GILMANTON — A remark that Selectman Stephen McWhinnie made in a private conversation is continuing to haunt him, with the parents of a special needs child unwilling to let him off the hook for his characterization of such children as “crayon-eaters” — especially since he has not publicly apologized for the remark.
Lynn O’Connor overheard the phone conversation between her husband, Ron, and McWhinnie, and brought it to the attention of the former town administrator in a letter dated June 25.
“During that conversation,” she wrote, “Ronald explained to Steve that my daughter … was special needs and was going to Gilmanton School this year for math and mentioned that we had an issue with [transportation] but got that all squared away. Steven then had said to him that he always believes we should give special needs kids everything they need … But he’s not going to bus a ‘crayon eater’ to Manchester.”
Lynn O'Connor said she and her husband exchanged several emails and text messages with McWhinnie and the town about the matter, but no reprimand or public apology was forthcoming.
Texts between Ron O'Connor and McWhinnie – which Lynn shared with The Laconia Daily Sun – show that there was an attempt at an apology.
"Can you apologize to Lynn for me," McWhinnie wrote. "Apperantly [sic] she didn't hear what I said prior to that. That was totally missing pieces of the conversation both before and after."
Ron O'Connor responded: "Unfortunately she does not want to speak with you again. We live with a special needs adult child every day. She doesn't eat crayons but We know parents that would give $1 million for their child to be able to 'pick up a crayon and eat it'. A human life is a human life. This is the trouble with the world. No one understands...."
The O’Connors brought their complaint to the Aug. 27 selectmen’s meeting, and Lynn told the board: “It’s unfair, unjust, and a disgrace to the children in our community, according to the official audio recording of the meeting. She also complained about having been ignored on the matter. “Do the job and respond to the public,” she said.
Given a chance to address her complaint, McWhinnie simply said, “No.”
Acting Town Administrator Heather Carpenter spoke up for him at the meeting, saying, “What you have to remember is … there is nothing in any RSAs or any law that says a member of the Board of Selectmen cannot speak their minds. This was a private conversation. If it was at a meeting and he made a statement like that, it would be a different situation. He has freedom of speech, as do you.”
Carpenter went on to say that people can post whatever they like on social media, but, “When you come in here, we don’t allow bashing in public, name-calling in public. We come here to do a job, not for the public and political propaganda that is going through the community in such a rabid manner.”
Carpenter was making an apparent reference to the unrest in the community over recent lawsuits and other expenditures. Police Chief Matthew Currier obtained an injunction against the selectmen’s directives to the police department, and the town has appealed the decision, saying that cruiser use and other departmental policies are making town residents less safe. Additionally, residents have complained about town officials keeping the front door of the Town Hall locked, ostensibly because employees felt unsafe and overburdened by Right-To-Know requests.
The O’Connors say it is both a personal and a community issue.
Ron O’Connor commented on Facebook, “Since the sincere and timely apology did not happen, what should the official do or should the official be expected to do? We feel he should resign … Completely unacceptable for someone who has the capacity to make decisions for Special Needs people to say he can honestly make those decisions in a fair manner.”
Lynn O’Connor said, “He obviously is ignorant and has no idea what kind of effect a statement like that has on children with special needs and their parents who are always fighting for them. It’s a shame he is representing the town of Gilmanton.”
McWhinnie had not returned messages seeking comment on the matter as of press time.
To contact Tom Caldwell, email firstname.lastname@example.org.