A public hearing will be held next week to give residents a chance to sound off on the future of the Brentwood Newsletter, which has suspended printing in the wake of a controversy over the publication of an opinion piece that some viewed as racist.
The Brentwood Select Board will hear more input from residents at its April 20 meeting, which is being held at the Brentwood Recreation Center at 190 Route 125 to accommodate social distancing for a larger crowd.
The hearing follows the select board’s 3-2 vote against continuing to provide town funding for the newsletter — at least for now.
The 45-year-old newsletter has come under fire since printing a piece in March written by resident Richard Gagnon that was labeled an “editorial” and headlined, “Racism: From a White Man’s Perspective.” In it, Gagnon criticized the Black Lives Matter protests and questioned whether systemic racism exists.
The newsletter is produced monthly and contains community news and letters from residents, but it is considered an independent publication that’s not put out by the town. However, it does receive funding from taxpayers, and at the March town meeting, voters approved $10,200 for the newsletter to help with printing, postage and distribution.
The printing of Gagnon’s piece has raised several questions.
Some residents have expressed concerns that since the newsletter receives town funds and printed Gagnon’s opinion piece as an “editorial,” it could give the impression that his views represent those of the town.
Others have claimed that the newsletter hasn’t printed every letter to the editor in the past and has shown political bias.
The select board released funds to cover the first four issues, but will now hold off on future funding until it decides how the newsletter should be handled in the future and whether funding will continue.
“At this point, a simple majority of the people think we should continue to fund it and that maybe the editor should use a different level of discretion,” said Ken Christiansen, the select board’s chairman.
Issues of the newsletter had been posted on Brentwood’s town website, but they have since been removed. Some people felt that including it on the website suggested that the town endorsed what was printed.
The newsletter printed an April issue, but it contained no community news. It included only advertisements, a message saying that it would suspend production until the select board releases the funding approved by voters, and a statement from editor Robin Wrighton.
In her statement, Wrighton described the newsletter as a publication that is “written by and for residents of Brentwood.” It has no staff and is run strictly by volunteers, she said.
“In March, an article ran of which a group of residents did not approve. Rather than enlightening the community with their alternate opinion, their approach has been to attack and defund this newsletter. They are ignoring the fact that the annual appropriation to fund the newsletter went through the proper channels for approval by the Budget Committee, Board of Selectmen and the voters at the March 13 town meeting,” she wrote.