TIVERTON —A Tiverton School Committee candidate has been taken to task for Tweeted remarks about Sandywoods Farm and north Tiverton.
Mr. Katz, in turn, said his critic left out parts of his comments and is itself a divisive attack.
In a letter to the Sakonnet Times, Tiverton resident Deborah Scanlon Janick said that she is “outraged and insulted” that School Committee candidate Justin Katz said on a Twitter account that the town’s Sandywoods neighborhood is “a good way to subsidize the ‘right’ kind of poor people.”
And she said that when complimented on the beauty of Tiverton, “he furthers his offensive comments stating that he lives ‘on the Fall River side of town.’ When questioned about there being ‘sides of the tracks’ in Tiverton, his response, ‘Every town has that. But you referenced to my luck and Tiv’s beauty. Where I live, you’re not quite sure you’ve left F.R. yet.'” Ms. Janick said that Mr. Katz wrote in his Tweet.
“You have offended my family, my neighbors, my friends. We are all voters and will remember your biting words,” she said.
She broadened her criticism to the TCC (Tiverton Citizens for Change). “Just when he thought no one was looking, TCC founder and recommended School Committee candidate Justin Katz showed his true colors. He is attempting to continue the ways of the TCC to divide our town … (The TCC) talk the talk in public but they certainly do not walk the walk in private.”
“In a mere few key strokes, Mr. Katz has successfully disrespected a significant portion of our community. He is attempting to continue in the ways of the TCC, to divide our town,” she wrote. “Does TCC’s Justin Katz sound like a person who could fairly represent all of our students? Do we really want him to make decisions regarding our schools, all of our schools, at all ends of town?
Asked to comment, Mr. Katz called Ms. Janick’s letter about his “conversation with a long-time acquaintance on Twitter … an example of what divides Tiverton. Our elective offices may be non-partisan, but anybody hoping to serve their community apparently must expect big-time politics personal attacks.”
The nature of Twitter, he said, requires brief comments.
“In this case, I was responding to the man who started the liberal RI Web site opposing my conservative one; he now works in the Providence mayor’s office. When he asked me about projects like Sandywoods, I replied: “Interesting idea, and some real potential. Cynical view: good way to subsidize the ‘right’ kind of poor people,” Mr. Katz replied.
“This is part of a larger debate. Faced with the requirement to have a certain percentage of low-income housing, many areas are looking for ways to control what sort of people they attract. I thought that might be an interesting angle for my very progressive friend.”
Mr. Katz said he then complimented Tiverton, “but Ms. Janick cuts up my response unfairly. Here it is: ‘Agree [about] Tiverton, but for clarification, I live on the Fall River side of town.’ I’ve found that some folks from the Providence area think that we’re all farmers and rich people in Tiverton. (You better believe that’s one reason they think nothing of placing a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge.) I was correcting that notion.”
Mr. Katz called “weird” any suggestion that his remarks were meant to be hidden. ” I currently have 341 ‘followers’ on Twitter, many in the news media and many who disagree with me. Anybody can hold me accountable for anything I write. When I’m on the committee, anybody can let me know how they want the schools to operate.”
And he said he’s planning to build a house further into north Tiverton. “Does that show ”disrespect” for my neighborhood?”
“Fair readers will also wonder what this has to do with the schools,” Mr. Katz concluded, ” I absolutely will represent all of Tiverton and its students. Among my top priorities, for instance, is to find out why Fort Barton is the state’s number 1 elementary school, but Ranger’s test scores have been getting worse for years. They’ve switched places. Why?”
“As Twitter proves, I believe in friendly conversations even with my polar opposites. That’s how a community unites and moves forward.”