PROVINCETOWN — They say politics in Provincetown is a blood sport. In an effort to try to change that, the select board is poised to adopt a code of conduct.
It’s based on one from the town of Dennis, which approved a policy regulating officials’ conduct last year. The proposed code states that board members should treat other board and committee members “with respect, despite differences of opinion; keeping in mind that professional respect does not preclude honest differences of opinion but requires respect within those differences.”
The Dennis code also lays out guidelines for social media use.
“Officials must not harass others in contravention of the town’s computer use policy, anti-discrimination and harassment policy, regardless of the time, place, form or manner in which the information is posted or transmitted,” the Dennis social media policy states. “Comments may be deemed to violate this policy even if the town’s name or names of any individual is not specifically referenced.”
The topic of how town officials treat one another has come up before. Former Town Manager David Panagore hired an expert in conflict resolution to hold a work session with the select board in 2019.
Board members have occasionally lost their cool on social media. Select board member Louise Venden mentioned her own transgression a few years ago on Facebook. Her 2018 post included crude language. She later apologized, but the other board members voted to remove her as chair because of it, Venden said at Monday’s board meeting.
The members have not always been civil to each other in person, either.
Select board member Bobby Anthony began his statement on the topic this week by apologizing to Venden for comments he made to her in the previous meeting.
“It was out of frustration and I want to apologize to you,” he said.
The code of conduct will come up for a vote at the next meeting. If adopted, violations could lead to removal from the board or committee through a process spelled out in the town’s charter.
“I’m quite relieved to see this on the agenda,” said the select board’s Lise King. “People have been sitting on their heels and using the First Amendment to justify really ugly behavior on social media. I’m really done with it and I appreciate your work to make it happen.”
Anthony asked if the town attorney should review it in case the policy runs afoul of First Amendment rights.
But David Abramson, the board chair, said, “I don’t think you have a right to harass anyone.”
The policy will be included in a handbook given out to all boards and committees appointed by the select board. Notably, those boards do not include the finance committee, whose chair, Mark Hatch, has been on the hot seat for some time because of his social media comments. Several townspeople have called for his removal from the committee. He did not return a call for comment.
Town Moderator Mary Jo Avellar, who appoints the finance committee, said she does not want to be the “censorship police.”
“What is acceptable to some people is not to other people,” said Avellar. “I find Donald Trump totally offensive, but no one can get him out of office except by un-electing him.”