NBC 10 I-Team: Coventry official resigns after profane social media posts
Some residents of Coventry saw Leonard Piette the public servant. He volunteered his time on the Coventry sewer sub-commission and sewer board of review.
That’s not an easy job these days. Public meetings have been heated and loud. Taxpayers have grown frustrated with increased costs to get hooked up to the sewer lines.
In some cases, estimates top $20,000 for a single-family home. Future installation has halted, as town officials figure out what to do next.
But early last week, some other Coventry residents, got a different look at Len Piette, lashing out at a taxpayer during a social media rant.
"Kiss my a**," wrote the 71-year-old. "You would do a lot better keeping your ignorant mouth shut,” he added on the Facebook page of Citizens Against Mandated Sewers.
Susan Mocker was on the other end of those Facebook comments.
“I've never met him. This is the first time I've ever seen his name,” said Mocker, a town resident.
But what aggravated Piette so much?
Mocker said she had questioned whether he lived in a part of town not getting sewers installed.
“It made me very mad and somebody who works for the town, even if it's a volunteer position, shouldn't be talking to a taxpayer like that,” Mocker said in an interview with the NBC 10 I-Team.
It got worse.
Mocker's 20-year-old daughter defended her mother on Facebook. She told Piette to act like an adult.
Piette fired back in a message and told Mocker’s daughter to “either mind your own business or go f*** yourself.”
No one answered the phone when the NBC 10 I-Team called a listed number for Piette and no one answered the door at his home, either.
Before deleting his comments, Piette wrote, "When someone insults me, I reply in kind. It's as simple as that."
Civility is becoming harder to find in public discourse these days, even in small towns.
“Social media allows you type things into a computer and say things you would never say to someone's face and that's a big problem for us. We haven't adjusted yet,” said Wendy Schiller an NBC 10 political analyst and Brown University professor. “I'd like him to apologize to me and my daughter.”
There were no apologies from Piette, but by the end of the week he had resigned.
In his resignation letter to the Coventry Town Council, Piette said, “there are factions in the town who filled with nothing but hatred, vengeance and anger towards anyone associated with sewers.” He went on to say he lost his enthusiasm and preferred to spend more time “bowling, fishing, golfing and playing with my cat.”
Coventry Town Manager Graham Waters told the NBC 10 I-Team Piette’s online behavior was “unbecoming” of someone who represented the town.
“I can say that any use of social media for harassment, derogatory or mean-spirited comments, by paid staff, elected officials or volunteers is not condoned by the Town Council, and will be addressed immediately as such matters are brought to light,” said Waters.
This latest incident comes during a difficult time for the town’s sewer sub commission as a whole.
In November, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission agreed to investigate a conflict of interest complaint against chairman Glen Skurka. In January, another member, Greg Laboissonniere was fined $1,500 by the Ethics Commission for a conflict of interest.