Put me squarely on the side of not trying to silence women (Town Square)
By PETER YACOBELLIS
Right now several attorneys are cringing reading this. But the most powerful force guiding me is my gut, informed by 43 years of an incredible life experience. I promised myself I would not let being in office change who I was or how I operated. After the military kicked me out of basic training for admitting I was gay, I spent the next decade pursuing the reversal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I've survived conversion therapy, being beaten and bullied; I've taken on the U.S. military and elected officials at every level of government. As long as I trust my gut and be the man my parents raised me to be, I can sleep at night.
From the beginning of this fiasco with our manager, I've refused to be silent despite legal counsel telling me I should. I understand my fiduciary responsibility to minimize legal liability exposure, costs and more. But I feel I have a greater responsibility to set the tone and influence of our government to reflect the values of the people, even if it isolates or costs me.
It is unacceptable to me that women in our government have been treated poorly, possibly hostilely. And I think they and all the women who live and work in Montclair need to hear that from the people who represent them. The behaviors that four women (just the ones who have gone on record) describe Mr. Timothy Stafford displaying at our town hall are unacceptable and do not reflect who we are as a people.
I've seen the pain and tears in some of their eyes. Yet, his attorneys have disgracefully taken to the media to smear and discredit them while our government stayed silent. And our law department has pursued having the cases brought by two of these women against the township dismissed.
Put me squarely on the side of not trying to silence women.
I'm glad we're hiring consultants to come in and evaluate the culture and climate and lead our government to a healthier place. That needing to happen is a given. But we also need to be honest about how this became the culture in the first place. Who sets the tone? Who maybe turned a blind eye? How much more good talent are we willing to lose? What signal do our actions send to the women who serve our town?
We need to be led by our values and our convictions and not by fear of lawsuits and legal fees.
Peter Yacobellis is a councilor-at-large on the Montclair Township Council and executive director of Out Montclair.