At the City Council’s meeting on February 2, Mayor Anne-Marie Mastraccio stripped Councilor Lucas Lanigan of his three subcommittee assignments after receiving a number of letters and emails complaining about a post he made on his personal Facebook page.
In the post, which has since been deleted, he wrote “Communities have local budget control over schools. No kids in school! No school budget! #defundteachersunion.”
Ms. Mastraccio read some of the letters and emails and said they would all be included in the minutes of the meeting. One from Councilor Ayn Hanselmann expressed her belief that the post violated the Council’s Code of Conduct and Rules and Order of Business.
The Council’s recently amended Rules and Order of Business, which were adopted by a unanimous vote at the January 19 Council meeting, state: “Individual elected officials should understand that even when they are engaging in off-duty conduct, including use of social media sites, their actions, words and behavior may reflect upon themselves and the City Council. When and if an individual elected official makes any comment on any City-owned social media site (or on his/her personal social media), the elected official should make it clear that the comment is made in his or her personal capacity and not on behalf of the City or City Council. If there is any ambiguity, the elected official should refrain from such comments until he/she has sought guidance from the Mayor or the Council as a whole.”
Councilor Hanselmann’s letter went on to say, “Councilor Lanigan is well known in his role as a Council member and in our community. This post does not specifically indicate that it was his personal opinion and not that of the Council as a whole. This is a serious concern to me personally, that this post could be construed to be at all reflective of the Council as a whole.”
Another letter, from resident Rhea McCoy, called the post “divisive, insulting and concerning…this is unacceptable behavior from a City Councilor.”
Beth Letourneau, Director of Counseling at Sanford High School, wrote, “I was disappointed to see how a representative of the people of Sanford/Springvale could post something that, as an educator, felt like an attack. I am aware that Councilor Lanigan has behaved in a similar fashion several other times on social media and apologized publicly. I am concerned that this is no longer an isolated incident, but rather a pattern of behavior.”
Emily Sheffield, a former School Committee member, wrote, “We are all fallible, but most of us learn from our mistakes…he needs to be held accountable for his hurtful actions and reckless words.”
After reading the letters, Mayor Mastraccio said “There must be consequences to ignoring requests to abide by our duly agreed upon code of conduct and rules of procedure. Therefore, effective immediately, Councilor Lanigan is removed from all subcommittee work. I will be appointing new Councilors in his place on the Solid Waste Committee, the Fire Station Feasibility Group and the Land Bank Authority Commission. Any necessary Council action in this regard will be scheduled at the next regular meeting of the Council, but I will be making those reappointments tomorrow. I will revisit this decision in three months. It pains me to take this action, but I feel I have no other recourse. Words matter.”
In the Councilor Comments section at the end of the meeting, Councilor Jonathan Martel said “The First Amendment is important. Many topics are controversial, we must remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion…(Councilor Lanigan) was intending to express his personal opinion and frustration with the lack of in-person classes this year.”
Councilor Robert Stackpole expressed agreement with the Mayor’s action. “We who hold office are powerful. With that comes tremendous responsibility. Yes, we have First Amendment rights…but we have responsibility to the public interest.” Councilor Maura Herlihy added, “You check a few of your rights at the door when you do this job…you have to be thoughtful about what you’re saying.”
Councilor Lanigan did not respond to a request for comment.