One of our most cherished rights is the right of free speech.
In that vein, Rockport Selectman Wendell "Sandy" Jacques is entitled to say or think just about anything he wants, as long as he's not inciting a riot, or slandering one of his board colleagues or anyone else. And, as offensive as it sounds, suggesting that a 35-year-old mother of two who is chairman of the Board of Selectmen should "go back to the kitchen" is not exactly slanderous.
He should never, however, in any way speak for or represent the town of Rockport and its residents while voicing such a degrading, condescending attitude, and showing such lacks of respect or common civility. The fact that he voiced that sentiment while, as the town's law firm Kopelman and Paige noted, a selectmen's meeting was still in session prior to the April 9 Town Meeting is all the more problematic.
But most troubling, in many ways, isn't Jacques' insulting and degrading remark. It's the fact that, from his reaction, he neither sees any need to truly apologize, nor has any sense he has done anything wrong.
Given that, the remainder of the board should order him to issue a written and very public apology not only to Wilkinson, but to the town as a whole. Then, only they can decide whether they should push for another option — demanding his resignation from a board and from serving a town with which he neither has nor deserves any credibility for serving as a representative.
All of this dates to the minutes just after the April 9 selectmen's meeting and the start of Town Meeting, both held at Rockport High School.
According to Wilkinson and other witnesses — including fellow Selectwoman Frances Fleming — Jacques, who has engaged in condescending exchanges with other selectmen, quipped to Wilkinson "Why don't you go back to the kitchen?"
For her part, Fleming said she asked Jacques to repeat the remark, saying she couldn't believe what she was hearing. Yet, in some ways, neither she nor other officials or residents should have been surprised.
The truth is, Jacques has a well-entrenched reputation for being uncooperative with colleagues and some town employees. Remember that, even prior to his seeking a selectman's seat, he was ousted from the Finance Committee in 2009, in large part due to the perception he essentially didn't play well with others. And, after voting for him chairman of selectmen in 2009, former Selectmen Andrew Heinze and Ellen Canavan tried to oust him from the leadership role, based in large part on the way he conducted the meetings.
The boorish side of Jacques, however, may never have bubbled to the surface more than Tuesday night, when — after first declining to comment on the Town Meeting incident — he offered a half-hearted apology, saying only that he was sorry Wilkinson was offended.
Indeed, she had every right to be. Every Rockport resident has every right to take offense as well. But while, in some years, voters could simply take out their anger at the polling places, their and town officials' options at this point seem limited. That's because Jacques and Wilkinson are indeed the only names on the ballot for the two seats up for the May 8 elections. Unless someone comes forward to mount a last-minute write-in campaign — frankly, always possibility in Rockport, where the 2010 selectmen's race included five write-ins and no ballot candidates — Rockporters face three more years of Jacques on the board.
That's why selectmen need to give Jacques his marching orders regarding either a very public apology, his resignation, or possibly both.