Longtime Easthampton councilor says colleague’s ‘bullying’ has him on verge of resigning



  • Easthampton Municipal Building, 50 Payson Avenue gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/2/2022 9:23:11 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A longtime city councilor on the cusp of resigning over what he alleges was a harassing and bullying email sent by a fellow councilor is calling on City Council leadership to step in and stop the behavior.

In a Monday email obtained by the Gazette, Precinct 5 Councilor Dan Rist describes a Sunday email from At-Large Councilor Owen Zaret as “absurd” and a threat to his health.

“As you know I have a health issue which is exacerbated by tension, stress and conflict. My doctor advises I must avoid such situations. In my younger days, this kind of attack would be met with my own fierce defense as I had the stomach for it,” Rist wrote. “Unfortunately, I can no longer afford to lose my temper. In other words, I must stay cool to stay alive. That’s not just a sound bite, but very real.”

He also noted that rather than resign from the council to “safeguard against continuing harassments,” he chose to leave it to council leadership to deal with, because it was “not the first time Councilor Zaret has attacked a councilor like this.”

Rist did not elaborate, but ended his letter by stating that if the problem continues to escalate, he will be forced to leave a position he has held for 27 years.

Rist also alerted Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and Police Chief Robert Alberti to the email.

In Zaret’s email, he describes Rist’s unwillingness to call, text, or meet with him and that it “needs to stop.” He further accuses Rist of making defamatory comments.

“It is unprofessional, bias, and discriminatory. On a more personal level it is cruel, hostile, and emotionally abusive,” Zaret wrote. “Yes you were offended by me. That was 18 months ago. Continuing to perpetuate a self appointed policy that obstructs council business and marginalized me is a betrayal to your oath as a councilor to act ‘faithfully and impartially’.”

Zaret further noted that he won his at-large seat in the last two elections with the most votes by margins of approximately 100 and 300 votes, which he said was to illustrate the referendum by this city on his behaviors and record.

“You may not like me sir, but you betray our residents with this ongoing persecution,” he wrote.

According to Zaret, he has made numerous requests to repair the issue, but all his attempts went unanswered.

Zaret also alleges that Rist’s behavior was part of a lengthy retaliation for concerns he voiced last year, and asserts that Rist has employed “microaggressions and condescending language” in public.

Zaret said he has submitted a complaint to the State Ethics Commission, and intends to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act for Rist’s correspondence with other councilors, to evaluate his willingness to communicate with them and so illustrate bias and discrimination toward himself.

“I will look to illustrate a process of retaliation versus just pursuit of the rules, as well as whether you broke open meeting law by deliberating with a quorum of the rules committee or council,” he wrote.

In response to Rist’s Monday email, Zaret emailed Rist to say that he intended to speak at Wednesday’s council meeting as a member of the public regarding Rist’s “ongoing personal campaign” against him.

However, Zaret did not speak about the matter during the meeting.

Council President Homar Gomez said in an interview with the Gazette that he is working with the city’s human resources department to set up a mediation with the two councilors with someone from outside of Easthampton.

“I do recognize that the relationship between the two councilors is not good, but by law, Councilor Rist has the right to choose who to answer, and I respect that. I do understand how that could be problematic,” said Gomez. “But I’m hoping we can find ways to work with others.”

Rist was unavailable for comment as of presstime.

Zaret said he welcomed the mediation and was pleased that Gomez is facilitating the opportunity to speak with Rist, who he says has ignored his requests repeatedly.

“Every other councilor has real-time access to him, but I don’t. It’s problematic … I don’t see how this is helping,” said Zaret.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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