Town Council split on appointment to Human Rights Commission



Recorder Staff
Published: 8/23/2016 10:40:09 PM

GREENFIELD — The chairman of the Human Rights Commission is looking forward to working with the panel’s newest member, a man who was at the heart of controversy over a Confederate flag that occupied much of the commission’s time over the past year.

The mayor’s appointment of Rod Hart of Shelburne Road triggered opposition and questions about his vetting process for town committee appointees, but Hart’s appointment withstood a veto attempt by some town councilors last week.

Some councilors expressed concern about a Facebook post allegedly made by Hart that they found offensive.

Hart’s appointment withstood a 5-6 vote last Wednesday. Nine negative votes were needed to nix the mayor’s appointment.

Some councilors questioned whether Hart was fit for the position after it was reported by a third-party blogger that he had made a Facebook post last November showing a figure throwing religious symbols in a trash can.

Hart, who is on vacation, could not be reached for comment this week.

Philippe Simon, chairman of the Human Rights Commission, said he doesn’t see the alleged post being problematic and is looking forward to working with Hart.

“When I studied the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it said people have the right to profess their opinion, their religion and their beliefs,” he said. “There is nothing inconsistent with Human Rights with someone expressing how they feel about religion.”

During last week’s Town Council meeting, Precinct 4 Councilor Wanda Muzyka-Pyfrom said it would be hypocritical for the council to approve Hart’s appointment after recently passing a Resolution of Respect, which states the town will do its best to combat prejudice.

Other councilors said they did not favor the appointment because they wanted to ask Hart about the post, and he was not at the meeting that night.

Some pointed out that the post may not be a symbol of intolerance at all.

“(It) could also be perceived as a message of let’s not look for labels that divide us, let’s be aware of everything that unites us,” At-Large Councilor Mark Maloni said.

Council Treasurer Karen “Rudy” Renaud added it’s possible that Hart is an atheist, and if so, that perspective is important to include on the Human Rights Commission.

She said that to her knowledge, Hart would be the only openly gay man to serve on the commission and added she finds it miraculous that he’s still willing to volunteer after receiving so much hateful backlash on the Internet after the so-called Confederate flag controversy.

Late last fall, Hart and his husband took to social media to voice concern that their neighbor — Greenfield Police Sgt. Daniel McCarthy, who is also the police department’s liaison to the Human Rights Commission — had a confederate flag inside his garage that was visible from the street when the door was open. The couple wrote their 10-year-old black son expressed fear at seeing the flag.

That triggered much discussion and forums on the subject with sometimes unpleasant debate from inside and outside the town, as some defended the right to display the Confederate flag and others arguing the flag is a symbol of hate and racism that had no place in a policeman’s property. The flag was eventually removed but the controversy has not entirely died down, as the police chief has at least temporarily taken on the role of police department contact for the commission, rather than McCarthy, the official liaison.

Renaud said after the controversy went public, information about Hart began appearing on hate sites, including some of the same ones that she and At-Large Councilor Penny Ricketts have appeared on. Ricketts is the only black town councilor and Renaud is gay.

“It’s actual real hate, and I want someone who’s experienced that, besides just Penny, to be on the Human Rights Commission,” she said, adding she thinks it’s understandable if Hart harbors some negative feelings toward religion.

“Please consider also how hurtful religion has been to LGBT people,” she said. “... You have religious leaders throughout the years who continue to say we’re not God’s children and there’s a special place in hell for us, so I think I can forgive Rod Hart if he has a little animosity toward religion, but I also think he’s a school teacher, he’s a citizen of this town, after he’s been so horribly abused on the internet he’s still willing to put himself forward, and I think we owe it to him to vote for this appointment tonight.”

Renaud said the council has never vetted candidates based on hear-say or Facebook posts, and all appointees should be held to the same standard.

When reached by phone Tuesday, Mayor William Martin said Hart had originally asked to be considered for the position last fall, and was only recently appointed because a position had opened up. He said he meets with new candidates, including Hart, before appointing them, and reviews all information they provide, such as resumes.

Martin said it’s rare for him to turn down potential appointees, but it has happened in the past. He added others have applied for a spot on the Human Rights Commission since Hart first applied, but he chose Hart because he was at the top of the list.

“He’s a member, he’s a citizen, he’s got a brain and he has some experience, he’s educated and he’s motivated, so we’ll see how the Human Rights Commission deals with all of their topics,” Martin said.


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