By Citizens Reclaiming Southwick
The actions led by Save Southwick this summer, and now by a new group, Citizens Reclaiming Southwick, have empowered people to take part in peaceful rallies, public discourse, town meetings, canvassing, petition-signing and more including the current lawful recall effort of Russell Fox.
We have reviewed our website and social media to see if there are any instances as alleged by Mr. Fox of misinformation or uncivil language by any CRS participants, and have found none. We have made a great effort to be professional and respectful and we are open to reviewing any content that is considered inaccurate or offensive. We have documented the allegations as personal accounts (from town officials and others), public documents, quotes directly attributed to Mr. Fox, and links to the very same recorded Select Board meetings that Mr. Fox implored citizens to listen to.
In a recent statement, Mr. Fox cited a “lack of civility” with a citizen-led movement for his recall, likening it to a broader national pattern (“Fox Defends Record, Says Recall Backers Lack Civility,” Letters to the Editor, The Westfield News, page 4, Nov. 17). This speaks to his disconnection from, and disdain for, the people of Southwick. In a democracy, leaders respect their constituents and they encourage them to exchange ideas with their leaders.
Calling a legally-protected and democratically-led process such as this citizen’s recall “nonsense,” as Mr. Fox has done, shows that this Select Board cares more about maintaining its status quo than seeing this as a wake-up call that the people are unhappy with the current leadership. Mr. Fox’s dismissive language is more in line with the top-down attitude we see in Washington, D.C., where politicians make decisions without regard to what their constituents back at home need and want. Indeed, it seems his own style of governance is lacking in principles of civility, by definition (“civility,” coming from the word “civil.” “Civil,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “relating to the general public, their activities, needs, or ways, or civic affairs.” In effect, the civic actions Southwick residents are taking is an embodiment of “civility”), and is very much what we have come to expect from national politics.
Since Mr. Fox has not produced a single, specific example of the “innuendos, conjectures, and exaggerations [that] the individuals who are currently seeking [his] recall” are allegedly promoting, Citizens Reclaiming Southwick invite him to publicly cite these specific examples and answer the documented allegations.
Mr. Fox’s continued silence on the repeated questions and pleas from the public to answer for his decisions and to explain Southwick’s “new direction” serve as the very reasons why we have initiated this recall effort.
The Select Board’s glaring unwillingness to be honest, transparent, or accountable to their constituents is all the evidence we need to fight for a change in Southwick’s leadership. Visual evidence of this unwillingness to communicate or follow up on questions made during the public comments portion at the beginning of each Select Board meeting starting from Oct. 4, 2021, are recorded and available on the town of Southwick’s website. This blatant lack of communication is one reason why we have lost confidence in Mr. Fox’s ability to be an effective, understanding, and truthful leader.
We agree with Mr. Fox that town meetings are a great part of town governance. But when there have been no attempts on behalf of the town government to correct issues, a recall becomes the only tool we can use to correct problems in a timely fashion. Contrary to his belief that we are using the recall to settle political differences, we have chosen to use this option to protect our future and well-being in the face of a town government that has chosen to ignore a large number of its citizens.
The hundreds of supporters of this recall feel we must look after Southwick and hold a special election before Mr. Fox’s term is up in 2023. The public was told that the Carvana project had been in the town’s sights since January 2021, and look at how far it got before the public was made aware of it by June 2021. Using that as an example, we citizens feel we cannot afford to wait any longer to make a change in town government. What could this present Select Board do in another six months?
In order to recall all members of the Select Board, each selectman would require their own petition of at least 1,786 signatures each. Joseph Deedy is up for re-election this spring and is not legally eligible to be recalled. Douglas Moglin’s seat is up in 2024. CRS has decided to organize a recall for Mr. Fox’s seat as he is the first eligible Select Board member to be recalled — but we are not content with Select Board’s output as a whole, and we will continue to press for accountability and honesty with all of its members. We will use the checks and balances built into our laws, such as this recall option, to see a Town Hall that represents all of Southwick.
We applaud Mr. Fox’s volunteer work and his desire to serve his community both through his extracurriculars and time in office. That is not in contention. What we do not like is the increasing grip on power the Select Board uses to make decisions without regard to the laws or people’s will. Their attempt to quash dissent from within town commissions and from the public is troubling. We are glad to see the Select Board in somewhat better compliance with the law now by reinstating Commissioners Dennis Clark and Maryssa Cook-Obregón after citizens brought complaints to the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. That merely shows we have a system in Town Hall that needs to be threatened by state intervention to correct their illegal actions. Their lack of transparency about the status of Commissioner Chris Pratt remains unacceptable.
Acting lawfully should be the minimum requirement expected of the Select Board, and the Nov. 15 legal acknowledgement of wrongdoing does not give CRS reason to pause in its effort. We want a government that will be responsible, respectful of laws and of its people, and will govern with devotion to Southwick, its history, and its future. We do not want a government that will hold in contempt active residents who speak up, or look at us bewildered, as if we live in a different town. We all live in this beautiful little town and we all want to be treated with respect.
To the people of Southwick: we applaud you for taking a stand and working for what you believe is right. Your civil civic actions make us proud as fellow residents and are emblematic of our country’s great freedoms and traditions of active citizenship. Let’s hope our next leaders will also recognize that greatness and work with residents to make Southwick better.
This commentary was written as a joint statement from Citizens Reclaiming Southwick, whose leaders are Southwick residents Greg Deily, Jason Giguere, John Whalley, Angelina Simone, Mackenzie Diaz, Elizabeth Carnavale, Jennifer Nolasco, Mary Troy, Cynthia Lamoureux and Kimberly Lamarche.