Writer of Controversial Letter About Parking Entitlement Issues Apology
Controversy broke out on local social media pages earlier this week amid accusations by a town resident in a letter to the editor of Marblehead Beacon that three “VEPs (Very Entitled Persons)” allegedly had spots reserved for them at Town Meeting. For three consecutive evenings in early May, Town Meeting was held at Veteran’s Middle School, and the author of the letter – Laurie Barham – claimed that handicapped parking was in short supply. Named in her letter were three Select Board members. After we contacted her with follow-up information we had learned, Barham issued an apology (included at the bottom of this article).
Prior to the issuance of Barham’s apology, several Select Board members communicated with Marblehead Beacon. Member Jim Nye told us, “I have never been offered a preferred, reserved, or designated parking spot for any town meeting,” he said. “As usual, I parked on Pleasant Street all three nights to avoid the traffic exiting town meeting. Thank you for shedding light on these false allegations.”
Select Board members Erin Noonan, Moses Grader, and Jackie Belf-Becker weighed in as well, prior to learning of the apology, with Noonan stating that “I am unaware of any special preferred parking for Town Meeting for members of the Select Board. I shared in the experience of all Town Meeting goers. I can appreciate the potential difficulty that arises with regard to sufficient handicap parking spaces for the size of the event. To that end I am grateful to Ms. Barham for bringing the issue to our attention. It is essential that we uphold equal access and extend reasonable accommodations to all residents in the participation of our democratic process. I am committed to looking into all options to improve upon past access issues for next year.”
The Veterans Middle School parking lot includes eight spots that are designated for handicap use, four in the front lot by the tennis courts and four more behind the building.
Grader told Marblehead Beacon that “[t]his is a slanderous lie with obvious intent. I have never been offered reserved or designated parking for any Town event and would consider it unconscionable to park in a handicapped parking space.” He added that “on the second night in question,” he “parked across from the library on Pleasant Street because [he] was running late from work” and noted that “[o]n the other two nights [he] arrived early enough to park in available spots in the Veterans school parking areas.”
Belf-Becker stated, “This is why social media can be abused. When one person with an obvious ax to grind can spread this misinformation which is absolutely a lie. My husband and I parked against the fence all three nights of Town Meeting. There was no preferred parking for us and we would never, ever park in a handicapped parking space. In the decades I have worked for this town, I have never looked for special privileges.”
School Board Chair Sarah Fox told Marblehead Beacon, “I can emphatically state that none of those spots was reserved for anyone on the Select Board.” She went on to point out that there are permanently delineated spots with signage for the principal of the school, the vice principal, and the school nurse. Similar signs and spots exist at other town schools as well. School employees – a category in which school board members and the superintendent fall – are permitted to use the spots during Town Meeting.
Nye also advised us that his understanding was that the spots in question were reserved on Town Meeting evenings for the Chair of the School Committee, the Superintendent, and the Assistant Superintendent. Our article's main photo depicts these permanent signs that during school hours are reserved for the principal, vice principal, and school nurse, respectively.
When we originally reached out to the author of the letter to the editor, Laurie Barham, about whether she knew of any disabled persons who were unable to access handicapped parking spots, she replied, “I do not know specific folks with disabilities who did not find parking.” “But,” she continued, “given my experience, there are surely folks who either knew better than to try to attend and/or came and couldn’t find parking. Despite hundreds more people attending town meeting than can be accommodated by the parking lot, the only spaces reserved for people with disabilities are those designated on any given work day.”
Upon communicating with the various elected officials and researching the matter, we reached out to Barham with our findings. Immediately she stated that she would like to issue an apology, and it appears below:
“I made a series of horrible mistakes – not checking my own sources and digging a little deeper on something so important is the least of it. Obviously, the most of it was accusing Moses Grader, Jackie Belf-Becker and Jim Nye of something they did not do. For that I am deeply sorry.”