Friday, May 23, 2014

This Mansfield Selectman's Tweet is Unforgivable

GOUVEIA: In plain English, the wrong words to stand behind

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Posted: Friday, May 23, 2014 2:46 am | Updated: 3:43 am, Fri May 23, 2014.
Mansfield Selectman Olivier Kozlowski sent out a tweet this past weekend under his Twitter name of "@SelectmanKoz." He does this regularly, commenting on a variety of topics. He has an absolute right to do so.
But the elected official crossed a line of sorts on Saturday when he commented on a sign at a Lowe's store advertising job openings. In fact, he not only crossed the line - he kicked dirt all over it.
The sign that offended Selectman Kozlowski simply announced the store was hiring. It made that announcement in both English and Spanish, and it was the Spanish part that apparently offended the selectman's sensibilities.
Using his @SelectmanKoz name, Kozlowski tweeted "@Lowes what level of customer service can I expect from applicants who need the lower half of this sign?"
Contacted later for an explanation of his statement, Kozlowski said, "It struck me as odd that the store was looking for employees who may not be able to speak English. It seems self-defeating."
The elected official then added: "I stand by what I said."
So much wrong, so little space. But let's start with Selectman Kozlowski tweeting as "@SelectmanKoz."
He has a perfect right to use that name. But when he includes his office on his Twitter handle, he also accepts an additional responsibility. What he says or tweets now reflects upon his town, his board, his colleagues and the citizens he represents.
If he wants to use the name, he must also accept that burden.
And what he tweeted was absolutely stupid. Not silly, not unwise, not misguided. It was just stupid, in every single sense of the word.
And it unfairly tarnished the reputations of the Town of Mansfield, the board of selectmen, town government and the community itself. Far too many casual Twitter readers now think Mansfield is "that crazy place where the selectman thinks Lowe's shouldn't hire people who speak Spanish."
Of course, the good selectman is also a hero to many. Facebook abounds with people who think only those speaking English should be hired, and praise Kozlowski for "speaking his mind."
Perhaps they make the selectman feel vindicated, but it is difficult to accept his tweet as anything but what it clearly is - a distinct prejudice against those who do not speak or read English well.
The sign he tweeted about merely said the store was accepting applications. It did not indicate any preference in hiring. It didn't even specify a position to be filled. But apparently just the fact they used the Spanish language was enough for Selectman Kozlowski to decide it was a problem.
The sign did not indicate the job was in customer service. For all the selectman knew, it could have been for a job with no customer contact. But apparently even the possibility that the applicant might have read about the opening in Spanish caused this elected official to question what level of service he might receive.
Forget how self-serving and self-centered this sounds, and just think for a moment how unfair it is. But, hey - if you read Spanish better than English, how could you possibly help Selectman Kozlowski find the proper power tool? He has a right to expect better than the likes of you helping him, doesn't he?
He might like to hide behind the concept of free speech as a means of justifying his mean-spirited and cruel remark, but that won't wash. We all have the right to say stupid things.
We also must all be held accountable for them.
My father came to this country as a teenager unable to speak English. He got a job working in a local store. If Selectman Kozlowski had been in charge, Dad probably never would have been hired, based on his "ability to communicate."
Perhaps, then, he never would have gone on to put himself through college, become a CPA, vice president of a major bank and help thousands of people.
Selectman Kozlowski appears to be a nice man who made a big mistake. He has embarrassed himself, his colleagues and his community. He should apologize for his insensitive and stupid remarks, move on personally, and hope the voters of Mansfield allow him to move on politically.
And I stand by what I said.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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