DOYLESTOWN >> In a letter addressed to the Bucks County Commissioners, Dean Malik, an attorney representing Bucks County planning board member, Joan Cullen, has demanded an apology and a retraction for statements made against Cullen. His letter follows:
"For as long as Bucks County has maintained a website, it has featured a page containing press releases for the dissemination of information of public interest to the people of the county. The overwhelming majority of these press releases have pertained to the operation of county government, and since March of this year the releases have focused upon infection and mortality rates from COVID-19," wrote Malik.
"This past Friday, June 19, 2020, in a stunning departure from customary use, a highly inflammatory, vicious and personal attack was posted to the website as a press release targeting Bucks County resident, Joan Cullen. This press release, attributable to Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia, and more broadly to all three of you, is outrageous and defamatory. The content is a matter of public record, has been shared exponentially on social media, and has received extensive press coverage.
"To summarize, it is alleged that two of Ms. Cullen’s postings on Twitter in 2019 were 'hateful, ignorant and unacceptable.' The release states that Chair Ellis-Marseglia therefore 'seeks' Ms. Cullen’s resignation from her position on the County Planning Board.
"While the press release clearly states the Board of Commissioners has 'no authority' to remove Ms. Cullen, it fails to disclose the fact that the position is an unpaid appointment. The release therefore relates to neither any expenditure of tax dollars nor any executive decision that could possibly be made by the Board. This lack of nexus between the content of the press release and any official function of the Board calls into question the purpose of the release. Moreover, anyone with personal knowledge of Ms. Cullen would find the accusations against her to be absurd and outrageous.
"Ms. Cullen has dedicated her life to volunteer service in Bucks County for many years. In addition to serving as an unpaid volunteer to the little known Bucks County Planning Commission, Ms. Cullen also currently serves as an unpaid volunteer position as the Vice President of the Pennridge School Distrtict’s Board of School Directors, which has worked tirelessly with district administrators, faculty and staff to continue excellent education services for students and during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis and school closures, cancellation of graduation and cancellation of many long held student traditions including 'prom.'
"Ms. Cullen has been a Sunday school teacher, coach with the CYO, and previously served in leadership roles in various home-school associations, booster clubs, and scouting organizations. Drawing on her background as a social studies teacher, she has served as a valuable classroom instruction volunteer. As a Board member, Ms. Cullen has been instrumental in significantly improving educational programs and bringing the nationally recognized anti-bullying and empowerment program, Rachel’s Challenge, to the community.
"The false and malicious nature of the release is abundantly clear when viewing the tweets at issue in their full context. The first tweet referenced in the press release involves Ms. Cullen’s sharing of another tweet from a prominent conservative African-American twitter account, in which she denied the existence of 'systemic' racism, sexism and homophobia. 'Racism' itself is an individual belief 'that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.' 'Sexism' and 'homophobia' reflect similar personal bigotry on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. Ms. Cullen never denied the existence of these forms of personal bigotry. 'Systemic' racism, sexism and homophobia however, is a more abstract concept based upon the argument that society’s institutions, power-structures, laws and governing bodies are founded upon bigotry and are inherently biased on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation. A belief in 'systemic' bigotry is an indictment of society as a whole without reference to individual behaviors or personal culpability. Reasonable well-meaning people can disagree on the extent and pervasiveness of bigotry in our society. Ad hominin attacks and vilification should have no place in a civil discussion in our great American marketplace of ideas. Yet, that is exactly what you have done, and in doing so you have defamed Ms. Cullen.
"The second tweet referenced in the press release pertains to a comment made by Ms. Cullen in which she complained of the hypocrisy of those on the political left who condemned the use of black body and face paint at a school spirit event by minor students of the Covington Catholic School in Kentucky (which has been explained as having no racist intent), while at the same time failing to condemn the use of blatant black face by adults, who are now 'liberal' elected public officials such Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Ms. Cullen was in no way defending or making light of the vulgar and offensive use of blackface to degrade African-Americans but was complaining of what she and many others see as a blatant double-standard. Your attempt to suggest otherwise is deceitful, abusive and libelous.
"You have called Ms. Cullen’s social media comments, as discussed above, 'hateful.' They clearly are not. 'Hate speech' is 'speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people.' It is not even close to arguable that Ms. Cullen’s comments were “hate speech,” yet this is clearly the inference you invite all readers of your press release to make based upon your deliberate use of the word 'hateful.' You will bear the responsibility for any harm caused by your extreme, outrageous and recklessly false claims.
"You each as County Commissioners earn a salary plus benefits approaching one hundred thousand dollars per year. Additionally, the county spends several hundred thousand dollars more per year in overhead to support your offices including the salaries and benefits of staff, material maintenance, and maintenance of the county website. Ms. Cullen, unlike you, has never drawn any form of pay funded by taxpayer dollars. All of her positions have been strictly uncompensated and voluntary. You have used government resources and your platforms as government officials to spitefully attack a private citizen, without a business purpose, while on taxpayers’ time. You have no right to do this, and you have compromised the moral authority of your positions by doing so.
"We demand that you immediately retract the false claims against Ms. Cullen, and that you issue a contextually honest correction, and apologize for the distress and other harms caused. We understand fully that you may well dismiss our concerns, render no apology or correction and you are likely to claim that you are free from consequences based upon your official titles. Indeed, we know that you may claim that the your official positions afford you the cloak of immunity; it is precisely that abuse of office that renders your actions so repugnant. Regardless, notwithstanding any of the above, we reserve the right to pursue any and all avenues of recourse. You will not be permitted to convert your good offices into a bully pulpit from which to commit acts of abuse against citizens belonging to the community you are supposed to serve."