By Stephanie Bergman
ROCKPORT — A comment telling the woman chairman of the town's Board of Selectmen to "go back to the kitchen" has landed Rockport Selectman Sandy Jacques in hot water, with the rest of the board voting Tuesday to formally disown his remarks.
"It makes me sad that, in 2012, we're hearing this from an elected official," said Selectmen Chairman Sarah Wilkinson, who filed the formal complaint against Jacques with the board.
According to Wilkinson and witnesses, the incident took place just before the April 9 Town Meeting, at the end of the pre-Town Meeting selectman's meeting.
The board was leaving the auditorium to join the rest of the meeting, and, during a discussion, Jacques asked Wilkinson, a mother of two, "Why don't you go back to the kitchen?"
In its own April 12 letter to Jacques advising him of the complaint, the town's Boston-based law firm, Kopelman and Paige, noted that "this statement was allegedly said in front of several board members and other individuals and it should be noted that the meeting of the Board of Selectmen had not yet adjourned, since the meeting was being continued on Town Meeting floor."
Jacques said he did not mean to be offensive, and simply got carried away with excitement during the argument.
"I'm not a bigot," said Jacques, citing his dealings with his granddaughters as testimony that he should not be accused of sexism.
No one on the board called Jacques a misogynist; however, his comments were clearly upsetting to them. Wilkinson filed the complaint last week, and the rest of the selectmen joined her Tuesday night in condemning Jacques' remarks.
"I could not believe what was said," said Selectwoman Frances Fleming, who witnessed the incident. Fleming said she asked Jacques to repeat himself so she could be sure she has heard him correctly.
"For anyone associated with this to defend it would be inappropriate and wrong," Selectman Paul Murphy said following the meeting.
"The purpose of doing this is not to embarrass anyone, but to go on record saying we do not condone this," said Selectman Erin Batistelli.
Wilkinson said she was sorry to have to hold a session at the meeting to discuss the issue.
"Personally, I would have liked an apology, but obviously I'm not going to get one," said Wilkinson.
Jacques did offer a tepid apology, saying he was sorry that Wilkinson was offended. But he did not retract the substance of his remarks, or say that he understood why Wilkinson would be hurt by them.
"I did apologize that her feelings were hurt or whatever," Jacques said after the meeting.
At the meeting, Jacques said his comments were not motivated by the fact that Wilkinson is female.
"I would have said the same thing to Paul — 'Why don't you go back to the library,' you know?" said Jacques. Murphy, in his first term as selectman, works as the assistant principal at Manchester Essex Regional High School.
Fleming pointed out that the incident was not the first time Jacques had been disrespectful to other selectmen.
Though Fleming did not cite examples, earlier in the meeting, Jacques had said "is there an echo?" to her after she made a comment agreeing with Town Administrator Linda Sanders. Employees in Town Hall have said that Jacques has been rude to them as well.
Jacques and Wilkinson are both running for re-election in May, and are the only names on the ballot for the two seats.
Stephanie Bergman can contacted at 978-283-7000 x3451 or firstname.lastname@example.org