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Press Release: Letter to the Selectboard, by Karen Gilles

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

UPDATE: Thank you Dustin Ward for publicly apologizing. It it a sign of a leader when you can recognize wrong doing and in turn apologize.

September 19, 2022

Dear Board of Selectmen,

I want to start by thanking each of you for your service and dedication to the town of New Gloucester.

I have sat where you are now, and not only do I appreciate the importance of your role but the challenges you each face in meeting your elected office’s obligations. While compensated, the stipend which you receive is pennies when compared to the selfless hours you dedicate to our town. Each of you make our community work for us all.

Additionally, I want to thank our numerous volunteers who serve on various committees. The role of our town committees is to assist the Selectmen in meeting the needs of the town; serving in an advisory capacity, sometimes with critical subject matter expertise. This cooperative arrangement provides the Select Board with not only direct input from constituents but relieves some of the burdens of the work Selectman are elected to perform on behalf of New Gloucester’s residents. All the committees selflessly work hard, and in good faith, to serve our town.

With that said, it was both disheartening and disappointing to learn that Select Board Member, Dustin Ward, shared a social media post mocking one of the members of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. While our country’s Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech, a right I wholeheartedly support, there is a level of professionalism we should expect from an elected official chosen to represent us all, not just those who voted for him. Selectmen, as elected representatives, should hold themselves to a higher standard and should continually strive to achieve that standard in their interactions with members of the community. The post that was published to Select Board Member Dustin Ward’s Facebook story (not his personal page) was a videoclip (cut short and without context) that could leave the video watcher with the impression that the mocked committee member uneducated and should be dismissed of her opinions. In the video clip it was captioned with the words, “this is harmful folks.” But harmful to whom? Was the viewer harmed or the person being recorded?

If we cannot freely explore thoughts and perspectives on diversity, equity, and inclusiveness at a committee meeting, when is the time to do so? All committee members should be valued and respected regardless of whether we share the same expressed opinion. The inappropriate posting of that videoclip demonstrated that diversity of thought was the last thing being respected. Such action undermines the committee, disrespects its members, and is truly a slap in the face of anyone that donates their time to serve you-we deserve better.

While I can appreciate and applaud that DEI specifically is part of Selectman Ward’s profession, I want to remind the Select Board that mutual respect is a tenant of any successful DEI initiative and must be practiced if we are going to achieve enduring results. The clip shared did not show the entire conversation; in fact, was discussing the right to freedom of speech. Taken out of its context, it could easily lead to misinformation at best and be slanderous at worst. The issue at hand isn’t the opinion of Select Board Member Dustin Ward but that he used his Selectman page as a platform to share those opinions. While the videoclip was perhaps not meant to be malicious or harmful, it was not professional. It did not meet the standards of this Select Board.

Therefore, I would encourage Selectman Ward apologize to Mrs. Beth Ellingson, as she has faithfully served this community and is not deserving of such deception, public criticism and mockery.

Thank you,

Karen Gilles

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