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.”