MONTVILLE, NJ – The Montville Township Committee voted to censure Committee Member June Witty for a personal Facebook post she made on April 8 which compared Democrats to Nazis. All four members of the five-person committee asked for her resignation.
The post, a chart which states that Nazis believed in “media mind control,” “no guns,” abortion, and socialism," states that Democrats also hold these beliefs, but are worse because not only do they “hate Jews” but they also “hate Whites.” (See the photo gallery.) The post has since been taken down.
Tuesday night's Township meeting began with a statement read by Mayor Richard Conklin, in which he stated that no other township committee member shared the thoughts expressed in the post, and in fact the four committee members reject the statements made.
Conklin then asked Witty if she wished to comment, and she said she regularly posts on Facebook with issues of “national, regional and local concern.” She said she reads and posts items that she finds disturbing that show “what is going on in our society.”
“Last week I re-posted something that was written in connection with the national debate between Republicans and Democrats,” Witty continued. “I posted an ad that related to some extreme opinions that have taken place over the past two years. I recognize that a number of residents were offended by that particular post, albeit the post is not a reflection of my opinion or views, and most importantly, not reflective of any of my actions. Accordingly, I took the post down and want to express my heartfelt apologies to those who have been offended, and most importantly want to reaffirm the fact that such a post is not reflective of me, and is not reflective of my actions as a public servant.”
Witty confirmed that the post was not endorsed by the committee or administration.
The assembly room contained approximately fifty people, and 29 spoke, including two former mayors, and representatives from the Jewish community and the Democratic party in the township, many of whom called for Witty to resign.
Former mayor John Rosellini said Witty’s actions were a “disgrace,” and that if a high school student had done the same thing, that student would be expelled.
“Tonight is not about Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “This is not who we are. Someone who posts on Facebook, intentionally posts on Facebook. Mrs. Witty I understand you worked for the schools for years, you helped people for years, and this was a mistake. But this is like robbing a bank. You can’t take it back."
Rosellini called for the other four members to “stand up and take a stand,” and for Witty to “do what you have to do,” but “this is not going to go away.” He said three times as many people would be at the next committee meeting, along with TV cameras.
“I’m ashamed to say tonight that I was Montville’s mayor,” he said, “and Mrs. Witty, you did that.”
Immediate past mayor Jim Sandham said the post was reprehensible and offensive. He is a Republican but an American first, and he has many friends who are Democrats, he said. Although they have disagreements about how things should be done, everyone strives for a good outcome, he said.
Long-time head of the town’s Democratic party Dan Grant, who served on the township committee for 15 years, said that the post casts doubt on future board and committee appointments that the township committee makes, since political party may come into question as the reason for Witty’s votes. He said he thought she should step down, and he recommended that Witty be censured.
Other residents addressed their feelings about the exact verbiage in the post, how they are affected by the groups Hitler targeted, and the insult, as Democrats, of being compared to Nazis.
Pradipto Bagchi said he was speaking on behalf of his disabled son, because Hitler killed disabled people.
“I never expected this kind of discourse from this town,” he said.
Bagchi said he is a member of the Democratic party and yet he has heard many good things from other Democrats about the Republican members of the township committee and the many good acts they have done.
“Holding public office means keeping in mind what you communicate,” he said. “You do not have the luxury of erasing what was said in the past.”
Bagchi said that nothing less than Witty’s resignation would be acceptable.
“We cannot be the town in New Jersey that calls half the town Nazis,” he said. “If you do not speak up, you own this. I have never, ever been so offended. On this issue, we are all on the same side. Civility demands that every [township committee] member should demand her resignation. [Ms. Witty,] you are no longer an effective public official when you do not represent us.”
A resident who identified himself as being Jewish said that if this had happened last year when his family had been house hunting, he would not have moved his family to Montville.
Emily Ryzuk, who ran for township committee on the Democratic ticket last year, said she was heartbroken when she read the post because she had worked with Witty “for a long time.”
