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LaFreniere explains decision to pass over Mannan for Select Board leadership position

by | May 22, 2024 | Featured: News, News

Mary Jo LaFreniere

Mary Jo LaFreniere makes a point during Tuesday’s Select Board meeting. PHOTO/JOHN CARDILLO

As the new vice chair of the Select Board, Mary Jo LaFreniere said she will be confronting some of Hopkinton’s most difficult challenges during her final year in office. Some of her deepest concerns revolve around helping Hopkinton’s older residents and addressing the town’s financial constraints.

The longtime official and volunteer said one of the toughest decisions she has had to make recently was in choosing Brian Herr over Shahidul Mannan for Select Board chair.

“It was very, very difficult,” LaFreniere said in an interview Wednesday with the Independent. “Both of them are strong men and strong leaders. I was on the hot seat either way because it would have been a 3-2 for the winner.”

She said Herr approached her about her choosing him as the chair at Annual Town Meeting, two weeks before he was elected. Mannan also asked her for her support.

Ultimately, LaFreniere went with Herr because of his previous leadership on the board, she said. She sat next to him during her first term and said the two of them worked well together, even if they didn’t always agree. She believes he will bring stability to the office during a time of division.

“I knew that I could accomplish things with Brian,” she said. “We don’t always see things the same way, and I think it’s good to have that balance. We could still be friends at the end of the day.”

LaFreniere described Mannan as “a lovely, elegant man who is very bright.”

She added: “I really think he would be a good chair, just in a different time.”

LaFreniere said she has never seen such vitriol and personal attacks as she has witnessed in recent months in town. This includes vandalizing Select Board members’ cars, she said.

“My tire was slashed about a month ago,” she said. “I know Amy [Ritterbusch]’s tail light on her car was cracked and that Irfan [Nasrullah]’s car was keyed while he was still on the Select Board.

Stressed LaFreniere: “This was just done in anger.”

“I have strong feelings about Hopkinton,” she continued. “I have been involved here for more than 40 years. All of the bickering — it has to stop. There is so much more going on in town than this, and we have work to accomplish.”

From her perspective, she said she believed that voters chose Herr and Joe Clark, the Independent candidates, in this election because “they wanted to bring people with a strong Hopkinton connection to the board.”

“I think they thought that by electing the local guys that they are going to get their town back,” she explained. “But it’s never going to be the same as it was. We have grown as a town and are still growing.”

She noted that a small cadre of residents appearing at recent Select Board meetings has changed the dynamics of the town. But her support of Herr for chair does not translate to her agreeing on all of their stances.

“There’s a small group of angry people,” she said, noting a group of residents who opposed the firing of former Hopkinton Police Sgt. Tim Brennan and started a recall petition of Select Board members. “Once it’s out there, you can’t get the genie back into the jar.”

As for the vice chair position, LaFreniere said it was something she neither sought nor relishes. She accepted the nomination because she said she felt she could bring balance to the board’s leadership.

“I couldn’t see Brian and Shahidul working together,” she shared. “I have seen them be belligerent with each other and talk over each other. I’m just speaking my mind.”

Added LaFreniere: “It’s small-town politics, and it happens everywhere.”

LaFreniere said that in her role as vice chair, she will be stepping up her public appearances. She will be giving a speech at Monday’s Memorial Day event.

“I haven’t done this in a while,” she said with a laugh. “But I used to give speeches all the time when I worked for state Senator David Magnani.”

She added: “I just want to spend my last 11 months on the board working on the issues.”

6 Comments

  1. Brian

    As I have nothing personal against Mary Jo, this action reverts back to and solidifies Shahidul’s previous subtle stance of institutional racism being alive and well in our society and the town. To say that only people from this town have a better perspective and outlook of making critical decisions for the residents unlike someone who hasn’t resided here is a blatant display of dismissing inclusion and diversity of thought. Because Herr and Clark are ‘town folk’ and feel they have the ear of what the residents wants only furthers the divide which Mary Jo speaks of in being collaborative and objective with the different perspectives regarding town issues and decisions.

