HIS THUGGISH TACTICS COST SOUTH HADLEY $75,000
Luke Gelinas stepped to the microphone in order to address the South Hadley School Committee about the suicide of high-school student Phoebe Prince, and what he saw as the culpability of school officials. Politely but firmly, he called for the removal, resignation, or censure of school superintendent Gus Sayre, high-school principal Daniel Smith, and school-committee chairman Edward Boisselle.
Boisselle loudly interrupted Gelinas several times, as can be seen in a video posted by the Republican of Springfield. "This is my meeting," Boisselle instructed him. And he ordered Gelinas to silence himself. Two police officers reportedly escorted Gelinas from the building.
That emotional incident, which took place in April 2010, led to Gelinas's returning several weeks later to compare Boisselle to Joseph Goebbels and Joseph Stalin — an overreaction, but understandable given the way he had been muzzled and manhandled. It also led to a federal civil-rights suit. The suit was settled in February of this year, with the town paying Gelinas $75,000.
Citizens do not have an absolute First Amendment right to address public officials. Reasonable rules may be set, and those who don't follow them can be ruled out of order. But as the video makes clear, Gelinas was a model of decorum. It was Boisselle who was on the verge of losing control.
At the time, Boisselle claimed he was protecting Phoebe Prince's family from personal information he believed Gelinas was about to divulge. That is flatly contradicted by the girls' parents, Anne O'Brien and Jeremy Prince, who released a statement after the settlement was announced: "We will be forever grateful to Luke Gelinas. We are pleased that he has been able to settle his claim regarding a violation of his civil rights."
A year before the settlement was reached, Boisselle — who resigned as chairman, but who remains a committee member — told a team of journalism students from UMass Amherst, "I knew at that time that I was in charge of the meeting, and that he was being disruptive, and that if he wanted his full First Amendment rights, they were out on the street. And I think I pointed to where he could go for that."
After having a year to reflect on his behavior, Boisselle still didn't get it.