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Letter: Johnson Makes Closing Argument In Opposition to Article 17

Dear Residents:

First, I would like to apologize to any resident who has taken my efforts to question the wisdom of Article 17 as anything other than an attempt to provide facts and information as a counterpoint to the proponents of Article 17. If in these efforts I have offended someone, for that I do apologize.

I have always sought to look out for the best interests of the 30,000 plus residents of Tewksbury. This is something I have always tried to do, both in my over 10 years of public service to the town, as an elected member of the Planning Board, and as an individual resident. I have tried to do this whenever I have appeared before the School Committee, Finance Committee, Select Board or any other body when I see an issue I believe should be raised. This is what I have tried to do with Article 17 as well. 

I have appeared before the appropriate committees and boards to try to bring to the resident’s attention the flaws I see in the proponent’s argument for Article 17. These include, but are not limited to, a lack of tangible information/research, substantive statistics, and consideration of other factors that may affect the problem that they see and are attempting to address with this article. 

However, I do have to take issue with the twisting of my words, distortion of my points, out of context references to my public testimony and/or written submissions to any committee or board that has started to find its way into the public commentary on this issue. As is so often the case today, facts seem to lose out to fiction.  Anyone is free to watch my testimony at the public hearings held for Article 17 on YouTube to hear what I actually said and the context in which I said it. I would also ask the editor of the Carnation to place the link to my written submission to the Finance Committee here for anyone to read.

Editor’s note: That document is available here. 

I ask that you take the time to review that written submission, so that you can not only read what I have actually said, but also so that you can review the information I have attempted to provide. I think that it is vitally important for residents to be aware of this information before casting their votes at special town meeting.

Because I hope that you will take the time to review the information, I will not take time or space here to go through all the information that I believe should be considered before moving forward with Article 17. I will do so at town meeting, which is the appropriate forum. I will however address a few thing that have been said and printed recently that are at best distorted versions of things I have said, and at worst simply fictitious.

First, I have never singled out a specific proponent of Article 17. I have never mentioned one of the proponents by name in my criticism of the proponents’ arguments for Article 17. I have only ever referenced those arguments in general and the proponents universally. If any of my comments hit too close to home for some individual proponents, for that I do apologize, but I have never singled out anyone by name. 

Second, I have never appeared before any of the committees or boards in my official capacity as a Planning Board member. If you review my testimony you will see that I disclosed that I am a member of the Planning Board and its current chair, but I follow that by stating that I am there as an individual resident and not on behalf of the board. It has been my understanding that residents are free to appear before the committees and boards in town when they hold public meeting to offer public comments on issues they deem important. I was not aware that that right is forfeited by someone if they are also an elected official in town. I stand by my actual comments and am never afraid to sign my name to the things I say and think. 

Editor’s note: Johnson is referring to a recent letter submitted by a resident who asked that the Carnation withhold their name. The editors take seriously guidelines for “name withheld” letters and op-eds. Generally, candidates, elected officials and article proponents must attach their names. Requests to hold back names of, for example, young people, town employees or those who reasonably fear retribution may be honored. No letter sent anonymously will be considered for publication. 

Third, I have never “complained” about the planning board salary. Clearly, I have served on the Planning Board since 2010, if it was an issue why have I remained on the board? This is another example of twisting my words and taking them out of context. If you look at my written submission and public comments you will see that the only reference to the Planning Board salary that I have made are in reference to considering it a possible reason for why some people are not interested in serving on the board. That was followed by saying that no one gets into public service to get rich. That portion of my comment was conveniently omitted. The comment on the pay was included in a list of several alternative reasons that I provided as factors that may contribute to people not being interested in serving on the Planning Board, that have nothing to do with the term of office (again please review my written submission linked above). To pull that one comment out of context and twist it to make it appear that I have complained is completely inaccurate. 

Fourth, I have never suggested that I should have a lifetime appointment to the planning board. I have run four times and had opponents in two out of four of my elections. As someone who has actually been willing to put my name on a ballot even when opposed and seek to engage in public service, I am humbled and appreciative that the residents of Tewksbury have seen fit to elect me four times. As some of the proponents have pointed out, I was recently reelected and this article will not affect my current term of office. This is all the more proof that my questioning the wisdom of this article is not for my own self-interest, but instead simply because I do not think it is in the best interest of Tewksbury. 

Finally, and most importantly, I have never questioned the intelligence of the residents of Tewksbury or questioned their ability to serve on the Planning Board or any other committee or board in town. Any suggestion otherwise is a flat out fabrication and a gross distortion of what I have actually said. The only reference in the vicinity of this false accusation is again in the list of potential other reasons why there isn’t more interest in serving on the Planning Board (not just in Tewksbury but around the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts). I referenced the difficulty of specific subject matter the board has to deal with, along with the workload, among many others a potential factors that affect the interest in serving on the board. At no time did I questions the intelligence of residents. The reference to the steep learning curve, if you do not have previous experience in the area, is simply true. It is not a slight towards anyone and those who have served on the board that did not arrive with prior experience will attest to it and those who have been lucky enough to bring some experience to the board will tell you it is invaluable in helping to represent the best interests on the town.

However, most important is that I have never questioned the intelligence of the residents of the town. In fact, I am depending on the intelligence of the residents at special town meeting. I am banking on the fact that the residents will see the difference between the research that will be presented, the stats that will be provided, and the detailed arguments that will be made in opposition to the article and that provided by the proponents of the article. I am counting on the residents to not be drawn into, what for some proponents appears to be a personal animosity toward the board and a desire to seek retribution for decisions the board has made that they disagree with, disguised in Article 17.

Believe me, I do not question the intelligence of the residents of this town. I am in fact counting on it! 

Stephen Johnson

Nonprofit, 501c3 provider of hyperlocal news, insights and events from Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Community-driven journalism by Tewksbury, for Tewksbury.

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