By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer
A long-term conflict centered around the Moreau Town Historian’s social media presence reached the Town Board last week.
A petition started by Maureen Jackson called for “the Removal of Brigid Martin as Town of Moreau Historian.” It has 308 signatures on change.org.
During the open comment portion of the July 20 Town Board meeting, Ms. Jackson spoke and submitted a letter.
“I am absolutely disgusted this supervisor and Town Board have allowed this behavior to escalate, without even a hint of condemnation for the horrid attacks by someone who is more of an attack dog for this supervisor than fellow town residents,” said Ms. Jackson’s letter.
“Why does the Town Board allow a town employee to continue to harass, name call, lie, slander, and bully many community members and local organizations without repercussions?”
“Ms. Martin receives a monthly stipend, which comes from our tax dollars,” the letter added.
Thursday’s meeting quickly devolved into chaos.
Supervisor Kusnierz told Ms. Jackson, “Let me stop you right there. I’m just reading this, and it is clear that you’re talking about employee performance or work history. We will not have those kind of statements, conversations in public.”
Ms. Jackson responded, “I’m talking about town peace and order…not on her work.” She then cited Ms. Martin’s social media comments.
Mr. Kusnierz replied, “I don’t care about social media. That’s not a government function.”
“It is comments and posts. She’s doing it as the town historian,” Ms. Jackson said.
“She is not,” Mr. Kusnierz said. “So you want me, or this board, to limit the freedom of speech? Is that what you’re asking em tonight?
Another resident, Sheila Itzo, asked what Mr. Kusnierz would do if Councilman John Donohue made comments about another board member’s children.
“Freedom of speech,” Mr. Kusnierz said. “I have no choice. Nobody on this board has any choice. He’s an elected official, he has the right…”
Later, Dominic Tom, an organizer of the Moreau United party, said, “the Supreme Court has ruled since the 1960s that criticism, public criticism of public figures and their employees, anyone that receives taxpayer money, is valid and constitutional. And to try and suppress that again, infuriates me.”
A heated exchange followed.
The official recording is difficult to make out, but Mr. Tom appears to reference a “psychiatrist” to Mr. Kusnierz.
Mr. Kusnierz appears to reference the word “drunk” back to Mr. Tom.
Moments later the meeting was adjourned, to the anger of the crowd.
“The local historian has done yeoman’s work taking over that role for the town. This is not China, where we crack down on freedom of speech, or censor individual rights in their private lives,” Mr. Kusnierz subsequently told The Chronicle.
Mr. Kusnierz called the criticism an effort by the “political opposition, one town board member, to distract from the great things we’ve accomplished here over the past six years.”
“We have more important things to address. And a prime example is that day, 300 employees had just lost their job with the closing of Essity [tissue manufacturing], and I had been working from 8 o’clock until that board meeting to make sure we’re getting information out, doing all we can to assist those individuals and their families. And not one single person in that audience brought that up,” he said.
Mr. Kusnierz said he is unsure if Ms. Martin is technically a town employee but confirmed she receives a stipend.
Does Mr. Kusnierz like that Ms. Martin gets involved in political battles?
“I have had conversations with her when I thought things were over the top,” he said. “And I told her, I have no authority to infringe on her freedom of speech. But she needs to be careful in what she puts out there because of the optics.”
“But I can’t stop her from doing it,” he added. “And I have to remember that my official relationship with Miss Martin is that as historian.”
He said he has to look into, “Is she doing it in the role as a local historian, or is she doing it in her personal life? And nowhere have I ever seen her doing it in her official capacity as the local historian.”
The July 20 fracas is the latest installment in a long-running Moreau drama with recurring personalities on both sides.
On one side, generally, are the supporters of November’s Moreau United ticket of Democratic Councilman John Donohue, Patrick Killian and Jesse Fish, looking to gain control of the Republican town board.
Moreau United is anti-Biochar, pro-solar farm, and anti-Todd Kusnierz.
On the other side, are Supervisor Kusnierz and seemingly the rest of the Town Board.
Ms. Jackson’s petition includes screenshots of posts she says are from the “Yes Moreau – Community News and Musings” Facebook page, that the historian Ms. Martin operates.
One screenshot quotes it: “The town of Moreau wants to invest $725,000 in the town’s recreation dept. for our children….Let’s take a look at some of the old farts who signed the paperwork wanting to take that away from the children…. I think it’s been many years since these people exercised, let alone use the recreational park.”
That post then mentioned by name a number of residents — many of whom are vocal supporters or Moreau United.
The historian Ms. Martin told The Chronicle via e-mail that she did not attend the town board meeting.
In a Facebook post the day after, she wrote, “I did not hear one complaint about the job performance of the town historian, but I heard a gang of people saying that a private citizen doesn’t have the same right to free speech that they do.”
Ms. Martin detailed the many ways she says she has “meticulously organized” documents and photographs which she is compiling “into a book that will serve as a comprehensive guide to our town’s history.”
She added, “For my efforts as the municipal historian, I receive a monthly stipend of approximately $110.00. Last year, I chose to selflessly donate the earnings from the town to my daughter’s Marathon dance, helping her secure a spot in the top three student fundraisers.”
Copyright © 2023 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved