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Duggan Reverses Stance, Invites Republican Town Committee To March On Memorial Day

Apr 24, 2019 11:16PM ● By Lisa Redmond

(Editor's note: Editor Bill Gilman contributed to this story.)

DRACUT – Is it political or patriotic?

After selectmen on Tuesday sharply criticized Town Manager James Duggan’s decision to deny the Dracut Republican Town Committee’s request to march in the Dracut May 27 Memorial Day parade, Duggan reversed his stance and will invite the group as long as their message is patriotic, not political.

“If it is just to memorialize veterans, I don’t see a problem,’’ Selectman Joe DiRocco told Duggan at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting.

Selectman Tami Dristiliaris said the parade has always been inclusive. Republicans, Democrats, gay pride supporters should all be invited, she said. “I don’t think we should exclude any group that wants to honor our veterans,’’ she added.

Duggan told the board his objective was to have the parade honor veterans who have “made the ultimate sacrifice’’ and not to politicize the event. Duggan suggested that allowing one political group to march is a slippery slope that “will evolve into’’ a political venue for anyone running for office.

“I feel strongly about this,’’ Duggan said, but “if the board directs me’’ to allow the group to march he would do so.

The Dracut Republican Town Committee was outraged that Duggan rejected their request to march in the parade. Committee Chairman Brian Genest posted on the group’s Facebook page on April 18 that the committee sent letters to the five selectmen urging them to “put an end to the discriminatory, illegal and unacceptable position of the town government.

“Our members are a group of patriotic and dedicated town residents and to deny our organization the right to march is just plain wrong,’’ Genest posted. “This is an issue of fairness and freedom.’’

Republican Selectman candidate Brian Bond told YourDracutToday, "Very simple, it’s criminal. It’s a First Amendment right.’’

Duggan told YourDracutToday, “The town has the First Amendment right to express through the parade what’s in the town’s best interest of our appreciation and recognizing the men and women who have served and are serving in the armed services for the United States of America. We want to express reverence through a solemn occasion.’’

Selectman Chairman Jesse Forcier told YourDracutToday, “I have no issue with the DRTC marching in the parade. I have expressed that sentiment with the town manager. I believe it’s a freedom of speech/expression issue. I’m an elected/political figure and I march in the parade every year.’’

Duggan addressed the issue of local and state elected officials marching the parade by saying, “It’s appropriate to permit incumbent officials to march because they are elected by the public and exhibit the publics respect for the occasion. It is not a partisan or political event and we treat everybody even handedly and in a non-discriminatory manner, such that we allow Democrats to keep Republicans out or vise-versa.’’

Selectman Tony Archinski wrote, “ I can say that I personally don’t care who marches as long as they are respectful and understand that the parade and ceremonies are dedicated to show reverence to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice as well as family members who have gone before us.’

As a veteran, he is aware that many veterans and veteran’s groups are sensitive to political interference in these parades and solemn ceremonies, he said. Although many towns and cities have “parade policies” that address these issues, I am not aware of any in Dracut, he added.

As an active member of the Democratic Town Committee, Archinski said both the DTC and the RTC are political organizations dedicated to supporting and promoting party ideology and candidates within their party.

“I would suggest that Mr. Genest and all members of his group be invited to join in the festivities without carrying their banner. Memorial Day is not a day to promote awareness, candidates, campaigns or ideology,’’ he said.

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