Arlington Board of Selectmen Would Deny Citizens Their First Amendment Rights (if they could)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In the United States the right to petition is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the federal constitution, which specifically prohibits Congress from abridging “the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Although often overlooked in favor of other more famous freedoms, and sometimes taken for granted, many other civil liberties are enforceable against the government only by exercising this basic right. The right to petition is a fundamental in a Constitutional Republic, such as the United States, as a means of protecting public participation in government.
This most basic right, the right to petition, is a fundamental right and applies not just to United States Congress, but is repeated in the Massachusetts Constitution and applies to each and every local board, commission and committee in the entire country.
Article XIX. The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble to consult upon the common good; give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by the way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.
The right to petition Arlington’s Town Meeting is guaranteed and enshrined in M.G.L. Ch. 39 Sec. 10 where it is stated that:
The selectmen shall call a special town meeting upon request in writing, of two hundred registered voters or of twenty per cent of the total number of registered voters of the town, whichever number is the lesser; such meeting to be held not later than forty-five days after the receipt of such request, and shall insert in the warrant therefor all subjects the insertion of which shall be requested by said petition.
Massachusetts General Law provides a Board of Selectmen with no discretion, authority or power when 200 registered voters request a Special Town Meeting and the subject of the petition must be inserted into the warrant.
On Monday, September 10, 2012 Arlington’s Board of Selectmen met and discussed a duly affirmed petition by more than 200 registered voters that called for a Special Town Meeting to seek redress of a grievance, specifically the onerous town bylaw that banned the use of gas powered leaf blowers. A copy of the petition is reproduced below.
ARTICLE: To see if the Town will vote to amend the Town Bylaws to remove the seasonal restrictions on gas powered leaf blowers; or take any action related thereto.
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED REGISTERED VOTERS OF THE TOWN OF ARLINGTON, RESPECTFULLY REQUEST THE BOARD OF SELECTMEN CALL A SPECIAL TOWN MEETING AND THAT THE PRECEEDING ARTICLE(S) BE INSERTED IN THE WARRANT FOR SUCH MEETING
The four attending members, Diane Mahon was absent, made sure to make it known, that if they could, they would vote against the right of more than 200 registered voters to seek a redress of their grievances. Make no mistake, Chair Kevin Greeley, Steven Byrne, Dan Dunn and Joseph Curro each individually stated that they would vote against residents of Arlington seeking to exercise their first amendment rights. Don’t believe us, watch the video yourself below.
Note well the emotion on the freshman selectmen, Steven Byrne. He is angry that some 200 residents would dare demand to exercise their rights. Chair Kevin Greeley not only states his objection once, but officially votes against this same exercise of the most basic civil right. Dunn and Curro both make sure to articulate their displeasure at having to take this vote. Indeed, it is clear, that if they could, all four selectmen, the Four Horsemen of the Preposterous, would deny residents the ability to exercise their right to petition Town Meeting.
We talked with the proponent of this petition. He noted that Chair Kevin Greeley begins the discussion with I asked Mr. Harrington to come and discuss this petition and he declined. Note only is this an outrageous fabrication, Mr. Greeley has never discussed the petition with the proponent, but, in fact, Mr. Greeley denied Mr. Harrington the right to speak at the public meeting on May 14, 2012 when Greeley framed the opposition to the ban as only concerning landscape contractors. Watch this video, at 2:19 in, Greeley is seen shouting out no to an unseen audience member trying to speak during this public hearing; this is the petitioner. As well, Mr. Harrington wrote to each Board member immediately following the special election, when the Town of Arlington overwhelmingly voted to overturn this ban.
In light of the overwhelming support to overturn the recent bylaw enacted by the 2012 annual town meeting, I am asking that you place an agenda item on the July 23 Selectman’s agenda to call a special town meeting with a warrant article to overturn the “leaf blower ban”.
Not a single Selectmen responded. On July 26, Mr. Harrington wrote a Letter to the Editor in all major, relevant Arlington media publications calling for the Board to call a Special Town Meeting and act as voted by the People.
