting was particularly nasty this year and he partially blames members of No Place for Hate for the negativity . ``I just decided not to let them get away with saying they are No Place for Hate. . . . They need to practice what they preach," he said.

Stone said No Place for Hate takes no political position as a committee. He also said that he was shocked by Mullen's comments because the No Place for Hate committee has had a good relationship with town officials. McEttrick has attended the committee's recertification ceremonies.

``There's no ongoing feud," Stone said, which makes Mullen's statement that he has felt hate from the group confusing.

Felton said she also objects to Mullen's use of the word. ``I don't hate anybody," she said. ``I've been volunteering for 15 years in this town and I've been doing a lot of good work. You can ask almost anyone in town and they will tell you that."

Sandy Coleman can be reached by e-mail at sbcoleman@globe.com.

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry people of Milton, but Mullen's and Sheild's are the Towns best Selectmen in the Town! At least they say what has to be said and stuff happens in the town. I don't think they hate no Place for Hate, I just think No place for Hate is going a little overboard. Chill out! There is no reason for the Selectmen to appolize. Atleast they are helping this Town. Lets pray we don't get some snob to run for selectmen. Because sometimes that is what No Place for Hate people are starting to act like. Wake up! And lets just say that all I have found living in this town for over 40 years are snobby hateful people.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kudos to Kay Bulis for her comments about civil discourse at last week's Selectpersons meeting; it speaks to the non-involvement of the majority of the voters in Milton that there is not more outrage about the Sept. 21st nasty attack on Ms. Felton.

This is not the first (take your pick) rude/intimidating/nasty/spiteful/abusive
dismissive interaction with members of the public, individually or collectively, by these 2 selectpersons and sadly, there is likely to be more.
There is only one way to permanently change it and that is at the ballot box. It is an embarrassment that they purport to represent the townspeople.

Hmm, what do the town bylaws say about removing someone from office?? Because quite frankly, any number of individuals so attacked by these men could easily have sued the town over their conduct as representatives. So before that happens....

6:28 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

FYI, the videos are available for viewing at YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fE1PsIaZfnA

8:33 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home