By Citizens Reclaiming Southwick
Many hundreds of residents of Southwick have come together around the petition for a special election concerning the seat of Mr. Russell Fox on the Select Board. Exercising their first amendment right, Citizens Reclaiming Southwick used newspapers, a postcard mailer, our own website and social media to inform the public of the purpose of the petition. Other than expressing our discontent with Mr. Fox’s governance, no slanderous accusations have been made through our outreach materials, social media or our volunteers. Again, we invite Mr. Fox to provide us with clear examples of the falsehoods he repeatedly, but without substantiation, accuses us of, which is an action on his part and that of his family that is ironically beginning to take the form of slander.
Mr. Fox’s unsupported accusations against Citizens Reclaiming Southwick leave us dismayed — he extolls the virtues of the “purest form of government” and his hopes that the people get involved, then practices vitriolic condemnation of a lawful and democratic effort such as a recall. Rather than commend the people of Southwick for trying to improve what they see as problematic governance, Mr. Fox has taken a page out of the book of demagoguery, attempting to delegitimize a perfectly legal process because it would take power away from him. He has used threats of illegal citizen activities and unsubstantiated legal costs to be borne by taxpayers in an attempt to quash participation from signing the petition.
A truly respectful, considerate, democratic leader would take pause at this point and ask why a recall for their seat is being waged. Mr. Fox has said that fresh blood is good for the town. The citizens feel the same! It is a moment for reflection, not spouting self-aggrandizing lists of claimed contributions spanning nearly four decades in town politics. For Mr. Fox and all members of the Southwick Select Board, they must pay attention to the town-wide opposition to their sanctioned Carvana project this past summer and the continued discontent expressed by many in town since then.
The Select Board has ignored the public’s pleas for direct communication and disclosure of the “new direction” for Southwick. This board cannot even bring itself to say that it “understands and hears the people.” They disrespect us and disrespect the very purpose of their own office by engaging in indifferent silence and sitting there unmoved. Their attitude mirrors the top-down national politics in which people are sick of not being listened to by their elected leaders.
When government fails, there is a system of checks and balances in place to restore function and accountability. This petition for a special election is to give people the option to choose whether they want to see you end your term or not, Mr. Fox, and it is part of the system of governance you are sworn to protect and uphold. We, the townspeople, do not have to suffer through your term if we don’t wish. We are not condemned to a lifetime of your visions when they do not reflect our own. We do not live in an autocracy. The recall exists to give us the option to choose better governance.
We heartfully thank you or whoever in your camp made a report to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. We were not aware we had to file with this office at the petition stage, despite our inquiries weeks ago to the Southwick town clerk for all information and procedures to legally effect this recall effort. With your notification to OCPF, we submitted the appropriate filing and are in full compliance as a political action committee.
In addition to this filing, we notified the Southwick Police Department of our planned activities in advance, including posting temporary political lawn signs on the public grass belts on state routes 10-202 and 57. These roadways are under MassDOT management and do not require a permit for signs “which are erected solely for and relating to public elections” (state regulation 700 CMR 3.02(2)(b)). This applies to our group precisely because the OCPF asked us to file paperwork with them, because we had been reported as engaging in “election activity.” By being a legitimate PAC now recognized by the commonwealth of Massachusetts, our signs are, in fact, allowed on MassDOT property. No signs have been placed on private property. Conversely, countless signs placed by our supporters on their private land have been removed in the dark of night, and that is considered theft.
Mr. Fox, the people of Southwick are directly, not rhetorically, asking you these questions:
You have attempted to threaten the pocketbooks of the taxpayers of Southwick with alleged legal fees and election costs to intimidate them away from signing the petition. The taxpayers would like to have the exact figures of those claimed “thousands of [our] tax dollars [that] have already been spent on legal and staffing hours on this attempted recall.” Please elaborate on how much has been paid, to whom, and what services those payees performed for those thousands of dollars to date.
We would also like to see actual data regarding cost of elections and legal challenges, which you put at somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000.
Also, please advise the taxpayers under what legal authority an elected official being challenged for his seat in office can use the town’s attorney (paid for by taxpayers) to defend against that challenge by those very taxpayers?
Please also disclose to the Southwick taxpayers know how much they paid for the town counsel to review and correct your illegal removal of three commissioners earlier this fall. How much did we have to pay for you to follow the law, Mr. Fox?
Whether this petition gets the necessary signatures or not, the town of Southwick has made a loud statement — it is awakened and aware. The people will continue listening, reading, researching and questioning. Democracy, being the purest form of government, we know is only as good as the leaders and a populace that are willing to constructively scrutinize it and learn from mistakes in order to keep improving it. Citizens Reclaiming Southwick is committed to seeing that the people in town remain informed. We will not go back to blindly trusting as we once did; we will continue to push for transparency, accountability, fairness, democracy, and a voice in Southwick. It is the only way to ensure we have a future that accounts for the needs and hopes of all Southwick residents.
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.