Pittsfield Selectboard Votes To Discontinue Town Newsletter

Front Page / Jul. 11, 2002 12:00am EDT

Pittsfield Selectboard Votes To Discontinue Town Newsletter

After a three-month trial period produced controversial results, the Pittsfield Selectboard voted 2-1 to discontinue publication of the "Pittsfield Town News."

A four- to six-page newsletter mailed to all property owners and registered voters in Pittsfield, the newsletter was the brainchild of Pittsfield’s selectboard chairman, Stephen Dietz. Dietz was outvoted by the other board members, Suanna Bicek and Arnold Johnson, in his bid for the publication to continue.

The decision was made June 25, but Dietz put another issue out because it contained a warning for a special meeting July 17. This issue carried a notice on the front page asking the "silent majority" of Pittsfield to come to the support of the publication.

At the next Selectboard meeting, July 2, Dietz told the Board (and repeated to The Herald) that "I'll continue to bring it up at every meeting." Other board members responded that the statement "sounds like a threat."

The most controversial element of the paper was a front page "editorial" in the third issue that stated, "Certain individuals in our town have a negative attitude about keeping the town serene, beautified, and countrified." The six-sentence statement concluded, "We Must Have These Protections."

Dietz said later he was referring to those who opposed zoning regulations.

The "editorial" called forth several complaints, the other board members said.

"It wasn’t supposed to be an editorial-type of newsletter, but more informational about events going on in town," Johnson told the Herald. "In a town publication, if there is an editorial it should represent the entire board’s views, but we never saw it before it came out."

Dietz served as editor of the newsletter and his housekeeper, Trish Spencer, listed on the front page as associate editor, did the typing and read the copy. Dietz told the Herald that he was the one who decided what went into the paper and Spencer saw the content of the paper before it was mailed out.

Asked by the Herald why the other selectboard members didn’t contribute to what was represented by him as a town newspaper, Dietz said "they didn’t want to."

In the next issue, he clarified that his statement was his opinion alone, not that of the town.

The vote to discontinue came during a review of the Pittsfield Town News at the board’s June 25 meeting. After Bicek noted that there were "a lot of questions that ought to be addressed," Johnson said he felt the paper "appeared to represent the town, but in fact, it’s more the editor."

He said if the paper was to continue, the whole board would need to be involved in the editorials. After the recent editorial, Johnson noted that he’d received "numerous" phone calls.

At the June 25 meeting, Bicek said she thought the paper was "causing a rift in the town." She reiterated that opinion to the Herald recently, noting "this is a very divisive issue."

It was also suggested at that meeting that if the paper was not representative of town government, it should not be mailed out under the town’s bulk mailing permit. According to town clerk Pat Haskins, the town of Pittsfield paid a total of $250 for a bulk mailing permit and printing authorization fee for the newsletter.

Actual postage costs, Dietz said, were covered by money paid by businesses for advertising. A two and a half by three inch ad cost $25 a month. He did not divulge how much the postage was or how much was brought in by the advertising.

After printing the July 2 appeal to readers, Dietz told The Herald that he had received "over 20 responses, all of them positive."

Discussing the issue again at the July 2 selectboard meeting, Johnson emphasized the board’s decision. Dietz replied that he planned to "bring the matter up at every meeting."

By Martha Slater

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