RUMFORD — Two Rumford selectmen defended themselves and two town officials Thursday night claiming that two candidates running for their positions accused them of improprieties via social media.
Selectmen Jeff Sterling and Jolene Lovejoy read prepared statements refuting the Facebook claim of Rumford resident Jim Windover.
Windover is a member of the town Planning Board and Charter Commission. He and former selectman Mark Belanger, Sterling, Lovejoy and Candice Casey are seeking seats on the Board of Selectmen in June. Two three-year terms are available. Windover and Belanger, members of local political activist group Save! Rumford, are running together under the auspices of another political activist group, Rumford Renewal.
On the morning of April 11, all five arrived at the Municipal Building to turn in their nomination paperwork at the town clerk's office.
Lovejoy read aloud Windover's Facebook status update about April 11. It stated: "Jim Windover and Mark Belanger went downtown to the town office to turn in our nomination papers for the selectboard and discovered that, apparently, Jolene Lovejoy, Jeff Sterling and Candice Casey must have had a sleepover at the town hall, because me and Mark were standing outside the door waiting for it to be unlocked so we could go into the town office, and they were already in the clerk's office."
Sterling and Lovejoy said they weren't in the clerk's office and neither was Casey, and they added that they all entered through the rear door, which is unlocked on weekday mornings, allowing town employees to enter the building for work.
"Criticism comes with public service, and that is fair," Sterling said. "But at the business meeting last June, it all changed. The criticism became personal in the media and, more importantly, via social media."
Sterling and Lovejoy said neither uses Facebook nor participates in social media, but are aware of comments being made about themselves and the board. Sterling said he has ignored them.
"I thought for the most part, 'Consider the source and it will go away.' But enough is enough," Sterling said.
He then held up what he said was a copy of what Lovejoy later read that Casey gave to Sterling and Lovejoy, alerting them to Windover's statement.
"My guess is that post from Facebook deals with the Save! Rumford candidates' take on how Jolene, Candice and I received special treatment when it came to turning in our nomination papers," Sterling said.
He said the statement calls into question the actions of Town Clerk Beth Bellegarde and Deputy Clerk Beverly Thorne.
"Really, it's not surprising," Sterling said. "For a year now, Save! Rumford has sustained an attack on our town, the services it provides and the dedicated public servants that provide those services.
"Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, 'Everybody's entitled to his own opinion, not his own facts,'" he said.
Sterling said he arrived at the town office at 7:45 a.m. on April 11, parked on River Street as always and entered the municipal building through the unlocked back door.
He said he walked upstairs and met Lovejoy standing outside the closed clerk's office. Casey arrived soon after, but Bellegarde didn't open the office for business until shortly after 8 a.m., Sterling said. All three then turned in their paperwork.
"One would think that a former selectman would know that the back door is always open in the morning so employees can come to work," he said.
"That (Windover and Belanger) chose to stand at a locked front door was up to them. In the end, no special treatment, no breach of conduct by the clerk's office — just a little common sense."
Sterling and Lovejoy said that if anyone wants to accuse them of anything, to come to a selectmen's meeting, stand at the podium and go on record saying what they have to say and a conversation would ensue.
"Hiding behind a keyboard is not a profile of courage," Sterling said.
Lovejoy also reiterated her actions on April 11, saying she arrived first and waited for the town clerk's office to open. She said it was time for a truce.
"The nastiness, the hatefulness has to stop," she said. "Hatefulness is not appropriate. It is not appropriate for our children at home, it isn't appropriate for our children that are of school age, and I'm here to tell you that it isn't appropriate for adults in my eyes."
She said she was most upset that the statement disparaged Bellegarde and her deputy clerk by innuendo.
"You know, it's important to me that I know I can trust you, and more importantly, that you can trust me," Lovejoy said, her voice breaking. "I think you folks have broken that trust, and I guess we're kind of involved. However, that being said, let the games begin."
Contacted Friday evening, Windover declined to comment on the matter.