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Williamstown Select Board Asked to Pledge to Work Against Bigotry

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A group of residents Monday asked the Select Board to sign on to a pledge committing the board to confront "intolerance and hate."
A delegation from the grassroots group Greylock Together told the board about the Not in our Berkshires initiative driven by the South County-based non-profit Multicultural Bridge.
The campaign mirrors the national Not In Our Town and Not in Our School programs that began in Montana in 1995.
In North County, the Greylock Together members recognized a need to bring Not In Our Town's principles of equity, safety, trust and justice to the region.
"Early last year, we realized we were going to have to take some action to counteract the national dialogue that had the effect of demeaning certain people — transgender people, people of color, immigrants, Muslms," organizer Adrian Dunn said. "We feel it's our duty to stand up for the rights of our neighbors."
Greylock Together is encouraging Williamstown residents to sign a personal pledge to stand up to that kind of demeaning behavior and, on Monday, asked the Select Board to make the same commitment.
Both pledges are available on the website. The organizational version reads, in part:
"As an organization we respond with best intention and practices to not stay silent in the face of intolerance or hate based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, country of origin, ability or any other factor.  We work to acknowledge, address and act in response to all forms of intended or unintended exclusion, hate, bigotry, intolerance and bullying."
In addition to signing the pledge, displaying the Not in our Berkshires logo and using the hashtag #allhandsin in social media posts, Dunn offered some practical steps people can take to help address bigotry.
"Everyone should, at the very least, speak up in public if you see or hear someone being demeaned or targeted," she said. "Talk to your neighbors, especially those that you may not ordinarily have contact with. Join in events that celebrate immigrants, LGBTQ persons and people of color. Support the Berkshire Immigrants Center. Support Multicultural Bridge. … Teach children about human rights.
"Of course, vote."
The presentation from Greylock Together dovetailed with the evening's main topic of discussion: the extent to which the board should involve itself in issues that are not directly related to town governance.
Chairman Hugh Daley, anticipating the possibility of citizen-sponsored town meeting warrant articles on national or global questions, suggested that the board enact a policy not to make advisory votes on those articles. In the past, the Select Board traditionally has voted an advisory position on each article that is then printed in the meeting warrant.
"The board members are citizens and voters and can stand up and say whatever they want to say about whatever is before the board," Daley said. "It's when the board is being asked to pronounce judgment on something that's really not in control of the board … 
"Individually, speak your mind, express yourself, but [don't hold votes on] non-operational items, the items that don't require the board's consent to exist, that don't need it."
Select Board members Andrew Hogeland and Jeffrey Thomas both said they were sympathetic to Daley's suggestion.
Thomas said he sees the Select Board's role in town government as technical in nature, and it is "awkward" to expect the members of the board to opine on subjects that are outside their control.
"It also makes some of our town elections for board positions unreasonably political because elections become about what point of view someone is likely to take on a board when most of the board work is pretty much statutory stuff we need to do to run the town," Thomas said.
Hogeland argued that members of the Select Board are no more qualified than anyone else in town to advise votes on articles related to, "things like should there be a war someplace."
Both Anne O'Connor and Jane Patton disagreed.
"We're elected officials," O'Connor said. "How is that not always fundamentally political? Yes, we also handle mundane stuff. But where we come from is going to play a role into how we handle that. You can't completely divorce that from political life."
Patton said to not vote a position on questions set to come before the town would be shirking the Select Board's responsibility. And since being elected to the body, she has been surprised at the extent to which residents expect the board to fulfill that responsibility.
"The biggest surprise about being a selectman was how much people actually care what we think — like to a stunning degree," Patton said. "Stop & Shop, Tunnel City, any restaurant in town, the golf course … two days before town meeting, I get I don't know how many emails and phone calls."
Patton said she takes such public questions that come before the Select Board, and she believes constituents expect her to do so.
"I would be loathe to create a scenario where we're let off that hook," Patton said. "I think we asked for the hook. I stood outside the dump [and campaigned] so I could be on this hook."
Hogeland said that while he appreciated Daley's intention in suggesting a policy, the question of whether to take an advisory vote should be made as individual articles come up. To illustrate his point, he noted that one of Daley's examples, last year's non-binding pollinator-friendly community resolution, actually had more implications for town government than it might appear to on first blush.
"It did affect town operations because it was recommending the DPW do things [regarding landscape management]," Hogeland said. "It's going to be case-by-case whether we agree an article is governmental or non-governmental."
Daley did not ask for or receive a motion to institute a policy on recommendations to town meeting. He noted that whether or not the board ultimately votes an advisory position, the opportunity to address the board and talk about public issues in front of the cameras of the town's community television station, WilliNet, is open to all residents.
"The forum we provide here is important," he said. "Anyone who does have a citizen's petition, that's one of the things we do here every other Monday. Make sure you keep coming for those types of things."
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