Guest Column: Policy and Procedures During Council Meetings
Editor's Note: Mark Trottier of North Adams read this statement aloud as an agenda item at the North Adams City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 12, 2011. Mr. Trottier expressed concern over what he felt was the inappropriate silencing of a citizen's right to express himself at a council meeting last month. Because of the length of his statement and the number of inquiries we received about it, we asked him permission to post it in full as a guest column. We have added links to the court cases he cited.
I am not a expert on Constitution issues, nor an attorney, or even a speaker, just a average citizen who believes that "two wrongs don't make a right."
I am not here to defend anyone, nor chastise any councilor regarding there remarks or actions, I think you all can do this very well on your own. There is nothing that I'm going to say that's not already a part of the record, I just want a level playing field under the law, and for all of you to think outside of the box.
After watching the last few meetings on TV, I have come to the conclusion that some of the councilors are "Out of Order" and a pattern of actions are taking place again & again, This matter was put to bed earlier this year but the old boy network is back again.
The public must respect the council and the councilors must respect the public's opinion, and work with them.
The City Council operates under two types of public forums, one being a designated public forum where the government designates certain types of subject matters on there agenda, with vigorous debates back and forth on the subjects by councilors; the public must be silent, and doesn't have a right to disrupt the councilors, it is their arena. At the end of each subject, the council president looks to the gallery for any comments from the public and may recognize a citizen to speak; there again, it's still their arena and rules, the council may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech as long as those restrictions are content-neutral and are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest.
In other words, the government could impose a 15-minute time limit on all participants as long as it did not selectively apply the rule to certain speakers, or it would violate the First Amendment.
Now when it comes to the "Public Comment or Open Forum" time for citizen commentary on issues, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals explained in its 1990 decision White v. City of Norwalk: "Citizens have a enormous First Amendment interest in directing speech about public issues to those who govern their city."
These meetings, particularly the "Open Forum" period, are at the very least a limited public forum, during which free-speech rights receive heightened protection.
An Ohio Appeals court refused to dismiss the lawsuit of an individual who sued city officials after being thrown out of a city commission meeting for wearing a "ninja mask." In City of Dayton v. Esrati (1997)http://is.gd/XcTGe9, the Ohio Appeals court reasoned that the individual wore the mask to convey his dissatisfaction with the commission. "The government may not impose viewpoint-based restrictions on expression in a limited public forum."
In the 1964, U.S Supreme Court decision New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, Justice Brennan wrote "the question before us is whether this rule of liability, as applied to an action brought by a public official against critics of his official conduct, abridges the freedom of speech and of the press that is guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
"The general proposition that freedom of expression upon public questions is secured by the First Amendment has long been settled by our decisions. The constitutional safeguard, we have said, 'was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.'
"The maintenance of the opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that change may be obtained by lawful means, an opportunity essential to the security of the Republic, is a fundamental principle of our constitutional system, and this opportunity is to be afforded for 'vigorous advocacy' no less than 'abstract discussion' ...
"That erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate, and that it must be protected if the freedom of expression are to have the 'Breathing Space' that they 'need ... to survive' ...
"The constitutional guarantees require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with "Actual Malice" - that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not ...
"We conclude that such a privilege is required by the First and Fourteenth Amendments."
In Edwards v. South Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of protesting students, "saying that the First Amendment does not permit a state to make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views.'"
The June 14 meeting was a travesty of justice. A citizen was granted the floor by council president during the designated public forum. He stated he believed that the council violated the state law regarding the vote and would "check it out with the state tomorrow"; after, a councilor criticized him by trying to use the "bully-pulpit" on him, by saying "Quiet," he hopes you would tell the state about your "Vote No on Prop 2 1/2 shirt and sign that was brought into the chambers against our wishes." Please councilor, you know that this is perfectly legal, as long as one doesn't "Disrupt or Disturb the council."
I only used this as an as example, it's a citizens' right to speak out on issues. And work with his elected officials for the betterment of the community.
Unfortunately, many situations arise in which citizens are silenced because of the content of their speech or because they have disagreed previously with government officials. This raises the specter of censorship. Government officials may not silence speech because it criticizes them. They may not open a "Public Comment" period up to other topics and then carefully pick and choose which topics they want to hear. They may not even silence someone because they consider him a gadfly or a troublemaker.
It is equally clear that council concerns and interests in proscribing public commentary cannot outweigh the public's fundamental right to engage in "Robust Public Discourse on these Issues." When the government decides to offer a "Public Comment" period at an open meeting, it provides that citizens may exercise their First Amendment rights. The government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech. The government must live up to the values embodied in the First Amendment.
This is America, we live in a free country where one has a right to question and debate their public officials at any time.
