SCREENSHOTS OF since-deleted comments that Laurie Elliott made on a Facebook post as the events of Jan. 6 unfolded at the Capitol have been making the rounds on social media and resulted in complaints to Middlesex Community College officials.
Elliott, a member of the MCC board of trustees appointed by the governor and the wife of Lowell City Councilor Rodney Elliott, commented on a then-public post by Greater Lowell Technical School Committee member Lee Gitschier, who said, “What’s the difference between the rioting during the peaceful protest and what’s going on now. Both are disgraceful.” Gitschier’s post has since been removed or made private.
“If the left has the right to protest, so does the right. There have been no burned buildings no looting,” Laurie Elliott wrote. “It was fine when they stormed the Capitol during the Kavanaugh hearings. What’s fair for one side is fair for the other. Only the media is all of a sudden against peaceful protests.”
In another comment, Elliott also suggested that, “we’re going to find out any destruction of property was not Trump supporters.”
Elliott took a point of personal privilege at the beginning of the board of trustees’ Zoom meeting Thursday morning to make a statement apologizing for her comments and any negative attention they may have brought to MCC and the board.
“I posted my comments on social media in haste before realizing the protesters would soon turn into a mob determined to overtake our Capitol. After seeing footage of the destruction and violence inside the Capitol, I was mortified and quickly deleted my comments,” Elliott said. “Please know that I wholeheartedly condemn such ruthless acts of violence, which ended up causing loss of life and destruction of property, and impinged on the basic rights of our democracy.
“My comments regarding free speech, and the right to protest, were made in response to what I thought was going to be a peaceful protest,” she continued. “Sadly I was wrong, and I was wrong to react so quickly in making a public statement before fully understanding the gravity of the situation unfolding in D.C. that day. I am truly sorry and deeply regret that my actions may have hurt the college in any way, and offended many in our community. It was truly not my intention.”
MCC also provided a similar statement from Elliott that was sent out to about a dozen community members who had contacted college officials with concerns about Elliott’s comments.
The Column has learned there were several notable names among them: Mill City Grows Co-Founder Francey Slater and Outreach Volunteer Operations Manager Dai Kim; Lowell Alliance Director Nancy Coan and Community Organizer Yasmine Weil-Pourfard; Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership Associate Director Cathy Mercado; and Jeannette Renault-Caragianes, the daughter of Paulette Renault-Caragianes, a former city employee and current associate dean at UMass Lowell, who is rumored to be considering a run for city office this year.
Prior to her public statement, Elliott told The Column she had been at work on Jan. 6 and getting limited information about what was happening at the Capitol when she made the comments, and was sickened when she saw what had actually occurred.
One of the accounts that shared the screenshot was a recently-created Twitter handle, @LowellPolitics, with the text, “Rodney Elliott should either publicly condemn his wife’s remarks or resign from the Lowell City Council. Pro-terrorism views are not welcome in the City of Lowell.”
It should be noted that Rodney Elliott was one of the seven councilors who supported the resolution reaffirming the council’s “belief in democracy and condemning the president’s words and actions to undermine a legitimate election by the people, which served to encourage and incite the violent attack on the United States Capitol.”
Laurie Elliott called the tweet both sexist and motivated to politically harm her husband.
“As a woman, I think I have the right to my own opinion,” she said. “I don’t think I have to be condemned by my husband in the public square, [like] back when women used to be brought out to the public square and flogged because of minor transgressions their husbands thought they had made. That’s what I see this as.”
Elliott suggested that whoever created the “fake” Twitter account “has a major problem with women.” She pointed to the sparse tweets on the page being focused on her and Councilor Rita Mercier, including a picture of Mercier with Trump at a rally held in Lowell five years ago.
One of the tweets hearkens back to when Rodney Elliott called out the owners of the Purple Carrot Bread Co. and threatened their pandemic relief funding over a comment one of them made on Facebook calling Mercier racist.
