When Controversy Gets Carried Away

The following editorial appeared in the Carroll County Independent on November 30, 2017

Few issues in recent memory have sparked quite as much controversy as the proposal by Ossipee’s Board of Selectmen to purchase a piece of lakefront property at Camp Sokokis for use as a town beach. Since the board frst brought its plan forward months ago, our inbox has been teeming with letters to the editor from community members both for and against it. One of those who wrote to us expressing sup-port for the proposal was Jim Fitzpatrick, Chair-man of the Broad-Leavitt Bay Association (BLBA) Executive Committee.

In a letter published Nov. 16, Mr. Fitzpatrick wrote that he and his fellow members of the Executive Committee felt a new town beach was an investment that would pay dividends for Ossipee in years to come. Following the publication of Mr. Fitzpatrick’s letter, we began receiving e-mails from what we believed (mistakenly, in retrospect) were other members of the Executive Committee claiming that the opinions he had expressed were his own, and that he had taken it upon himself to speak out publicly on the committee’s behalf without its blessing.

Since these claims came from multiple individuals, we felt that it would be in the best interest of our readers in Ossipee to publish a clarifcation stating that questions had been raised about the manner in which Mr. Fitzpatrick represented himself. It was not our intention to smear his reputation, or to brand him a liar. We simply felt that given the controversial nature of the town beach proposal, and the fact that the town meeting vote on it was less than a week out at that point, readers who might have intended to base their vote on the opinions Mr. Fitzpatrick expressed in his letter deserved to know that he may not have had the BLBA’s permission to speak on its behalf.

While our hearts were in the right place, it appears that we may have allowed ourselves to get swept up in the controversy at Mr. Fitzpatrick’s expense. In the wake of last week’s clarifcation, he reached out to us, quite understandably upset, and was able to provide evidence that the six other members of the Executive Committee drafted the letter together with him, and did so with what they felt was the overwhelming support of the Association’s membership, who were polled during their annual meeting in July. We mistakenly assumed that the individuals who contacted us to contest Mr. Fitzpatrick’s letter were members of the Executive Committee, but found, after conferring with him and looking into the matter further, that they were, in fact, simply members of the Association who were against the purchase of a town beach, and believed that the informal poll conducted at the annual meeting did not paint an accurate portrayal of where the membership, as a whole, stood on the issue.

Although we respect their convictions, we have concluded that based on the show of hands they saw that day, Mr. Fitzpatrick and his fellow Executive Committee members cannot be faulted for proceeding on the assumption that the majority of the BLBA’s membership supported the purchase of the property at Camp Sokokis, and there is no evidence whatsoever that he behaved in an improper or unethical manner by speaking out on the Association’s behalf. We also regret that our clarifcation concerning Mr. Fitzpatrick’s letter was used to rake him over the coals on social media by individuals within the community who feel that they have an ax to grind against him, and we wish to take this opportunity to apologize to him for any personal distress he may have suffered as a result of our erroneous appraisal of the situation.

We hope that with the vote on the town beach proposal (which took place after our press deadline for this week’s edition) now behind us, the tempers and tensions on either side of the debate that led to the predicament in which Mr. Fitzpatrick found himself will die down. We understand that those on both sides are emotionally invested in their respective arguments, but at the end of the day, no crimes were committed here, and no one was harmed, at least not physically. We hope this situation gives our readers pause in the future before posting derogatory comments about another person to an online blog or social media site.

Mr. Fitzpatrick, a longtime Rotarian, told us that he has always taken the Rotary motto, “Service Above Self,” to heart, along with its four-part litmus test, which poses the following questions in relation to any claim: 1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendship? 4. Will it be benefcial to all concerned?

In the future, we here at the Independent will try our best to ascribe to the same standard.

When Controversy Gets Carried Away