“I didn’t think I could be compared to a Nazi,” she said.
Ryzuk said she had to deal with slander and bashing as part of running for office last year, from people who didn’t even know her, and it “hurt her so much.”
“We have to be responsible,” she said. “What I post on Facebook is what I would want an employer to read. It hurts me so much to think that’s what you would share. Go into your heart and make a decision on what is the best recourse on this. I come here as a person who is just disappointed.”
But many were not so kind and demanded Witty’s resignation.
Mark Roffman said he felt that the township committee should not be “disappointed” but that they should be “outraged,” and he was appalled that they were not.
“[Ms. Witty’s] explanation is disingenuous,” he said. “Initially I thought a censure would have been enough, but now it’s not. Her comments are a reflection on each and every one of you. You should be asking for her resignation.”
Andrea Orris suggested that Witty step down, work within the community and seek election later.
“It’s a bad message to youth when adults can’t control their posts,” she said.
High school student Olivia Fazio told Witty that youth are told all the time to be careful what they post on social media.
“You need to think before you post on social media, we’re told, because once you post, it’s not going to disappear,” Fazio said, “and it’s going to haunt you. You wouldn’t expect this from an adult. Adults aren’t supposed to do this. They’re supposed to be the role models. If they think someone on the [township] committee can get away with this, they’ll think they can get away with this, too. I appreciate your apology but you need to reflect on what’s best for Montville, because actions speak louder than words.”
Lazar teacher Judy Gothelf agreed about the bad example for the youth of Montville Township.
“We’re taking a step backwards here,” she said. “We formed Stigma Free and OneMontville, and I do my darnedest to teach my kids acceptance, compassion and embracing all differences. How will I explain this one to my kids – ‘This one is different because it’s someone from Montville – we just have to accept that. So everything that I’ve taught you goes by the wayside?' June, you need to step down.”
Fern Wolkin of Cedar Knolls turned Witty’s own words on herself.
“We have learned that silence is complicity and that’s why everybody came out tonight,” Wolkin said. “I went on your Facebook page today. I watched your video from when you were running for office. These were your exact words: ‘I will serve with the highest standards of character, values and ethics because it means something to me. I will serve with superior honesty to the public.’ I would ask yourself at the end of this evening if you are accomplishing that. Because I don’t think anybody here thinks that you are.”
The township committee members read statements condemning the post. Conklin said the committee was “limited in what it could do,” and township attorney Fred Semrau explained that only if a crime is committed can a member be forced to resign. Conklin said Witty “needs to make a large decision,” while Committee Member Richard Cook said he was concerned with Witty’s ability to continue as an effective member of the committee. Committee Member Matt Kayne said the post was extremely offensive. Deputy Mayor Frank Cooney called the post “ignorant, insensitive, and a cheap shot.”
“Our town is so much better than this,” Cooney said.
Witty said that “people who have known her over the years know that this is not reflective of who she is,” and apologized again.
Since so many residents had requested it, Cook point-blank turned to Witty and said, “Ms. Witty, will you resign,” to which Witty responded that she would like to take the opportunity to correct her mistakes.
Semrau had a motion to censure already prepared, which included verbiage that the Facebook post is one the committee “vehemently rejects and finds to be inappropriate, offensive and unbecoming of an elected official of the Township of Montville.” Further, it “memorializes its position that the township does not and will not tolerate those types of statements, behavior or opinion in its governance and leadership, […] and requests the Committeewoman Witty submit her resignation.” (See the resolution in the photo gallery)
The resolution to censure passed unanimously. Witty was not allowed to vote.
Resident Bob Lowenfish said during public portion if the township committee does not demand a resignation and Witty does not resign, he wanted to know the mechanism to enact a recall. Semrau replied that a recall would have to come 50 days before the completion of one year of service, and a notice of intention would have to be filed.
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