North Adams Council Sends Inclusion Resolution to Committee
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council voted on Tuesday to send a resolution that affirmed the city as an inclusive and welcoming community to committee.
The vote, motioned by Councilor Nancy Bullett, came after nearly an hour of discussion and mostly supportive comments from the crowded audience.
Bullett, who had put forward the resolution two weeks with President Benjamin Lamb, felt the resolution could stand on its own as a platform for further discussion. However, it became apparent that a number of councilors preferred a more relaxed committee review to allow greater input from the community and to modify the language as needed.
"If we pass this resolution tonight, then the Community Development [Committee] can take the document and ask what can we do to make this an active part of our community," she said.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer agreed, saying she had no problem with the language. "I think this is an important issue we're facing ... I'd hate to hold this up."
Her co-author, though, was having second thoughts on the more concrete facts and references in the resolution, feeling they would not "have a lot of weight in 20 years."
"I like the idea of potentially going to committee," Lamb said, cautioning "this cannot be the be-all, end-all to the conversation."
The introduction of the resolution two weeks ago had prompted a lot of conversation in the community and some opposition that seemed to surprise the council, including from two of its own.
Councilor Ronald Boucher had objected that the resolution seemed to be an element of the Democrats' inability to accept defeat in the presidential election and that it was important to move forward as a country together. And Councilor Robert M. Moulton had dismissed it as a "kumbaya moment" but said he could support it if some language was removed.
Both supported sending the resolution to committee this time, with Moulton taking time to explain his issue was with specific language, not the overall thrust of the resolution.
"I'm fine with it. I'm all for this," he said, noting the diversity within his own family. "I think North Adams is a great community."
Boucher said it needs to be brought to committee and possibly have a public hearing, said Boucher. "It's important to get the right language in place."
Others had questioned the need for a statement that could be binding, pointing to laws that already cover discriminatory actions. There was also confusion over a reference to immigration status that had some believing the city was declaring itself a so-called sanctuary city.
Some residents thought the city was wasting time and energy on the issue but Councilor Keith Bona pointed to the packed council chambers, saying the last time so many had turned out was over parking meters.
"It shows how this affects and touches many people in our community," Bona said.
The resolution states that the "North Adams City Council believes in the rights of all people to lead lives of peace and dignity, free of fear, harassment, violence, and undo process" and goes on to list of sentiments and acts — from Islamaphobic to anti-refugee — the council is committed to protecting residents and visitors from.
"I went home [from that prior meeting] feeling surprised at the idea that people might think North Adams is totally safe and comfortable for people," said Councilor Kate Merrigan. "One thing I've been thinking a lot about after our last meeting was the importance of experiencing other peoples stories as a way of expanding our world view."
She shared her own experiences with sexism and misogyny and read parts of a letter from a gay resident who expressed how he and his partner felt isolated, and how he, as a white man, often had racist or sexist things "said to me assuming I would agree with them."
Ashley Shade, a city native, said she'd seen discrimination and had been the object of discriminatory behavior.
"It's not a good feeling to be discriminated against for being who you are," she said. "This resolution is important for everyone in this community so they can feel safe and know the city supports them and wants them to be here."
Resident Robert Lyons, however, thought the resolution the first step toward becoming a sanctuary city — a community that by law or policy does not aid in prosecutions of undocumented immigrants — even though it does not contain any language relating to that.
Taking such as stance could jeopardize funding with the incoming administration, he said. "My concern is losing federal funding ... putting ourselves in any position to possibly lose any dollars to our city budget is fiscally irresponsible."
But the majority of the 50 or so in attendance appeared supportive with a number of them asking the council to pass the resolution and with applause accompanying their statements.
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Jamie Birge told the council that passing the resolution would send a "powerful message."
"We have the opportunity at this moment to make a statement about turning away from hate and toward people who have historically been pushed aside and acknowledge they are as important to our community as anyone else," Birge said, "MCLA is poised ready and willing to work with the City Council for peace."
The resolution will be taken up by the Community Development Committee in the next weeks and return to the full council on Feb. 14.
In other business:
• The City Council gave final approval of a zoning ordinance related to solar arrays.
• The council passed to a second reading a change in the Public Arts Commission ordinance that will give it more authority over the commissioning and solicitation of public works. It initially had been developed to review art proposals and oversee the development and implementation of an public arts contract.
The commission met several times with the General Government Committee on language changes, including the addition of spelling out the mission and abilities of the commission. The discussions also raised the idea of creating a "Friends of the Public Arts Commission" to allow for fundraising and commissioning of art outside of the governmental panel, similar to the Friends of the North Adams Public Library.
The ordinance change passed 7-1 with Blackmer voting against, saying the inclusion of the mission statement did not conform with the current ordinance practice. Councilor Eric Buddington was absent.
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