WATERTOWN — A farcical Facebook page dedicated to the interim city attorney that pokes fun at city officials will become the subject of a criminal complaint.
P.J. Simao said he’s going to file a criminal complaint with state police to investigate a post he claims is threatening toward him on the Facebook page formed under the guise of interim city attorney H. Todd Bullard’s “fan club.”
The Facebook post shows a humorous photo of Mr. Simao in a flannel shirt with the words “Wanted Dead or Alive.”
“You don’t put a bounty on somebody,” Mr. Simao said. “It crosses the line.”
That post was in response to Mr. Simao offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who could find out who started the Facebook page that pays homage to Mr. Bullard.
The Facebook page was started May 15, shortly after Mr. Bullard and City Councilman Clifford G. Olney III were involved in heated exchanges during council meetings in the past month.
The originators of the Facebook page applauded Mr. Bullard’s handling of the sometimes bombastic councilman, explaining that they supported the attorney bringing “civility and protections to Watertown NY.”
At first, the memes were humorous attempts that poked fun at Councilman Olney, who has used the same kind of political social media posts to get his point across about city issues.
But as more people responded to the Facebook page, the posts became more personal and nastier attacks against Mr. Simao and three council members who supported a deal to purchase the former Watertown Golf Club for $3.4 million from developer Michael E. Lundy. As of Monday afternoon, at least 120 posts had been shared over the course of five days.
Mr. Simao had his suspicions about who started the Facebook page, speculating that they were supporters of Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith and Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo Pierce, who’s running for mayor in the November election.
The memes were mainly directed toward council members Lisa A. Ruggiero, Patrick J. Hickey and Mr. Olney regarding the purchase of the golf club.
While there were a few poking fun at city staff, few of the memes were critical of the mayor or Councilwoman Compo Pierce.
Mr. Simao was alarmed that the administrators of the Facebook page would allow such a post that targeted him using a tone that could lead to violence against him, he said. They didn’t take down the post after he began questioning it, he added.
“I take this very seriously,” he said, adding that he’d “rather be safe than sorry.”
He’s contacted state police about the post and intends to file a formal complaint with later this week. He thinks that the complaint will lead to an investigation of the post and who’s behind it.
“This is online bullying,” Mr. Simao said. “These are people who are supposed to be role models for everyone else.”
He also retained an intelligence company to investigate the origin of the Facebook page and the post.
Although the company was unable to determine who posted the meme about him, the firm found “pretty solid evidence” that the Facebook page belongs to one of Councilwoman Compo Pierce’s friends and supporters, Rutland Town Councilwoman Jenn Dindl Bossout, Mr. Simao said.
Ms. Dindl Bossout, who didn’t return a reporter’s phone calls, and Councilwoman Compo Pierce have been among a group of political allies who call themselves “the Red Hot Republicans.”
According to another post on the page, the “Wanted Dead or Alive” post on Saturday was about “The Meme Team” behind the Todd Bullard Fan Club and was in response to Mr. Simao’s $1,000 reward.
“The “Meme Team” and fans “have a STRICT non-criminal activity policy,” the page says. “To clarify for those who have a hard time understanding the fan page jokes, it’s US who are ‘wanted’ and Sue-mao who is offering the reward.”
Contacted Monday, Councilwoman Compo Pierce said she became aware of the Facebook page over the weekend when she saw a post about former Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham’s blog about the meme involving the volatile post relative to Mr. Simao.
Before seeing that, Councilwoman Compo Pierce had not seen any other posts on the fan club page and was “scrolling down” to look at them during an interview with The Watertown Daily Times.
Repeating the explanation on the Facebook page, the councilwoman said she understood that the administrators were referring to themselves to be “Wanted Dead or Alive,” not Mr. Simao.
The councilwoman said she has also been the victim of vicious memes by Councilman Olney.
“It is pathetic that Ms. Compo Pierce, who pushed transparency, decorum and accountability, is trying to defend their actions,” Mr. Simao said.
As for the Facebook page in his honor, Mr. Bullard said he was aware of it but had not looked at it, so he didn’t know its content, as he doesn’t use social media.
He was surprised to hear that someone would write a post with such a tone regarding Mr. Simao, especially since he’s been pushing for more decorum during council meetings and persuading council members to be more civil with each other.
Mr. Bullard also said he doesn’t understand the political atmosphere that exists in Watertown. “I don’t condone or encourage that type of behavior,” he said.
But Mr. Simao blamed Mr. Bullard for what’s going on the Facebook page that bears the city attorney’s name.
Describing it as “inappropriate” behavior for a city attorney, Mr. Simao criticized Mr. Bullard for verbally attacking Councilman Olney during the recent council meetings, including calling the councilman “a narcissist” during the May 15 meeting.
In response, Mr. Bullard said Mr. Simao has been a thorn in the city’s side, suing the city on a series of occasions. And that Mr. Simao and the councilman were friends who once sued the city over the golf club.
Donnie Lee Barrigar, a Natural Bridge man who has been known to profess the flat earth theory, said he knows that Ms. Dindl Bossout helped start the fan club Facebook page.
She contacted him on Facebook page soon after it was formed wanting him to join, he said, adding that he didn’t want to get involved in it.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story mischaracterized Councilwoman Sarah V. Compo Pierce’s stance on the website. The councilwoman believes it is “childish" and "unprofessional.” The story also should have indicated that posts on the site have been critical of the councilwoman along with other council members. While the story indicates Councilwoman Compo Pierce is friends with the website’s claimed creator, other council members also have had previous social relationships with the person claimed to be the creator.
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