The council might use Robert's Rules of Order, intended to be adopted as a parliamentary authority for use by a deliberative assembly, but also must apply some common sense.
My information came from, First Amendment Center, The Library of Congress, The Ohio Appeals Court, The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. And a little common sense.
I Thank You.
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New Tourism Director Setting Priorities
New tourism director Veronica Bosley and Mayor Richard Alcombright wait to be introduced by Eric Rudd at the Beaver Mill.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Veronica Bosley, former program coordinator for the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, was introduced as the city's new tourism director on Thursday night at an artist's discussion group at the Beaver Mill.
The town of Florida native is stepping into a post that's become a flashpoint as the city struggles to overcome a $1 million deficit after an override went down in defeat last month. A number of citizens, including a couple of city councilors, have advocated slashing the $51,000 tourism budget — or at least holding off on filling the post for another year.
But Bosley found a warm welcome at Eric Rudd's Beaver Mill as some 40 or so artists and residents lobbed ideas at her for expanding the city's marketing stance and luring more tourists and their dollars to the area.
Bosley has roots in the arts community here.
"We made our decision and we're sticking by it," joked Mayor Richard Alcombright, who with BCRC head Jonathan Secor and Develop North Adams Chairman Brian Miksic selected Bosley from a pool of about 30 candidates. "I think you're going to find her helpful to all of you, helpful in many ways; [she] will continue to drive events in this community and will really involve herself in the arts and culture community and also many other sectors of the community ... I think we need to grow in all sectors."
Bosley said she was flattered to be selected. "It has been really exciting to see the challenges and changes that have happened over the years," said the 2006 Mount Holyoke College graduate. "I'm really hoping to harness that great energy and all of those good vibes and market North Adams for what it really is, which is a great place to live, a great place to own a business and a great place to come and visit."
She worked at Williams College's Sawyer Library for several years and writes a monthly column for the Berkshire Visitors Bureau. Her experience includes organizing and coordinating a number of performances, conferences and dance festivals at Williams; marketing for the Berkshire Museum; managing and marketing the Berkshire Hill Internship Program, part of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts BCRC; and overseeing related websites and social media. She's also appeared in some local plays.
Bosley won't be on the payroll until after July 17 but the group had plenty of ideas to throw at her during the 90-minute discussion that covered topics ranging from passenger rail to artists housing to revamping the website.
Peter May, a local chiropractor, said he could name two dozen things the city could boast about but couldn't understand why it hasn't been "discovered."
"Any town in our economic situation would die for one of them never mind 24," he said. "It's completely dysfunctional that it hasn't happened."
The new tourism director's task will include cultural development and marketing, and building connections locally and statewide to find ways to let the wider world — and the towns next door — know what North Adams has to offer in terms of culture, recreation and natural beauty.
Bosley said the website is one of her priorities, but it's a project limited by the lack of funding. She and the mayor said it should reflect usable information for people visiting, or looking for jobs or to relocate. Attendees said it should have a list of events and suggested using it as a vehicle for "bragging" stories about some the interesting things going on and a place for photographers to display their images of city.
Along with the summer and fall event planning, she'll be working on setting benchmarks to measure progress.
"I imagine it would have to be some sort of combination of people and money spent here. ... which I'm hoping will indicate satisfaction," she said. "I think it's important for us to start keeping track of those things."
Alcombright said it's been difficult to measure the actual impact of tourism or events such as the Solid Sound Festival. "I think the information is there," said local potter Gail Sellers, who suggested retail operations begin tracking traffic and sales as she's been doing to provide Bosley with data. "It's just a matter of putting it in one place."
"Right now we have no baseline ... and we need to be able to measure this," said Miksic. "We need to be able to measure this, economically speaking, to the City Council next year."
Benchmarks may be critical to proving to the council — and skeptical residents — that the position should continue to be funded.
"I fought very hard to keep this in the budget, I think it's one of those positions that can help the community grow, bring revenue to the community and it's what we're shooting for," said Alcombright. Still, he cautioned that Bosley was working without clerical or other support and with a very low budget.
"I'm hoping, really hoping that people don't try dumping stuff that's already being taken care of because we have so many new things we have to do," said Rudd, turning to Bosley to say, "I think you're going to have to say no to some people."
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Drury Band Marching in National July 4 Parade
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Drury High School band, under the direction of Christopher Caproni, has been invited to perform in the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C., on July 4.
The band has been rehearsing for many long hours both during and after school to prepare for this honor, said Caproni in a press release. "The process started over a year ago when Senator John Kerry recommended the Drury Band for this national event."
