Letter: Response to “slandering” of “unruly citizens” at Special Town Meeting

by beth on June 6, 2018

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

Dear Editor:

New attendees or infrequent attendees of public town meetings are “distraught” and confused. Namely, they are confused by citizens who engage in fair and appropriate pushback in town meetings, those who are speaking out against the suppression of opposing public opinion. This pushback is from citizens who do attend meetings and make it their business to stay informed.

So why are the “distraught” slandering the citizens who stay informed as “unruly?” It’s their only weak playing card and the only point they have. Why are there citizens speaking out against the suppression of public opinion?

1) TIME FOR A NEW MODERATOR – The Moderator is supposed to be impartial. Was he impartial? Reader, you be the judge:

  • At Special Town Meeting (STM), the Moderator allowed 5 minute presentations by a citizen advocate for Article 1 and the opposing attorney hired by the Town, Special Town Counsel, Jay Talerman.
  • When a resident asked to hear from the citizen advocate’s attorney, in order to get a balanced view from the other attorney, the Moderator prohibited the citizen’s attorney from speaking.
  • The Moderator allowed Special Town Counsel to answer questions and speak a number of times in a form of rebuttal.
  • The current ZBA Chair was allowed to speak for “as long as he wants” per the Moderator, who then cut off citizen comments with one resident left standing in line and no one else.
  • The current ZBA Chair was allowed to speak three to four times, more than any other citizen.

The Moderator is a former BOS member. He did not allow equal and balanced presentations of “pro” and “con” arguments. This appeared to be blatant bias. He did not allow fair and equally balanced commentary from the audience.

2) CONFLICTS OF INTEREST? APPEARANCE OF CONFLICTS? – Were you asking yourself the same questions at the same “say what?” moments?

  • Town Counsel – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vifdhRG5miY TAKE A LISTEN:
    • See the 37.00 minute mark. Town Counsel explains his multiple legal roles handling Park Central . Due to his “appearance” of conflict (NOT conflict) of interest, he would not issue the legal opinion on Article 1. He hired Special Town Counsel to do that.Town counsel is representing the ZBA on the two Worcester Superior Court appeals, plus according to him, one land court case, plus other appeals including:
  • No Quorum Appeal – Worcester Superior Court
  • Use Variance Expired Appeal – Worcester Superior Court – He is sitting with the Developer’s attorney in court on both cases: clearly on the Developer’s side of the cases, visually and in substance.
  • ZBA Appeal – Developer is suing the SAME ZBA for constructive approval and Town Counsel is defending the ZBA against the same developer(?!). How this is NOT a conflict or APPEARANCE of conflict?
  • Conservation Commission – rejected the project for numerous deficiencies and developer appealed to DEP. DEP has not issued a decision. Town counsel is representing Con Comm against the developer on this one.
  • Special Town Counsel – Mr. Talerman was hired and instructed by Town Counsel to issue legal opinion for Special Town Meeting on 5-22-18. Guess how that turned out?

3) ZBA CHAIR – MR. DENNINGTON – how is it OK that he is allowed by the Moderator to weigh in THREE to FOUR TIMES during town meeting, longer than the 5 minute presentation allowed by the article sponsor? He is supposed to be impartial. How is it that he is weighing in on the SUBSTANCE of matters before him right now on the ZBA AND before the SUPERIOR COURT? HOW IS THIS OK? He is supposed to be disinterested and impartial. However, he was and has been acting with Town Counsel, Mr. Cipriano. 

4) ENTRANCE AREA to Trottier School – Did you notice the ORANGE CONES with a message attached: “No Electioneering” up and down the walkway to the door?

What does “Electioneering” mean? Per Webster’s Dictionary (online), the definition reads as follows: “ the things that are done and said to help a political candidate or party to win an election” e.g. Her tireless electioneering won her the election.

What does Town of Southborough eCode say? The following article was just recently added in 2017 , whether you realized it or not – and contrary to the residents being told that this is a long time bylaw – it isn’t.

