Published February 14. 2014 4:00AM Updated February 14. 2014 11:46PM
Stonington - Stephen Bessette, a former selectman, launched the Town of Stonington Community Forum on Facebook on Tuesday. As of Thursday evening, the page had 218 members.
"The response has been tremendous. I want it to be a good forum for people to say and see things," he said, adding that the forum is also for North Stonington residents.
Bessette said he is gathering information from the town website, police department and school department announcements and First Selectman Ed Haberek's Facebook page, all in one place.
Among the news on Thursday were posts about the school board approving funding to fix the Deans Mill School roof, a link to a blog written by Superintendent of Schools Van Riley about snow-related school cancellations, an award received by New England Science & Sailing and a breakfast being held by the high school drama club.
The forum comes in the wake of the controversy over Haberek's
Facebook page, where he has posted extensive updates about storms, power outages and government issues not available on the town website. The town information was interspersed with his private postings.
Last week, school board member Alisa Morrison wrote a letter to the Board of Selectmen calling Haberek's page inappropriate and requesting that the town start its own page, as Selectwoman Glee McAnanly has suggested.
Morrison said the picture of Haberek in Town Hall on his Facebook page leads people to "assume that this is the official page of the town or at least the official page of the First Selectman." Haberek has since replaced the photo with one of his family.
Haberek, who has refused to answer questions about his Facebook page, then announced on Facebook that he was making his page private so that only his friends would be able to see his posts. During Thursday's storm, his Twitter posts were also available on his Facebook page, but with a maximum of 141 characters, the information was less detailed than his Facebook updates. The only information on the town website was a few meeting cancellations.
At Wednesday's Board of Selectmen meeting, Haberek said the town's newly revised website would be up and running in May, as would the official Stonington Facebook page. But later, he said the Facebook page would not be in operation until after the 2014-15 budget takes effect on July 1 because that's when funding will become available for it.
He would not say how much he is requesting in the budget or why funding is needed when creating a Facebook page is free.
Bessette said that some residents recently contacted Ledyard Town Council Chairwoman Linda Davis, who is the administrator of the Ledyard and Gales Ferry Community Forum Facebook page, for her suggestions. The site has more than 1,600 members.
That's when he decided to launch the page.
"I'm accepting everybody," he said "The number one rule is to be nice. We're not going to allow any political criticism or taking sides in a hurtful manner."
He said people will not be able to post any anonymous comments, and inappropriate posts will be removed. He has also posted an explanation of rules. Bessette said he is looking for people to help him administer the page.