NORFOLK — When is an endorsement not an endorsement?
When is that enough to prompt an official Freedom of Information Act demand?
When is it election season in Massachusetts?
The answer to all three questions is, “right now.”
And for Town Administrator Justin Casanova-Davis, in his first month on the job, it’s also been a learning experience.
But first, a bit of background.
Republican state Rep. Shawn Dooley, who has represented the Ninth House District for four terms now, would like to be the state senator for the Norfolk, Worcester and Middlesex district. Both districts include Norfolk.
Dooley, who was unopposed in the GOP primary for the state Senate seat last month, will face incumbent Sen. Becca Raush, D-Needham, in the general election in November.
Now all candidates make a point of campaigning for the votes of their older constituents. There are many reasons for this, but one is that it’s widely acknowledged in the political world that senior citizens do one very important thing in an election year — they show up to vote.
To that end, Dooley’s campaign last month sent out an invitation that wound up — evidently unedited — on the Facebook page of the Norfolk Senior Center.
It read in part, “Please join Rep. Shawn Dooley and the Norfolk Council on Aging for a Luncheon Meet and Greet on October 4, 2022 at 12:30 p.m. Stop by to enjoy a meal, meet your next State Senator…”
It’s that last sentence that got the attention of Glenn Hill, a Norfolk resident and retired director of information security at Northeastern University.
Hill, who also served on the town’s board of library trustees, says that language made it sound like the center, a taxpayer-supported entity, was endorsing Dooley’s run for office.
In an email to The Sun Chronicle, Hill said “the language … suggests the Senate candidate has already won an election that has not yet occurred, whereby a voter might infer from the language in the reminder, there is no need to cast a vote in the next election.”
After Hill complained to town officials last Tuesday, Sept. 27, the notice was taken down. But Hill says he still wants some answers.
Hill emphasized he was not accusing anyone of wrongdoing, and said he has no stake in the election, but filed a public records request seeking the details of how the notice came to be posted on a town social media page.
“If evidence arises subsequent to public records production that indicates anyone involved in the matter acted with intent and in willful ignorance of compliance requirements, that evidence would be promptly laid before appropriate authorities,” Hill wrote.
Hill put his own item on the center’s Facebook page this week, asking when senior center officials would “publicly comment on their political post ...?”
He added that town officials had not responded to multiple requests for information as of early this week.
Casanova-Davis, the new town administrator, says he’s been in touch with Hill to let him know they are working on the records requests. (The town has until next week to formally reply under the law.)
But, the administrator told The Sun Chronicle Tuesday, this was human error. “Mistakes happen.”
He confirmed that the release from Dooley’s campaign was inadvertently included in the Facebook postings.
Hill, he said, “wants a public retraction.” After consulting with the town’s attorney, Casanova-Davis said, he determined that “we did what was correct. We have been very responsive.”
He said the town will respond to the records requests but he’s also taken steps to see this doesn’t recur.
“We brought in the council on aging director and went over social media policy,” he said.
Employees have been advised and there will be a review of the policy for postings.
“We will learn from it and make sure it does not happen again,” he said.
Hill told The Sun Chronicle that the release should not have been sent in the first place.
The Sun Chronicle was not able to reach Dooley for comment.