ALSO AT the MCC trustees meeting Thursday, college President James Mabry discussed what he sees as good news for community colleges in light of President Joe Biden taking office and first lady Jill Biden’s continuing work in education.
Mabry said he is optimistic because he believes the new administration in Washington, D.C., “recognizes that unity is important, that losing 400,000 Americans is an unprecedented tragedy, and that we need to have the federal government’s full support and attention in dealing with this pandemic.”
He pointed to the Biden/Harris administration’s pledge to do everything possible to speed up vaccine distribution and give states and municipalities the funds they need, and an executive order that will provide FEMA reimbursements for COVID testing and other expenses. Mabry said he anticipates another stimulus bill that will help MCC students and the businesses that employ them so people can get back to work.
“Now we have a president who’s married to a long-term community college English professor. I mean, how bad could that be?” he said. “I’m sure he’s heard a little bit about us at the dinner table, and I think that will help our efforts right there.”
Trustee Cheryl Howard said the annual conference for community colleges, usually held each February in the capital, “would be the perfect time to try to have conference leaders interact with the first lady.”
Mabry said the event will be virtual this year, but the two national organizations leading the conference have “put in that ask already.”
DESPITE A 32-candidate field, including several in-house candidates, was there ever any doubt the top plant manager job at the Greater Lowell Technical High School would go to a School Committee member’s brother?
As expected, the $112,000 post went to Erik Gitschier, of Lowell, whose first day on the job was last Tuesday. He’s replacing Mark Byrne, who works his last day Friday and who has held the job for nearly two decades.
“I’m living the dream right now,” said Gitschier, a graduate of the Tech class of 1989. “It’s close to home, I have the qualifications.”
Superintendent Jill Davis said Gitschier was the perfect fit: He met the qualifications and he’s an alum.
“He also has the core values we were looking for,” Davis said. “He was the best fit for our school.”
Asked if School Committee member Lee Gitschier played any role in the hiring, Davis was emphatic.
“Absolutely not,” she said, noting a committee of school personnel developed the job description and performed interviews.
The record also reflects that former superintendent Mary Jo Santoro accused (Erik) Gitschier of harassment and gender discrimination in 2012 when Gitschier was one of Lowell’s four representatives on the committee.
Gitschier filed a motion proposing to create a policy that the super notify School Committee members when she is out of the building.
Santoro was livid.
She said at the time: “No superintendent before me has ever been requested to report their whereabouts on a day-to-day basis. I don’t understand the motion. I don’t understand the reasons for the motion. I’m accessible 24/7, seven days a week to any member of this board who has tried to reach me.”
“I’m sorry that you feel I’m harassing you because that’s not the case by far,” Gitschier said in response. “I think you’re out of line by making that accusation.”
Less than a year later, a lawyer, Michael Long, hired by the school determined an official probe of Santoro’s concerns was not warranted.
Asked about that period Friday, Gitschier said: “I was never trying to be mean or malicious. I was only doing what I felt was right for the school.”
DESPITE THE new gig, Gitschier said he’s continuing his run for City Council this fall, representing Ward 8.
Gitschier insists he can handle both jobs, if elected. He ran once before, in 2013, and finished well off the pace.
Davis said as long “as he prioritizes the school as the top priority, I’m OK with that.”
One person who isn’t, however, is School Committee member Curtis LeMay.
“This job is 24/7, 365 days a year,” said LeMay, a former city councilor. “I don’t see how he could do both.”
If elected, perhaps Gitschier can notify committee members when he’s out of the building.
WHETHER BASEBALL returns to LeLacheur Park this year is uncertain.
However, all signs point to the distinctive sound of a bat cracking the ball, hot dogs sizzling and “You’re out” returning in 2022.
City councilors met in executive session for about 30 minutes last Tuesday night and learned the city is working cooperatively with Red Sox brass and Spinners ownership to ensure baseball returns to the riverfront park.
“Who knows what will happen this year,” one insider said. “The following year is looking real good.”
