We Messed Up: An Apology

by | Nov 11, 2014

On Monday, Nov. 3, the night before the election, someone going by the name of “voterwatchdog” posted a comment on the landing page for the profiles of all the Town Council candidates. The comment targeted one candidate – Robert Vespia – stating what it referred to as some “facts” about him (you can read the comment here).

The comment needed approval before it would appear and I approved it. In hindsight, as editor and publisher of East Greenwich News, I should have asked Mr. Vespia for a rebuttal before allowing the comment to post. I apologize to readers and to Mr. Vespia for not doing that.

When people run for office, they put themselves in the public sphere and are subject to greater scrutiny than their private-citizen neighbors. In this particular case, Mr. Vespia did have connections to the Town of East Greenwich that were relevant to his candidacy. His wife works for the town and helps to run town elections, he receives a disability pension from the town and he is one of several people suing the town over a change in health care benefits for retired firefighters.

Those issues were raised in the profile I wrote about Mr. Vespia (find that profile here) and voterwatchdog is entitled to his/her opinion. However, voterwatchdog’s comment spoke of “facts.” Short of fact-checking every comment, in such instances EG News can and should offer the accused the chance to rebut the charges.

As it happened, Mr. Vespia did not learn of the comment until Election Day. In an effort to make things right even at this late date, here is Mr. Vespia’s rebuttal:

“I was not, as voterwatchdog wrote, ‘awarded a disability claim in excess of $2 million dollars for a shoulder injury.’ I was granted a disability pension for a shoulder injury after going to several doctors, including three independent physicians, representing the State Retirement Board. It was not a lump sum award.

“Second, I spoke to the state Ethics Commission about potential ‘conflicts of interest’ before I decided to run. According to them, I would not have to recuse myself from dealings with the fire department. And, as long as nothing affected my wife, as a Town employee, any differently than any other town employee, there would be no conflict. Also, she is not the head of the Board of Canvassers, as was stated, but is the clerk for the Board of Canvassers. And after I declared my candidacy, she did not handle anything having to do with the Town Council candidates – that was handled by others in her department.

“I put my name out there. I didn’t hide anything. How a person can go out there and post what is referred to as facts when they are not, and not sign their name – I don’t know how they can sleep at night.”

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4 Comments

  1. Alan Clarke

    The difficulty here is not with anything you did or didn’t do, it’s letting people post without having their identity verified and real name published beneath his/her post. People are less likely to post erroneous information if they have to attach their name to it.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      Alan, I am considering how we could do that. One problem is that anyone can create an email address with some fake name attached. That is why many sites require commenters to sign in using Facebook. But would mean those not on Facebook would not be able to comment. If there are others out there with ideas, i welcome them.

      Reply
      • Alan Clarke

        It’s more a thing of personal integrity. Elizabeth. When I signed on, I was picked up from an alias used long ago. I want people to know that when I say something, I said it. I use my real name. I am responsible for the content of my message. People hiding behind an alias can say anything they want with impunity, hence the difficulty afforded in the story above. I agree that having to sign in through Facebook is silly. Keep things the way they are but give anyone with an alias special scrutiny before allowing their post. No newspaper I know of allows a letter to the editor without verification that the writer is who he says he is. Yet they allow anyone to say anything they want on their websites. Foolishness!

        Reply
  2. Alan Clarke

    I might add that you are putting a lot of time and effort into EG News and probably for very little reward save trying to build something good for the town. You owe no apologies for the story. Make it a “clarification” if it happens again. I look forward to the day when you can add a little bit of staff to help you.

    Reply

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