§ 41-22.1

[Added 4-25-2017 ATM by Art. 35]

Except as may be otherwise provided by any other general or special law of the commonwealth, all candidates or their agents are expressly forbidden to remain within 150 feet of the entrance to a polling place or Town Meeting for the purpose of electioneering or greeting citizens or voters, or for petitioning or soliciting signatures for any purpose.

In other words, this local government does not want any citizen advocates anywhere near the Town Meeting or Special Town Meeting for the specific purposes listed above.

A conversation with Secretary Galvin’s office revealed that there ARE NO STATE LAWS PROHIBITING THE HANDING OUT OF INFORMATION SHEETS OUTSIDE OF A TOWN MEETING OR SPECIAL TOWN MEETING. FURTHERMORE, THEIR OFFICE ALSO STATED THAT ANY PROHIBITION COULD BE INTERPRETED AS A CURTAILMENT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

Also, Secretary Galvin’s office also stated that “electioneering” rules typically apply WHEN THERE IS AN ELECTION – and specifically NOT TOWN MEETINGS. Go back to the definition of “electioneering.” It pertains to ELECTIONS. Go figure.

Time to amend or eliminate? Reader, you be the judge. And PS—where were the Warrant Articles and other informational handouts for STM? On a table around the corner, past the auditorium entrance. Many residents entered the hall with no handouts in hand.

5) QUORUM REQUIREMENT – More is better, so said the voters. ARTICLE 1 PASSED WITH OVERWHELMING SUPPORT, IN SPITE OF THE TOWN’S EFFORTS TO STOP THE SPECIAL TOWN MEETING AND THE RESIDENTS FROM GETTING INFORMATION.

The citizens spoke: they don’t want fewer people to have the power to make huge, impactful decisions on the town – more is better. It is worth it to get another legal opinion and the resident side of the equation did, thank goodness! That attorney was shockingly prohibited from speaking, while the town side of the equation spoke multiple times.

IN SUMMARY, the suppressive opposition is suffering from two fundamental misunderstandings of the citizens’ position:

1) The first is that any discontent is concentrated within a small faction and is not shared by the broader citizenry.

And

2) That citizens confronting the suppression of public comment is the equivalent of unruly behavior. It is NOT. This defiant pushback is a normal part of civil public discourse. It is appropriate and good – and a necessary counter to the brazen few who are curtailing rights and have another agenda.

The fundamental misunderstanding here is that the residents lack the courage to stand behind their moral convictions to clean up this local government and restore balance and fairness in public discussions. Case in point: At one point in STM, a resident stood up (an experienced member of boards) and made it plain that the residents of Southborough can CHOOSE to be MORE ethical in its bylaws, opposing the earlier legal commentary of Mr. Talerman. State law is a FLOOR, not a CEILING.

As Thomas Jefferson stated: “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.

Sincerely,
Louise Barron

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jack Barron June 6, 2018 at 7:42 PM

Town residents should look at a very interesting law suit–Maxal group vs. developer Fred Daibes and the Mayor (and aldermen) of Edgewater New Jersey. It seems only developer Daibes or people who develop with him can get permits approved in Edgewater New Jersey. The elected officials are being sued for Crony corruption???

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2 SB Resident June 7, 2018 at 11:27 AM

This town like our country has a division problem. I find it sad that it makes its way down to the local level because we are dealing with our neighbors and friends. No one is willing to compromise or see the other side. Those with the majority think that it is their right or job to get their way and only their way. We are a community (and this applies for the nation as well), that word is singular, when things in a singular have opposing forces an equilibrium should be formed, instead we have the opposing forces trying to grow in power in order to win, in nature that generally leads to disastrous results.

I also agree with your sentiment on electioneering. I don’t think that the law needs to be changed or amended though, you could have stood right next to a cone and handed out pamphlets and you would not have been electioneering. Seems pretty clear that by definition one can’t electioneer when their isn’t an election. It seems so obvious that I can’t believe the person who decided to put the cones out didn’t know that and had nefarious intentions.

