Blogs and other forms of social media are so quickly becoming an integral part of the public discourse that laws can't keep up in terms of the applicability of traditional free speech rights. Egremont is the latest community to wrestle with these technological complexities, but the problems in town go far beyond blog posts by a now-former town official.
The town Finance Committee Monday removed Kevin Zurrin from the board by a 3-1 vote, with one abstention, for allegedly making defamatory comments about town employees in his blog, as well as in an email. Mr. Zurrin, according to committee members, accused Egremont Water Company employees of possible theft, and in a February 13 post, Mr. Zurrin said the incoming auditor was in the "cross hairs" of the attorney general's office. Mr. Zurrin's attorney asserted that committee members were engaged in a "direct attack on the freedom of the press."
It is highly debatable that Mr. Zurrin is a member of the press, although blogging has obscured that line. However, no member of the press has the right to make unsubstantiated allegations. Several years ago, in the relative infancy of the Internet as a means of political discourse, a North Adams website printed scurrilous and unsupported allegations about then-Mayor John Barrett III, but shut down in the face of a threatened lawsuit by the mayor. Mr. Zurrin's blogs may not have come close to that level, but even in attempting to "force the issue with the townspeople," rules of fairness have to apply.
The extent of vocal support for Mr. Zurrin at Monday's meeting indicates that many townspeople share his belief that not only are there problems in town, but, as Mr. Zurrin told The Eagle, they are routinely shuffled into reports and filed away. For this reason, the debate cannot end with Mr. Zurrin's departure. If the attorney general's office has issues with the auditor it will inform the town, but as far as any irregularities in town affairs, the Selectmen, Finance Committee and other relevant boards must either get to the bottom of them or demonstrate to the satisfaction of residents that, the concerns of Mr. Zurrin aside, there is nothing amiss.