Response to email not read in public

BY CHRISTINA HABERSTROH
Staff Writer

HOWELL — After publicly reading an email from an unidentified individual who took the owner of a private Internet website to task, Mayor Robert Walsh has declined to publicly read the website owner’s response to the original email.

At the June 14 meeting of the Howell Township Council, Walsh read into the public record an email that he said had been received by the governing body.

The email took issue with messages that have been posted at howellnj.com and asked the council to take action against Kathy Baratta of Freehold Township, who owns the website.

Baratta’s website has no connection to the township and the municipality cannot regulate the content on the website. It is one of several websites that use Howell in their web address.

Baratta permits registered users to post messages on the website under their real names. Some of the messages involve issues that are taking place in Howell.

Municipal officials have declined to reveal the email address of the individual who wrote to the council, explaining that a state law allows them to protect that person’s privacy. The email Walsh read on June 14 was signed “Citizens for a Better Howell.”

In the wake of having her name mentioned during a public meeting of the governing body, Baratta wrote to the council and asked that her comments be read into the record during the June 28 meeting of the governing body.

Walsh declined to read her email into the record that evening.

In her letter to the council, Baratta wrote: “At your last meeting, Howell’s mayor, Robert Walsh, took it upon himself to revile me, by name, from the dais. He did so based on an email that had been sent ‘anonymously’ to the members of the governing body the day of the June 14 public meeting. The email railed not only against me personally, but [against] howellnj.com, a private, interactive community message board that I own.

“I have been able to uncover and verify the source of that email using information found on my own website; information that attaches the very same email address on the email you received to a person who registered on my board many years ago …

“Interestingly enough, earlier this month (June), an individual using that very same email address tried to register on my board under the alias ‘George Soros’ complete with a fake address and telephone number. Needless to say, this ‘registration’ attempt failed as we require proof of identity in order to register someone.

“On the heels of that bogus registration attempt, an email sent from that same email address was received by the township governing body and read into the public record by the mayor at the June 14 meeting.

“The threats against me and my board contained in the email received and read publicly by the mayor sounded all too familiar and so I resolved to identify the source of this familiar-sounding email and succeeded.

“What remains to be seen is if the council will move to act in fairness and read this, my ‘signed’ response, into the record. A statement direct from me to you intended to categorically deny the assertions read by the mayor and condemn not only ‘anonymous’s’ allegations, allegations that clearly impugned not only me, but the members of my board as well, but the fact that it was read into the record at all.

“The reading of ‘anonymous’s email and his subsequent protection was made an official township priority, yet the mayor had no compunction about associating my name with that rancorous rant, even taking it upon himself to add his own questionably tangential diatribe about anti-Semitic literature having been distributed around town.

“At the very least, the reading was a thoughtless action on the mayor’s part. An action that I feel threatened my safety and security given the inflammatory rhetoric the mayor recited for ‘anonymous’ — rhetoric that maligned me, from the dais, and the mayor’s personal observation that oddly included that reference to anti-Semitic literature distribution.

“In this day and age of, shall we say, uncertainty, Mr. Walsh, in his official capacity as mayor, subjected me not only to public censure, but quite possibly harm from psychos as well. Does ‘due diligence’ for me now include my looking over my shoulder every time I am out and in public? All I ask of the mayor and council at this time is that my rebuttal (email) be read into the public record.”

Baratta signed her name at the bottom of the email she addressed to the council.

Walsh said he may not have reviewed Baratta’s email prior to the meeting in order to have it read.

He said he is tired of the lawsuits Howell has faced through the years, which he said have cost the township thousands of dollars, and said he hopes there is an end to it all.

The mayor said he wished people throughout the community would be more respectful toward one another.

Walsh said he has known Baratta and her family for 40 years.

“I love her whole family,” the mayor said, adding that he is disappointed in the events that have occurred. “In these tough times, it’s disgraceful how nasty people are. People should be more compassionate.”

Do you have an opinion about this issue in Howell? Letters to the editor may be sent to gmntnews@gmnews.com. Letters should be limited to 250 words. To reach staff writer Christina Haberstroh, send an email to chaberstroh@gmnews.com.