Lastly while the town moderator has done a great job at “controlling” town meeting in the ways that we all agree need to happen, he also does seem to be controlling it with a bias to one side. He is an elected official though so maybe that is within the bounds of the position? During the regular town meeting I couldn’t help but notice that Selectmen Kolenda was facing the moderator and talking to him for much of the meeting. While I couldn’t hear anything they were saying, maybe they were just discussing the Sox, but it appeared that Selectmen Kolenda was trying to control the meeting through the moderator.

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3 Kelly Roney June 7, 2018 at 2:29 PM

Were you prohibited from handing out literature before Special Town Meeting?

I agree that’s a bad by-law. I voted against it when it passed. As I understood it at the time, its purpose was to keep candidates for office from shaking hands outside, passing out literature related to their election, and asking for signatures on nominating petitions. It had nothing to do with the substance of Town Meeting.

After all, Town Meeting is our local legislature. The point of holding it is to persuade citizens about which course of action to take on the articles.

I suspect that 41-22.1 could never pass Constitutional muster in court. It’s a speech restriction on public property, and those require an overriding problem that can’t be solved in a less intrusive way. (Electioneering restrictions within 150 feet of the polls are justified because there is really a past history of undue influence inside precincts that have often kept the secret ballot from being really secret. But I digress.)

To say that anyone can be restricted from merely greeting voters in front of the hall is frankly ridiculous and unsupportable, especially since the remedy is easy – just say, “No thank you.”

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4 Concerned Voter June 7, 2018 at 5:20 PM

According to Secretary Galvin’s office, they know of no other Town or City in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that has a bylaw like this one. Would this pass muster with a judge? Probably not? The options are keep it “as is”, sue the town, amend the bylaw, eliminate the bylaw. For sure, this bylaw needs more careful examination and some sort of action.

Many have commented in meetings, including some BOS members, that when the public’s right to speak or vote or express itself is being curtailed, if some right is being taken away, it is time to use extra scrutiny and caution. Everyone needs to pay attention. This is in the citizens’ best interest.

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5 Jon June 8, 2018 at 3:09 PM

Thank you for writing this. I have been repeatedly called out for being escorted by police from a zba meeting for being unruly. I actually read the document the zba was signing and understood that it was not prepared or ready for signature and knew that David Eagle was leaving town and was going to pass anything. I asked the questions, the zba didn’t like that someone would question them and then said I guess we’ll see you in court and walked out. I guess as the door closed Bartolini asked that I be escorted for what I don’t know, but Kolenda and the zba like to use it as fodder. I’ve also been stared down by Town counsel as he hides from the camera in meetings because god forbid somebody Pays attention to what they are setting the public up for. This is just what I’ve experienced in public. I’ve received emails and other communication that is far from how Selectmen should behave to citizens and even had Catanzaro the lawyer for Dipietri answer one of my emails I sent to the BOS directly to me. I’m not sure how that happens. There must be a direct line of communication from the BOS to Dipietri’s lawyers for that to happen. Funny how that forwarded message is not in the discovery documents provided by the town. I had never experienced town govt prior to Park Central and unfortunately it opened my eyes to how business is done here. I wish I could go back to not knowing as I’m disgusted by it.

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6 Concerned Voter June 11, 2018 at 12:27 PM

Terrible and ridiculous all at the same time.

Treating private citizens abhorrently is NOT OK. Stifling public commentary is NOT OK. Conflicts of interest and even appearances of conflict of interest ARE NOT OK.

How on earth has this gone unchecked? Isn’t it incumbent upon those in leadership positions to DO SOMETHING? How about start with a meeting and PUBLIC DISCUSSION? And report this to the state?

Fellow citizens, you get to have a say as well: ESPECIALLY AT THE VOTING BOOTH. It is 2018, NOT 1950. Time for this old timey, small minded, dictator-like, grade A horse poop, bad and alleged illegal behavior to go.

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