FRAMINGHAM, MA — The appointment of Framingham Unfiltered founder Justin Kapust has created controversy among both politicians and politically-interested Framingham residents.
The Framingham City Council confirmed Mayor Charlie Sisitsky’s appointment of Justin Kapust to the committee by a vote of six to five.
Kapust has long been linked to the website Framingham Unfiltered, which has garnered criticism for what Councilor Cesar Stewart-Morales said is a “platform that is used to anonymously launch personal and sustained attacks against elected officials, city employees, volunteers serving on other city boards and, worst of all, against private citizens.”
The content throughout the years has featured what councilors said is racist and homophobic comments and opinions about private residents and those in city politics alike.
This week, Mayor Charlie Sisitsky defended his reasoning for the appointment amid calls for the council and mayor to reverse their decision.
Sisitsky said that, in Kapust’s application, he said he started “hundreds of garden plants each year,” making him a logical selection from an agricultural standpoint.
He also noted that Kapust didn’t mention the website in his application, and added a now-common refrain in support of his nominee that Kapust isn’t heavily involved now.
“While I was aware that Mr. Kapust started that website, it has evolved from just one person to a group of several anonymous individuals. Mr. Kapust never mentioned the controversial website in his application and my office has no legal proof on what items on that site were written by Mr. Kapust and what items were written by other anonymous members of the site,” Sisitsky said.
At a recent council meeting, Kapust said he is still aware of what happens on the site, adding that “it all comes back to me,” meaning that both he hears about it and is tied to the content produced on the site due to his original involvement.
He also bristled at the idea that he was “in charge” of the site, stating that there were “other voices that aren’t mine” publishing on the site. Though he said he’s stepped back, he also noted that it only takes a phone call from him to “make posts disappear.”
Read more: Officials Split After Framingham Unfiltered Creator Named To Committee
Sisitsky added that he believes Kapust deserves a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of local politicians.
“I believe everyone deserves a second chance. But second chances should be constructed through reformative pathways. Having Mr. Kapust use his skills as an avid gardener is one such pathway,” he said.
The mayor’s statement has been included in full below:
As an appointing authority, it is important to consider all candidates, those I agree or align with and those I do not. Among my goals in making my appointments is to consider diverse candidates, including geographic diversity.
When considering an appointment, I look at how the applicants can help the committee, board, or commission, and work to make changes to improve the quality of life for our residents. Nuanced political difference should not enter into the appointment process. Based on the application submitted by Mr. Kapust, he was a good match for a position of alternative for the agriculture advisory committee.
In his application he discussed “starting hundreds of garden plants each year, unique varieties of tomatoes, peppers, squash, cukes, and greens, and giving them away to my community, neighborhood, friends, and family.”
In his application, Mr. Kapust also wrote “I see the value in agriculture in the community. I believe that the south side of Framingham is a disadvantaged area, where residents lack land, an in many cases financial resources, and I would like to see the area gain community garden space, farmers markets, and the tools to help everyone get some dirt under their fingernails and bring agriculture home.”
While I was aware that Mr. Kapust started that website, it has evolved from just one person to a group of several anonymous individuals. Mr. Kapust never mentioned the controversial website in his application and my office has no legal proof on what items on that site were written by Mr. Kapust and what items were written by other anonymous members of the site.
My office does not do background checks on individuals who apply for volunteer boards, committees, and commission, but I am considering making some changes to the nomination process, following this matter.
As the Mayor, I am very sensitive to the tone people use when discussing issues in our community and I have been a vocal advocate urging people to be more civil and respectful – especially in their online discourse. I myself have been subjected to hate-filled comments on that site and on social media platforms.
I know some are questioning the nomination. I hear you. A leader reflects on choices.
Mr. Kapust told City Councilors he has learned from his past actions. Everyone makes mistakes. It is important to learn from your mistakes. He told the City Councilors he is no longer associated with publishing on that website. He told the City Council he should be given a chance to serve on the committee.
I believe everyone deserves a second chance. But second chances should be constructed through reformative pathways. Having Mr. Kapust use his skills as an avid gardener is one such pathway.