Applications to the parade were sent in with a video of the band marching in the Fall Foliage Parade in 2009 and it was accepted in October 2010. The students and the Drury Band Parents Organization have been fundraising during the school year to send 65 students on this trip.
Fundraisers included a bottle drive, the sale of advertising to local merchants for the Drury Band Ad Book, sales of pizza kits, fruit, flower bulbs, gas card raffle tickets, discount cards, and tickets to a midnight showing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part One." The band members also participated in an all-night rock-a-thon benefit.
The band will leave North Adams early Sunday, July 3. Upon arriving in Washington, students will view the World War II, the Lincoln, Vietnam War and Korean War memorials and tour the Smithsonian Institute's Air and Space Museum.
The National Independence Day Parade will march down Constitution Avenue on Monday, July 4. The band, led by drum major Samantha Bator, will perform "Patriotic Parade Sequence," a medley of three songs: "America the Beautiful," "America" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
The marching unit includes a four-piece color guard consisting of 2011 class President Evan Schueckler carrying the American flag; Brodey Moran, the Massachusetts flag; Allison DeGrenier, the Drury High School flag and Alyssa Marceau, the rifle. The 10-piece band front, under the direction of Diane Burdick, will carry pom-poms and colored flags and accompany the band with choreographed routines. Student captains are Arissa McLain and Susan Bloom. The percussion section is led by student leader Avery Witherell.
The band's 50 instrumentalists will proudly display Drury's colors of blue and white. They will wear their summer uniforms, consisting of blue pants and white shirts with gold ascots and white sashes. Their white hats are topped with blue plumes.
The Drury concert band will perform at the Navy Memorial in Washington the next day. The band will perform Carmen Dragon's arrangement of "America the Beautiful," Leroy Anderson's "Bugler's Holiday" featuring Anuj Shah, rising senior Max Quinn and sophomore Evan Johnson on trumpets, Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" with narration by Schueckler, and the "Second Suite in F" by Gustav Holst.
While in Washington the band will tour the Holocaust Museum, the Capitol, the National Archives and the Jefferson and FDR Memorials. The band will also view the fireworks on July 4 and see the National Symphony perform.
The band will be performing the Washington program in a send-off concert on Wednesday, June 29, at 7 p.m. on the lawn at Windsor Lake in North Adams. This is a thank you to the people of North Adams for supporting the Drury band program. The concert is free and everyone is invited to attend.
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Students Make Plea to Pass Override
Robert Cardimino, left, and music teacher Chris Caproni were talking outside Drury High School. Cardimino said at the meeting that if the teachers voted to return the one percent raise in their contract, he'd support the override.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Three Drury High School students spoke up for their education on Tuesday night, pleading with voters not to slash school programs to balance the budget.
"I want to leave knowing I can come back here and have a place to be proud of," said Andrew Varuzzo of North Adams, who will be attending Holy Cross in the fall. "I would hate to see this community, this school die a slow death because we could not pass this bill."
The senior and classmates Evan Schueckler and Luke Sisto addressed about a 100 people in the Drury High School auditorium at the second of six planned public sessions on a $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override that city officials say is critical to saving services and school programs.
Schueckler, of Stamford, Vt., is going to Harvard, but hoped to return to the city "to do great things," but not if he wasn't assured his own children would get the same education he received.
Varuzzo said he planned to register to vote on Wednesday "solely for the purpose of voting yes for a Proposition 2 1/2."
Their statements were greeted with applause from an audience that seemed weighted by parents and educators. It was a far cry from last week's City Council meeting, when opponents of the proposal railed at Mayor Richard Alcombright to cut services and use the city's meager reserves to plug a $1 million hole in the fiscal 2012 budget.
"There were more people with different points of view," said the mayor after the 90-minute session. "It felt better to listen a little more.
All presentations begin at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, the mayor repeated much of the presentation he made last week, noting the city has lost more than $3 million in annual state aid since the economic crisis in 2008 and has burned through most of its reserves.
The city had more than $1 million in free cash in 2008 but the account is now at about $165,000. Most of the funds in the land sale account have been used to offset cuts, although the city is hoping to replenish some of that with the sales of about 60 lots this month and some lands it owns outside its borders.
Alcombright said the much talked about $900,000 in school choice funds will be used to retain special education programs for the next two years, with a $100,000 held out as buffer for other special ed needs. But the failure of the override would mean deep cuts in staff and programs, including drama, music and arts.
At least 100 people attended Tuesday's session and more than a dozen, mostly educators, spoke in favor of the override. Drury Principal Amy Meehan wore an oversized T-shirt that said 'Support Our Students.'
"This are things that we discussed that could possibly be cut if the override doesn't pass," he said, adding that any of the programs slashed might not be reinstated for years. "Some people say I'm threatening .. this is no threat, this is reality."
