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Brentwood to decide future of controversial town newsletter after ‘racist op-ed’



BRENTWOOD — The future of the volunteer-run Brentwood Newsletter will be decided at the March 12 Town Meeting. 

One article on the warrant asks voters if they want to fund the newsletter’s remaining eight issues for 2022 at a cost of $11,781. Another asks voters if they want to continue funding it in the town budget, like in prior years, or by warrant article annually.

The future of the volunteer-run Brentwood Newsletter will be decided at the March 12 Town Meeting.

The monthly publication, which is partially funded by the town but is run independently, contains community news and letters from residents. It has come under fire in recent years from community members who contend that some of the content is biased and does not represent the views of the town. 

Last year, a number of residents blasted the publication for publishing an editorial by Richard Gagnon titled “Racism: From a White Man’s Perspective.” The article criticized Black Lives Matter and questioned whether systemic racism exists, causing some to view it as racist.

Residents speak out:Brentwood divided over future of newsletter after ‘racist’ op-ed

While the newsletter staff, including editor Robin Wrighton, have maintained the article was an opinion piece and protected under the First Amendment, others contend that the article had no place in a town newsletter.

A call by some for the Select Board to have more oversight of the publication led to the warrant article.

Funding contingent on new guidelines 

The newsletter funding, according to the town Select Board, would come with the caveat the newsletter staff sign a contract with the town outlining the town’s expectations for the publication.

The contract states all content submitted by town departments must be published.  

As for opinion pieces, they must be town related and if a person is named, they will be offered a chance for rebuttal. All letters or columns must clearly be marked “opinion” and include the disclaimer that “views and opinions expressed here are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the town of Brentwood.”

From left, Town Administrator Karen Clement, Selectman Chair Ken Christiansen and Selectman Bob Montegari listen to resident concerns regarding the Brentwood Newsletter.

The contract also calls on the newsletter to “identify and hold harmless the town, its officials, agents, volunteers, and employees from and against any claims, proceedings, lawsuits, actions, losses, demands, or liability.”  

End of the Brentwood Newsletter? 

So far, the editor of the newsletter has yet to respond to the Select Board’s request to sign the contract and no issue was published in February or March.

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Instead, the newsletter published a statement on their website stating the “fully unpaid Editor and Newsletter Team are working on it, as always for absolutely nothing.” They then noted that the “town administration wants them to hand over all ownership of any Newsletter produced and assume all legal responsibilities as compensation.”

Wrighton did not respond to requests for comment. 

Vice-Chair Bob Montegari asked at a recent board meeting “If they don’t respond by Town Meeting, should we table the warrant article” to fund the publication?

“The legislative body makes the decision,” Selectman Jon Morgan said. 

Morgan added that he had hoped to have “a discussion in good faith” with the Newsletter staff. “I am a little disappointed.”

Wrighton previously defended the decision to publish the Gagnon column calling it freedom of speech. At the time, she said those offended want to attack and defund the newsletter rather than “enlightening the community with their alternate opinion.”

However, critics of the publication noted this wasn’t the first time they have brought up concerns about the newsletter. In 2019, the town’s Democratic Committee accused the publication of political bias after it printed voting records with descriptions of the bills that they said were lifted from Granite Grok, a right-wing conservative website.

Voters to have final say at Town Meeting 

The Brentwood Newsletter was started in 1977 by Linda Rousseau and a group of residents, after a 1976 Needs Committee identified the need for a publication. Throughout its history, the publication has offered a platform for Brentwood residents to write and submit their own articles and essays on topics of their choosing.

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The monthly was partially funded by the New Hampshire Humanities Council and began to receive town funding for postage in 1983. The publication is incorporated as nonprofit. 

Brentwood operates under the traditional Town Meeting form of government, and residents will be able to vote on the proposed funding in the March 12 Town Meeting, starting at 9 a.m. in Swasey School. 

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