BELLOWS FALLS — Town Manager Willis “Chip” Stearns issued a public apology Tuesday evening, a tad defiantly, over his remarks last week that some viewed as racist.
“What I said was offensive,” said Stearns.
Stearns, speaking at the beginning of the Rockingham Select Board meeting, said that only four people had contacted him personally with concerns over his statement, in which he said he hoped that once the Bellows Falls Police Department got a police dog, or a “nose dog” as he put it, “Latinos would leave town.”
Stearns said the next day that what he meant to say was that the police dog would inspire gang members of the Latin Kings to leave town and he cited the fact that gang graffiti had recently sprouted in town, including on the back wall of the Town all in downtown Bellows Falls.
Stearns’ written statement, which lasted less than two minutes, said he had no intent to make a racist comment or “slur,” but he admitted what he said was offensive, and apologized for his remark.
He said that someone else unsolicited had written a statement for him, but that he rejected it because it didn’t sound like him and weren’t his words.
The town official, who was the town’s finance director before he was tapped a year ago to be town manager, said he did not use social media such as Facebook and Twitter and thus did not participate in discussions in those forums.
Social media, “is not part of my life,” said Stearns, who claimed his lack of response was simple. “I do not have or make time for these activities,” he said.
Stearns is a native of Rockingham and grew up in Saxtons River. He is currently a Springfield resident.
He said he would continue to focus on his job responsibilities, to make Rockingham and Bellows Falls “vibrant and safe places” to live and work.
Rockingham Select Board Chairman Thomas MacPhee said the entire board supported Stearns, and MacPhee said he knew Stearns also had the full support of the Bellows Falls Village Trustees.
“As far as we’re concerned, this is old news at this point, and let’s move on,” MacPhee said.
There was no public comment in response to Stearns’ statement, including from Bellows Falls resident Deborah Wright, who has been speaking out publicly against Stearns. She is a candidate for the Bellows Falls village trustees, which hold elections May 20.
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