I doubt most of you regularly read my blog (or the Lowell Sun) unless you like to be bogged down in mundane local political details (in the case of my blog) or drive yourself batsh*t insane (in the case of the Lowell Sun). But if you haven’t read either this week, you’ll have missed a dramatic saga, one that personally and intimately involves me.
The gist: I made this comment on a post from my coblogger about the sitting superintendent of our regional vocational high school, Mary Jo Santoro, in reference to her recent “gender-bias harassment” accusation against School Committee member Erik Gitschier who had been trying to question her about subjects like missing money and other things in his role as her boss:
I admit to not knowing (or having paid attention to) all the details of this crazy ass “harassment” stuff. But I smell bullshit. And if someone – a person in LEADERSHIP – calls wolf on harassment like this, I want her head on a platter. Women have it tough enough without assholes using it as a political tool, making a legitimate harassment claim harder to believe.
Seriously, if this is what I believe it to be, it’s absolutely disgusting, and totally unethical, and she should be hung for it.
The context of the complaint against Gitschier is that she, having made the accusation publicly, has 300 days to file, which coincidentally takes her past the debate and renewable (if there is one) of her contract next year. There are few people on that committee willing to do real oversight; in fact, it’s a cozy little nest of what appears to be rank graft and nepotism, with many Committee members having family who have been hired under the previous Cassin administration (which may have continued under Santoro, I’m not as clear on that). Mary Jo Santoro was his underling and handpicked successor, edging out a really qualified outside candidate whose interview was vastly better than hers.
All that is background to this week. Mary Jo Santoro has made a threat complaint – with police in Tyngsboro – against me, for that comment. As in, she is claiming I am personally threatening her with the commentary.
Why would this be happening when, it’s very plain that under law and judicial precedence, the comment is protected First Amendment political hyperbole? And of course never mind the fact that it’s obvious to anyone who reads it that not one word is meant actually and physically, but as metaphor for accountability – conditional accountability at that, as it is not a direct accusation.
Well, my coblogger Jack has been hammering away in a rash of posts about the abuses we think are happening, using – gasp – facts and figures to question what is going on there. Also, though I can’t be certain, this smells very heavily of a particular former member of the School Board who blames me for his election loss years ago, probably rightfully so. Mike Hayden can’t really stomach the fact I’m still blogging, I think he’s got a very unhealthy obsession with me. Oh, all politics are local…
Why am I posting about this here? Well, though the details may not be of interest to many folks, this has a lot of implications for bloggers, and online commenters, everywhere. The only reason I can come up with for her drastic (and I believe, deliberate) misreading of my comment into some sort of physical threat against her, is to intimidate and silence me, and by extension, Jack, for daring to speak out and question her tenure as a public employee in a leadership position at our public, taxpayer-funded regional vocational high school.
I’ve learned a lot about the law governing this particular incident…indeed I have had something of a crash course…and what I learned is useful knowledge for people who may face similar attacks against them in their own commentary. (The previously linked blog post covers a lot of legal bases, and is worth a read for that reason.)
The most important thing I’ve learned, however, is that to be a brave and honest writer is to face some dangers. The accusation will likely go no where (the Sun reports it’s been forwarded to the DA, who I expect will laugh at it and file it in a drawer). According to the Sun, though:
“She, more than anything else, wanted it documented, what was going on,” Howe said of Santoro.
Right, documented so it could make news at the Sun, so it could harm my reputation and undermine my credibility.
A funny thing happened along the way though. Anyone who already isn’t a supporter of hers has a chance to read my words, and also read her complaint and her words. They can come to their own conclusions. And by and large, the conclusion is that this is an insane accusation meant to chill open and free discussion.
I write from my heart, and from a place of honesty. I sometimes use colorful metaphor and even Maher- or Stewart-like sarcasm (though I am no where near as funny). I’m not afraid to pit my words against hers, because I can stand behind my work and my motivations. A person who cannot stand behind theirs will often strike out blindly and defensively – but to become so defensive means you have something needing defense, that cannot defend itself with its own truth and integrity.
It pays to be careful, but it does not pay to be silent.
In honor of the new Lincoln movie, which I just came home from (you should go see it):
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
— Abraham Lincoln