The Sun reported earlier this year that the Spinners will not be a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox in 2021. They had been a Class A short season affiliate of the Sox since 1996, often selling-out LeLacheur Park while playing in the New York-Penn League. The 2020 season was canceled, due to the pandemic.
As part of the minor league shakeup, MLB teams were forced to reduce their minor league affiliates to four. Remaining Sox affiliates will be Worcester (Triple A), Portland (Double A), Greenville, S.C. at the Single A level, and Salem, Va., high single A.
IN THE opinion of the state Ethics Commission, Tyngsboro Selectmen Chairman David Robson Jr. is clear to participate in any meetings and decision-making regarding Police Officer Daniel Whitman. This ruling comes despite David Robson Sr. working for one of Whitman’s companies.
Earlier this month, Whitman, who lives in Pelham, N.H., was charged in federal court along with Bin Lu of Westford, on a single count of conspiracy to violate federal firearms laws. Conviction carries a penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The federal investigation is ongoing.
Whitman owns Hitman Firearms at 404 Middlesex Road in Tyngsboro. His profile on the social media site Linked In says he is the president and head gunsmith there. The criminal charge that Whitman and Lu each face alleges they made, possessed and failed to register short- barreled rifles, and possessed a suppressor that wasn’t registered to either of them or Hitman Firearms, and which wasn’t properly logged in Hitman Firearm’s books.
Specifically, the affidavit details two guns that were purchased as guns or gun parts that Hitman was licensed to sell, and then converted into short- barreled rifles that were found during an Oct. 2 search of the gun shop.
Whitman is also president of Freedom Alley Shooting Sports at 44 Cummings Road in Tyngsboro and Critical Incident Management, LLC of Nashua, N.H., according to the Linked In.
Asked about potential conflict of interest if he participates in any matters related to Whitman, Robson Jr, said, “A lot of people have asked about that. But I talked to town counsel and the state Ethics Commission and there’s no conflict.”
No conflict exists, Robson Jr., says, because his father does not work for Hitman Firearms, but one of Whitman’s other companies. The Ethics Commission has a pro forma statement in which it declines comment when the news media asks about ethics inquiries and charges.
Whitman was one of three people waiting to ‘greet’ Police Chief Richard Howe the night in November that selectmen planned to hold an executive session into so-called leaks of information regarding David Robson Sr., who is Tyngsboro’s animal control officer and who was on paid leave of absence for insensitive and racially tinged Facebook posts. The other two ‘greeters’ were Robson Sr. and another ex- cop from Tyngsboro, Tom Walsh.
Howe did not attend that meeting on the advice of his attorney, so the three members of the welcoming team left disappointed. Instead, Howe appeared at the next executive session with his attorney, but the greeters were not on hand.
FOR GOV. Charlie Baker and his Massachusetts Republican Party, inauguration day was a contrast in words.
Baker used his office’s official Twitter account shortly after President Joe Biden delivered his inaugural address from the steps of the Capitol to congratulate, on behalf of himself and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, the Democrat and Vice President Kamala Harris on their inauguration.
“We wish them and their families all the best, and look forward to partnering with the new administration on behalf of the people of Massachusetts,” Baker said.
It was the governor’s only public statement for the day, during which he had no public events.
MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons issued a statement of his own hours earlier, only Lyons was congratulating former President Donald Trump for the past four years.
“President Trump made big promises during his legendary 2016 campaign, and he kept them,” Lyons said. “Under his leadership, we established our energy independence, ended the scourge of ISIS while forging the most peaceful relations within the Middle East in generations, and experienced the most successful American economic boom in years, just to name a few things.”
He also thanked Trump for enacting a massive tax cut and for his efforts to “protect the lives of the unborn, for which millions of Americans are so thankful for.”
Lyons said nothing about Biden, who planned to spend some of his first hours as president undoing many of the actions Trump took over the last four years, including rejoining the Paris climate accord.
“Prior to the onset of a global pandemic, his policies undeniably moved this country forward,” Lyons said. “As Republicans, Trump taught us that to save this country from the Radical Left, we have to be unafraid to stand up for the principles we believe in that made America great.”
