PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council supports the transgender community.
But it stopped short of going on record supporting a ballot question to uphold laws prohibiting discrimination of transgender people in public places.
The City Council adopted a resolution in support of "full equality for all residents of Pittsfield including the members of Pittsfield's transgender community." What isn't written in that resolution is support for ballot Question 3, which calls to keep a law in place preventing discrimination in places such as public restrooms and locker rooms.
That part was removed from the original petition by the Human Rights Commission, at the suggestion of City Council President Peter Marchetti, to avoid the City Council from going down what he sees is a slippery slope when it comes to endorsing items that are slated to be on a statewide election ballot.
"The next thing you know people will petition to endorse a candidate," Marchetti said.
The president said during his tenure there has always been debate among councilors on taking votes on state ballot items.
The opinions haven't really changed much among the councilors who were on the council then and now. Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo said she supports the rights of transgender people but doesn't believe the city's legislative body should be weighing in on items on the statewide ballot.
"I don't feel it is my right to tell people how to vote," Mazzeo said, adding that individually she doesn't have a problem with councilors taking stances.
In the past debate, Mazzeo had been joined by Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi in voting against the charter school resolution, both citing the same concerns.
During Tuesday's debate, Morandi didn't think a vote was necessary to affirm the city's support of transgender people because the city has repeatedly supported equality through policy and documentation.
"To me, it is just repetitive," Morandi said.
However, despite the concerns about whether or not the resolution was directly related to the ballot question or not, both Morandi and Mazzeo joined the rest of the council in a unanimous vote in favor of expressing "its support for full equality for all residents of Pittsfield including the members of Pittsfield's transgender community."
Councilor Pete White said even if it is repetitive, he has no problem taking that vote over and over again.
"I'll be repetitive every meeting if it means we are letting Pittsfield know we are standing up for the transgender community," White said.
White would have been fine with voting on a resolution in favor of the ballot question, too.
The removal of the language directly relating to the ballot question made the vote even easier for Council Vice President John Krol, who also hadn't been shy about asking the council to adopt resolutions on state issues in the past.
"I don't see what the conflict is," Krol said. "This is the easiest vote I think I'll take all term. It is a simple vote and a simple concept."
Despite the wordsmithing, the resolution is indelibly linked to the ballot question because of its origin of specifically asking for a stance on the issue and the closeness of the statewide vote on the question to uphold the transgender law, which opponents had petitioned to go to a ballot in an effort to undo.
Resident Jessica Freed hopes the city councilors will individually support it, even if the collective body won't.
"We will be making history in November and I hope we are on the right side of history," she said.
Resident Drew Herzig, chairman of the Human Rights Commission, said he understands the concern among councilors but reminded the council that statewide issues impact the city's residents as well. He, too, hopes the councilors individually take stances in favor of upholding the expanded civil rights.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell motioned to amend the resolution to remove the reference to the transgender community, making a resolution instead in support of equality for all. He said that was a way to move away from the council taking a stance on a particular ballot item.
"I just don't feel it is something we should be putting ourselves in the lead here, even though we all support this," Connell said. "I think that should be an individual decision."
Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon, who said she'd vote in favor of the resolution on the specific ballot question as well, disagreed with Connell's attempt, saying the crux of the resolution at hand is based on the issue facing transgender people in the city.
"This is a specific issue at hand and they are asking that we identify them as members of our community," Moon said.
But his motion failed to get the votes and he ultimately voted in favor of the petition to make it a unanimous approval.
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