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Correspondent

GROTON — Reacting to a political storm blown up by one of their own, the Board of Selectmen have issued a public statement night reasserting the town’s respect for various holidays held as important by different religious groups.

“The Board of Selectmen and other town boards are sensitive to the scheduling of their meetings so as to minimize possible conflicts with holidays,” said Chairman Fran Dillon in a statement read at the beginning of the board’s meeting of July 10.

“It is important that our community has confidence that the Groton Board of Selectmen strongly embraces and welcomes the diversity of the people in our town, whether it’s their ethnic background, their religious beliefs, or the color of their skin,” continued Dillon.

Dillon read the comments in the wake of public complaints by fellow board member Joshua Degen regarding the scheduling of the annual Grotonfest event during Yom Kippur, said to be the holiest of Jewish holidays.

“We should be teaching diversity to all members of the community, not just here in Groton but statewide and nationwide,” said Degen in a previous interview on the subject. “That’s not what is happening here.”

In his comments, Degen condemned the Groton Business Association for its perceived ignorance of a holiday that many people would associate with a war fought and won 34 years ago by Israel against overwhelming odds.

Scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 22, organizer Jane Bouvier has denied that there was any intention to hold Grotonfest on the Jewish holiday, but that changing the date so late in the game would be impossible due to participants having already signed up for reserved space.

Calling on residents to “boycott” the event, Degen hoped that the day of the show was spoiled by rain and that his fellow selectmen would stand with him in making an official statement condemning the scheduling of Grotonfest.

In that regard, Dillon read his statement Monday night.

“The combination of ideas and points of view from both our long-time residents and our newer residents make us a stronger place in which to live,” read Dillon from the prepared statement. “As the community grows and changes, it is important for us all to value the diversity of our inhabitants and to be sensitive to cultures and religions that bring different calendars, and observe different holidays.”

“I think that the comments were appropriate on behalf of the Board of Selectmen,” said Degen of the statement, stressing however that his position was that of a resident who happens to be a member of the board and not as a public official. “As a board, selectmen can’t dictate policy or procedure to a private organization. They must try to lead by example in dictating policy for town-sponsored events. It’s my hope and expectation that the Groton Business Association, in sponsoring and conducting Grotonfest, would abide by the same rules and make this truly a townwide event. And with a rain date already preprogrammed into their event, I don’t see why they are not willing to accommodate the community to move the event to that rain date.”

Dillon’s opening announcement was not listed on the board’s agenda for Monday night’s meeting and was delivered without introduction, comment or subsequent discussion by members.

“For the future, we need to educate one another regarding the important dates of religious observation so that we can ensure that as many people as possible can participate in scheduled events,” Dillon concluded.

Following Monday’s statement, Bouvier confirmed that there are currently no plans to change the scheduling of Grotonfest.

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