The divergent messages from the two Republican leaders was just another example of how far the governor has strayed from the formal GOP apparatus in Massachusetts.
In just the past week, Baker backed Trump’s impeachment while his party condemned the violence at the Capitol, but stopped short of ascribing any culpability to the now former president.
STATE AUDITOR Suzanne Bump has replaced Lowell’s Vanna Howard on the state’s Asian American Commission with Cinda Danh.
Danh, of Lynn, worked as a government relations strategist at Preti Strategies in Boston for the past two years, before which she served as staff director for Rep. James O’Day.
A UMass Boston graduate, she is a mentor for the Asian American Women’s Initiative and sits on the boards of Raw Art Works and Lynn Main Streets.
Established in 2006, the Asian American Commission aims to recognize and highlight the many contributions of Asian Americans to the social, cultural, economic, and political life of the commonwealth, and to identify and address the needs and challenges facing Asian Americans in Massachusetts.
A seat on the commission is just one of many Howard has resigned from since she was took the oath of office earlier this month as representative from Lowell’s 17th Middlesex District.
During the campaign, Howard pledged to work 24-7 representing the district, and there simply isn’t enough time in the day to remain involved in so many local non-profits.
Howard has either resigned from, or will soon resign from, boards of directors overseeing the following entities or events: Lowell Women’s Week Breakfast Committee; Acre Family Childcare; American Red Cross – Northeastern Chapter; Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lowell; Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association; Cultural Organization of Lowell; Ironstone Farm; Lowell Housing Authority; Mill City Grows; Project LEARN; She’s Local; Angkor Dance Troupe; Refugee and Immigrant Support and Engagement (RISE) Coalition Steering Committee; One Khmer, Inc.
“I hope to rejoin some of these organizations in the future,” Howard told The Column.
THE STATE House News Service reported earlier this month that House Speaker Ronald Mariano will have to tap at least two new division chairs to replace the second division post that Rep. David Nangle of Lowell — who Howard beat last November — gave up last year when he was indicted on 28 counts and the fourth division chair vacated with the retirement of Rep. Louis Kafka of Stoughton.
The 160 seats in the House chamber are broken into four divisions, each one with a designated chairperson to serve as a go-between for the rank-and-file and House leadership.
The House rules put division chairs in charge of “reviewing the daily Calendar and providing advance notice to committee members in the respective divisions of all matters scheduled for consideration …” and for overseeing “the physical appearance of the Chamber and the various areas under the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives.”
As of the middle of last week, the second division post was still vacant, Howard said.
IT’S BEEN two months since the Tewksbury Teachers Association overwhelmingly voted no confidence in Superintendent Chris Malone and Assistant Superintendent Brenda Theriault-Regan, accusing the two of being “derelict in their duty to operate the Tewksbury Public Schools,” yet practically no new information has been shared publicly by either the school committee or the union on what has been done in response.
Shortly after the vote was cast on Nov. 23, TTA officials sent an explanatory document to the committee laying out their reasons for denouncing the town’s top administrators, a move that President Josh Bilodeau said had been three to four years in the making.
In it, they accused Malone and Theriault-Regan of consistently displaying a lack of leadership, regularly micromanaging their teachers and continually engaging in “unprofessional communication,” including lying to teachers, disregarding labor laws and intimidating union members.
During their final meeting of 2020, School Committee members gave their first (and so far only) group response to the TTA, praising the work of local teachers, but defending the characters of Malone and Theriault-Regan.
They also promised to conduct a thorough investigation, though few details were provided about how it would be done and whether or not it would be conducted by an outside party.
Committee members did say that they were attempting to set up a meeting with union leaders, however.
“I will say that we do have outstanding teachers here in the town of Tewksbury, my kids went through the schools and received an outstanding education,” Committee Vice-Chair James Cutelis said during the Dec. 9 meeting. “We’re going to look into these allegations, but up until this point in time, it’s my belief that we have an outstanding superintendent and we have an outstanding assistant superintendent.”