Patricia Wall took the mayor to task for waiting too long to bring options to citizens. She said she would have supported a $600,000 override for the school system but that city should look at raising fees and other measures.
"Unfortunately, the ballots are all printed, this is it. It's black and white when we go to vote," she said. "There should have been more options; it was realy not fair to do it this way."
More than a dozen people spoke on the issue, most with links to the school system including Superintendent James Montepare. Former School Committee member Ronald Superneau recalled how Proposition 2 1/2, when it passed in 1980, had devastated the school system and how it had taken the city years to recover.
"I don't like taxes ... but I don't want to see any of this stuff gone," he said.
But Louis Chalifoux, who spoke against the override last week, said citizens are already being taxed every which way.
"The only tax that any of us have any control over is Proposition 2 1/2. Now why in the world would anybody vote to increase your own taxes when in fact you have the opportunity and the right to control the city's budget," he said to applause. "And that's the key — the buck stops here."
Robert Cardimino, another vociferous opponent of the override, found himself stating he'd support it after music teacher Christopher Caproni, former president of the teachers' union, pledged to vote to give back his one percent raise for next year at the union's Thursday meeting.
"If you do forgo your raises I will vote yes for this proposition," he said, then complained Caproni didn't live in North Adams.
Sisto, the final speaker and president of the Drury Drama Team, said the cuts would "slash the spirit of our school."
"We students are an investment in the future," he said. "Are we not worth $20 a month? For all property owners, are we not worth that extra $20 a month?"
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Alcombright Dedicates City Report To Longtime Clerk
Mayor Richard Alcombright surprised longtime City Clerk Mary Ann Abuisi on Tuesday morning when he announced that the city report is dedicated to her.
Abuisi shared stories of her 28 years as city clerk for about an hour Tuesday morning.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When it comes to city records nobody knows them better Mary Ann Abuisi, longtime city clerk.
Now the annual report will be dedicated to her nearly 30 years overseeing the city's paperwork.
"I think it's wonderful. It's an honor. I've seen many dedications but I never thought it would be me," the retired clerk said after being surprised with the announcement Tuesday morning.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he was pouring over records for his first report when he made the connection. It was fitting for Abuisi to be honored this way, he said.
Abuisi started as assistant city clerk in 1975 and worked under former Mayors Joseph Bianco, Richard Lamb, John Taft and John Barrett III. She retired in 2003.
"My fondest memories of Mary Ann goes back to my dad," Alcombright, whose father, Daniel Alcombright, was a longtime city councilor, said. "For me this is gratifying. I think my dad would be happy that we are doing this."
Abuisi's husband helped provide a photo and a short biography for the inside page of the annual report and then on Tuesday brought her to the mayor's office without telling her about it. Abuisi sat with Alcombright and members of the press for about an hour reminiscing of her time in City Hall.
The aspect she misses the most of the job is watching people grow. Abuisi, also a justice of the peace, said she would marry a couple, then issue a birth certificate to their baby. Later that child would come to her for various licenses and paperwork and eventually to her for their own wedding.
"It's like you know everybody but they don't know you," Abuisi said. "To watch these people grow. It's a fun thing."
Abuisi married more than 500 couples and is still a justice of the peace until 2013, when she will give up the post.
Alcombright gave Abuisi a hardbound copy of the report with a special note on the inside thanking her for her time.
"The most exciting thing was the elections," Abuisi said. "It's like being the mother of the city."
After making sure all registered voters' information was up to date and in the correct ward, Abuisi would hand-count ballots until the sun came up. The ballots would be tallied at a City Hall that would be packed with people.
Alcombright added that men would be dressed up in suits and smoking cigars while Abuisi would write vote totals on a large chalkboard.
"It was just a different time," Alcombright said.
Abuisi's biggest challenge came in 1979 when the city population dropped and city officials had to drop from 12 to five wards. While officials were perplexed at where those boundaries would be outlined, Abuisi had figured out a way it would work. However, it involved moving Ward 7's voting to Ashland Street, which triggered outrage in the ward's Italian neighborhood near Walnut and Furnace streets.
When the first election was held with the new districts, Abuisi said one of the boxes of supplies randomly fell from the top shelf and she joked it was an old Italian ghost upset with the new districts.
"The biggest change I've noticed is population," Abuisi said. "But I think the city is coming around."
Since retiring, Abuisi has been filling her time with her family and spends time in Florida.
"I'm very, very busy doing nothing," Abuisi said. "Once you retire, you wonder how you ever found time to work."
Abuisi was given a hardbound copy of the report with an inscription from Alcombright on the inside thanking her for her work. The report will be presented to the City Council on June 14, Alcombright said.
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