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Christmas tree dispute at library has pitted ‘neighbor against neighbor,’ Dedham officials say

Town officials in Dedham are decrying “recent online threats and bullying” targeting municipal staff over the decision not to put up a Christmas tree outside a local library, saying the angry dispute has pitted “neighbor against neighbor” during the holiday season.

“Unfortunately, a recent social media post expressing disagreement with the decision to display a holiday tree at the library has quickly evolved into a polarized environment and has led to the harassment and bullying of town employees,” the town said in a statement Thursday. “We wholeheartedly condemn this behavior as it tears at the fabric of our community and cannot be tolerated.”

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The initial post came from Lisa Desmond, manager of the Dedham Public Library’s Endicott branch, on Dec. 2.

“I found out today that my beautiful library will not have it’s Christmas tree this year,” Desmond wrote. “Zero explanation. When I asked, I was told ‘people’ were made uncomfortable last year looking at it. I’m sorry WHAT? In my 28 years at the Dedham Public Library, I have never heard a negative comment. We have celebrated and included everyone in our community.”

Desmond added that she was honored to emcee a Juneteenth event this year.

“Those who know me and my family know we celebrate Christmas Hanukkah,” Desmond wrote. “My Muslim friends and Western Indian friends invite me to their celebrations ... Those who know me know I lead with positive intentions. I’m not feeling very positive today. Please bring Christmas back to my beautiful library. And always lead with love in your heart.”

But according to town officials, not everyone has embraced that spirit in the online debate.

“We continue to encourage constructive conversations and healthy debates, but because of social media and outside sources, what could have been something of [a] legitimate discourse turned neighbor against neighbor and has threatened the safety and well-being of community members and staff,” the town’s statement said. “This behavior is not a true reflection of our commitment to lead with kindness and civility.”

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Town officials acknowledged they’ve heard from residents and are aware of “varied perspectives” on the issue.

“Community engagement and public discussion are cornerstones of local government, and we encourage our residents to participate in our open, constructive dialogues,” the town said. “ ... We strive to make Dedham a welcoming community for all, where differences can be celebrated, not attacked.”

Dedham’s Board of Library Trustees is scheduled to discuss the issue at its next meeting Tuesday evening, according to an agenda on the town website.

Among the agenda items are “Library Decorations and Displays.”

Desmond took to Facebook again Saturday to urge people to attend the meeting and voice their opinions.

“If you can’t make it, a letter to the board might help,” Desmond wrote. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. However you celebrate, I wish you and your family love and peace.”

Steve Annear of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.