Jim Kenyon: ‘F---tard’ and Feathered in Cornish
I suspect that Holly Taft might have some explaining to do at the Cornish School Board’s meeting Tuesday night. Taft, who was elected to the board in March, has infuriated a bunch of folks in town with a comment she posted last week on a friend’s Facebook page.
This being a family newspaper, I will refrain from repeating the word that Taft used, so you’ll need to fill in the blanks. Last Tuesday afternoon, Taft wrote, “I met more f---tards in one place last night than I have met collectively in my whole life.”
The timing of Taft’s post is significant: It came the day after a contentious School Board meeting that attracted about 60 residents and didn’t end until 10 p.m.
During the 31/2 hour meeting, Taft, a speech therapist at another Upper Valley elementary school, was a vocal supporter of a proposed board policy aimed at discouraging, or in some cases banning outright, school volunteers from bringing infants and toddlers with them while donating their time. Most of the residents who spoke at the meeting were against the proposed policy.
I wasn’t terribly familiar with the expression, but I was pretty sure that Taft’s comment wasn’t a term of endearment. Just to confirm, I consulted the online Urban Dictionary, which defines an “f---tard” as a “person considered to be foolish or socially inept while also being irritatingly offensive.”
Any wonder why residents might take offense? (Since I was at the meeting and spoke briefly with Taft after it ended, maybe I should as well.)
By Thursday morning, Taft’s post was making the Internet rounds in Cornish. Merilynn Bourne, who formerly served on the Selectboard and has lived in town for 40 years, told me that she was among the residents who planned to seek Taft’s resignation at the next meeting.
“When you’re an elected official, it changes everything,” said Bourne, who is the longtime executive director of Listen, the nonprofit social services organization.
“(Taft) is a school board member 24/7, 365 days a year. She should treat people with respect whether she agrees with their point of view or not.”
After reading Taft’s post, I sent her an email. When I didn’t hear back, I stopped by her house Thursday afternoon. Taft, 37, acknowledged that she had posted the derogatory comment, but maintained it wasn’t the way it seemed.
“It wasn’t about the people at the meeting,” she told me.
Who was she referring to then? And where was this other place that she had met these people who had irritated her so?
“That’s none of your business,” Taft replied.
I told her that I was having a hard time believing that she was talking about people she had met at another “place” Monday night. The board meeting had taken up most of the evening.
“I don’t have to talk to you about that,” Taft said.
At the meeting, a woman chastised some board members, without naming them, for their facial expressions while residents addressed them. “The smirking is very upsetting,” she said.
Which brings me to the second part of Taft’s Facebook post, in which she told her friend, “I thought of you and smiled but I got called out for smirking.”
I thought that was quite a coincidence. What are the odds that Taft could be caught smirking at two different meetings on the same night?
Fairly good, according to Taft. She’s known for being a smirker, she said. “I have an expressive face.”
Taft isn’t the first elected official — and she won’t be the last — who scrambles to save face over something posted on Facebook. Too many people, not just public officials, are under the false impression that they can compartmentalize their lives.
It doesn’t matter that their comments posted on social media weren’t made during a public meeting or in the workplace. Their words — and photographs, too — follow them wherever they go, and we go.
I’m not a fan of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever the latest trend might be. In many ways, they seem little more than an exercise in narcissism. I once heard a TV pundit say that before firing up their social media accounts, people should remember: Not everything they do, say, or write is a diamond.
After 30 years of typing for newspapers, I can relate to that.
Far be it from me to try to stifle Taft’s right to free speech, or anyone else’s for that matter. Taft can say what she wants about who she wants.
But as a public figure, she must give people an opportunity to respond.
The board’s meeting on Tuesday, at 6:30 p.m., at Cornish Elementary School, would be the place for that.
Face to face still works better than Facebook.
Jim Kenyon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org