The committee met for the first time this year on Jan. 13, but none of the members mentioned the vote.
The only new information came on Thursday, when member Scott Wilson told The Sun that they had met with both the TTA and the administrators, and that they have been “working through the issues” the union raised.
“The union is not interested in seeing the administration go away, but they’re looking for some minor modifications to how they work together. And they’re trying to figure that out,” Wilson said.
Bilodeau and TTA Vice Presidents Julie Taggart and Lisa Zullo each said in November that they hoped that the vote would open a dialogue between the TTA, the school committee and the administrators, and hopefully lead to the creation of a plan that would change what they feel is an unprofessional environment in the schools.
How exactly that will be done still remains to be seen.
Bilodeau, Taggart and Zullo did not respond to requests for comment.
SHEPLEY Hill Capital Partners really want to build a new housing development in the northern part of Groton, so much so that they’re willing to pass support along to an entirely different form of local housing.
The partners are looking to develop a 14-lot, 28-unit housing development for senior living on 45 acres of land located between Sand Hill Road and Longley Road. Dubbed the Village at Shepley Hill, the development will feature two-unit townhouses sold at market price for people over the age of 55.
The development, while beneficial to seniors, may be detrimental to the local land. Members of the Groton Planning Board and Groton Conservation Commission expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the village in a location with numerous wetlands and forest areas. A local resident, Bob Pine, also expressed concerns about the development possibly running through a drumlin, or a large mound of earth first established by a glacier. Pine is married to Selectwoman Becky Pine, who is also chair of the Affordable Housing Trust. That group could also see a benefit from the development, as Shepley Hill Capital Partners offered to donate $150,000 to the trust if the village is approved.
“The developers explained that their development would not include any affordable units, so they wanted to support affordable housing with their donation,” Becky Pine said on Thursday.
She added that the Affordable Housing Trust had no position on the project and did not plan to do so in the future.
CHELMSFORD SELECT BOARD MEMBER George Dixon is certainly keeping residents waiting. Even though nomination papers for his seat on the Select Board and other town positions have been available since Jan. 4 and are due on Feb. 11, Dixon still hasn’t pulled papers or decided whether he’s running for a fifth term this April.
After he suffered a nasty fall onto his neck just before Christmas, coming within millimeters of being paralyzed, Dixon is now on the mend, in a neck brace and left with a “seven-inch gash” on his neck after a precarious spinal surgery on Christmas Day.
“I want to make sure everything is fine, everything’s going the right way,” Dixon said in an interview Friday. “I’d hate like heck to get everybody involved and then pull out and screw the whole thing up, know what I mean?”
Dixon said he’s waiting to get the all-clear from a couple doctors on his condition before he pulls papers to run, but he hopes he can.
Dixon’s decision is significant because it may determine Town Manager Paul Cohen’s fate. Dixon has voted in the past not to renew Cohen’s contract, which is due for renewal in June. The other seat up for re-election is now vacant after Emily Antul resigned earlier this month. If two new pro-Cohen Select Board members are elected, Cohen may be able to keep his job. So far, only two residents have pulled papers to run for Select Board.
If Dixon decides to run and wins another term, he said he’ll focus on lowering taxes as his number one issue, but will also focus on balancing the town’s budget while supporting the schools, and trying to broker a regional deal to build an area sewer system. He also hopes that the most recent census will allow Chelmsford to have its own state representative.
“Not that I don’t like any of the reps. we have currently but we have four,” he said. “If somebody has one or two precincts in Chelmsford and then represents a whole town, they’ve got to be given the edge to the town.”
Dixon assured The Sun that he would reveal his decision on whether he will run tomorrow, Jan. 25.
This week’s Column was prepared by Reporters Alana Melanson in Lowell; Amy Sokolow in Chelmsford; Stefan Geller in Tewksbury; Jon Winkler in Groton; State House News Service; and Enterprise Editor Christopher Scott.