    Reply
    • Beth Malloy

      Brian I whole heartedly agree. The racism in this town is ignored by those who don’t want to admit it’s here. I’ve had people say some pretty racist thing in my presence. One man said, ”Well have you seen the color of the kids at Hopkins lately?” That was 3 years ago.
      Being a Townie should mean nothing more if you don’t have volunteerism in your own resume.

      Reply
  2. Steve Snow

    Brian you are so wrong. The people of Hopkinton could care less about the color of his skin it’s the content of his character & ability to lead that we question. Shahidul cried like a baby at the louder mill hearing, then laughed like a fool at the next Select Board meeting. If you attend public meetings you would see he speaks with no authority. He starts strong and articulate but fades from the microphone to a low difficult to understand mutter. As for townie status Bryan is like me born and raised elsewhere but a long time resident. Joe is born raised and his grandparents are buried here. His family has more years serving Hopkinton than can be counted.

    Reply
  3. Aaron

    The acts of vandalism are abhorrent and cannot be tolerated.But, I think Mary Jo is mistaken about the motivation of the voters that voted for Herr and Clark. I don’t think it has anything to do with the Herr and Clark being “from Hopkinton”. If you polled most voters the motivation was about deep frustration at the actions of the select board over the last two years and the lack of accountability and responsive action on behalf of the HDTC as issues have come to light over the actions of their members, and some of the qualifications and performance of candidates that they have put forward in the last two elections. Herr and Clark won because they were running as seemingly qualified independents. It is true that there certainly is a group of particularly vocal people that are very angry. Those vocal citizens are representing a much larger group that just as disappointed with the state of things, if not as vocal. That’s one of the reason voter turnout was so high. In that light I don’t think this an example of institutional racism. It’s more of very clear message that association the HDTC is perceived as a problem right now and will remain so until they address their internal issues.

    Reply
  4. heather smith

    With respect to comments, I would like to point out that it is ok to disagree with people, in fact, it would be a boring community if everyone agreed with each other. What is not ok, and with all due respect to Steve, let’s take race out of it as those who don’t see the issues that are present with racism will never see it so it’s not worth an online debate. Let’s take the other comments made about Mr. Mannan and speak on that which were “content of character and ability to lead”. So we are holding it against someone who cried and showed humanity at a meeting on such a sensitive topic, and then laughed a week later, as the inability to lead? What exactly do those two things have to say about his character? I might be reading that wrong but it sounds like there is no room for anyone to have emotions about topics that are serious in our community and if we show emotion that is a knock against one’s character. Just to correct something as well, I do believe that Mr Mannan has lived in our community for over 20 years, which I would say is a long-time resident much like the current chair. I would also point out that Mr. Mannan has done far more for many families and organizations in our town than some of the Select Board members have ever done, such as showing up to events both local and in Boston, and showing support that never made it to a newspaper or social media. I like to think that all of the anger shown in meetings, on the streets, or online from our community is misplaced passion. I hope I am wrong, but as of late the optics are painting a picture that in order to be heard, we all need to show up to meetings, loud, angry, and disrespectful, or take to social media and present ourselves the same way. I have friends from all walks of life in this community, different skin colors, religions, and political beliefs and I would never stoop to a level to not hear their views, or act disrespectfully. Have your beliefs, we all should have our own beliefs and not be bullied into taking a side we don’t agree with, but what I cannot tolerate is disrespect and members of our community, who are our neighbors, thinking that their beliefs are the ONLY belief, therefore, they are right. Everyone needs to have some grace and realize we all live here and many people are raising children we want to have a peaceful upbringing and learn from all of us as their role models. The ask is simple: Just be kind.

    Reply
  5. Mary Jo Ondrechen

    The new Select Board is not off to a good start. The way that Mr. Herr treated Mr. Mannan was graceless and disrespectful. It is also unfortunate that some neighbors, including some town leaders, are denying that there is racism here. To deny it is to help perpetuate it.

    Reply

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