On Thursday, July 19 8,158 voters turned out for a special election deciding whether to overturn a ban that the 2012 Town Meeting had placed on private use of leaf blowers. More voters turned out for this referendum than in any of the last 10 annual town elections despite a six hour voting window, half that of a usual election; even though many people had vacation plans during this hot summer; even though most of east Arlington was in the midst of a clean-up from a devastating microburst less than 24 hours before.
The result of the referendum was overwhelmingly in support of overturning this ill-considered ban. More than 2/3 of the voters (5,539) wanted to overturn the ban on leaf blowers while less than 1/3 of the voters (2,619) wanted to keep the ban. In 20 of the 21 precincts, the majority voted to overturn the ban, with only precinct 8 showing 2 more ban supporters than opponents. In precinct 13, my own precinct, 84% of the voters wanted the ban overturned.
However, only 19.2% of the registered voters in Arlington voted to overturn the ban, not the 20% required by state law. In a half day of voting, on a Thursday in the middle of the summer, less than 241 votes separated a reversal of a Town Meeting vote, a historic and as one editor penned, an unprecedented action.
The people of Arlington have spoken.
It is now the obligation of our *representative* Town Meeting to strike this ban from Arlington’s bylaws. Many residents that I heard from were appalled that Town Meeting would pass such a ban, saying that members voted for what they personally wanted and not what was best for all of the people in Arlington. Had the referendum succeeded, Town Meeting as a representative body would have been seriously compromised. As it stands, the credibility of Town Meeting surrounding this decision has been questioned by more residents than in any other decision in recent memory.
I urge the Board of Selectmen to call a Special Town Meeting so that Town Meeting members can act as directed by a large majority of registered voters and overturn the leaf blower ban.
After hearing no response in two, subsequent, Board of Selectmen meetings, Mr. Harrington and more than 200 voters felt they had no choice but to exercise their first amendment rights and call for the Town Meeting.
The Illegal Leaf Blower Committee
Mr. Greeley was well aware that a signature drive was being undertaken to petition for a Special Town Meeting; you don’t collect hundreds of signatures without spreading the news. To head this off and take control, Greeley put an agenda item on the August Selectmen’s meeting. Greeley called for a committee of 12 to study a “compromise”, with himself as the chair of this committee, Selectwoman Mahon as a member, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine and Board of Health commissioner Christine Connolley. He also proposed that the four most active landscape contractors be on the committee and left the final four choices as Town Meeting Members selected by the Town Moderator, John Leone.
First, we note that this committee, as voted by the Board of Selectmen, violates the Town Manager Act. Specifically,
SECTION 9.Multiple Officers.
A member of the Board of Selectmen, or of the school committee, or of the finance committee shall, during the term for which he was elected or appointed, be ineligible either by election or appointment to hold any other town office, except the office of town meeting member and except membership on a committee, board or commission when participation of such member is required by Town Bylaw or by a vote of the Town Meeting.
Greeley and Mahon are ineligible to serve on this committee, which they were informed by another Town Meeting Member. You’ll notice in the September 10 BoS meeting, Greeley back peddles on this committee, calling it an ad-hoc working group. It wasn’t enough that Greeley intended to pack the committee with four Town-side officials/employees, he also directed the Town Moderator to select four Town Meeting Members who were in favor of the ban. John Leone sent out this email immediately after the meeting.
On Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 12:58 PM, John D. Leone, Moderator
Hello Town Meeting members.
I hope that your summer is going well. On August 27th, 2012, in light of the recent special election results wherein the Town’s voters nearly overturned the leaf blower ban Bylaw that Town Meeting approved this Spring, the Board of Selectmen formed a committee for the purpose of exploring options to an outright ban on leaf blowers. It is Mr. Greeley’s intention to bring to Town Meeting next Spring, a compromise Article that will modify the complete ban and impose some level of restrictions on leaf blower use.
The Committee will be comprised of Mr. Greeley, Ms. Mahon, Mr. Chapdelaine and Christine Connolly, Director of the Board of Health, as well as four persons from the Landscapers Association who oppose the ban, and four Town Meeting members, presumably who are in favor of the ban, to be appointed by the Moderator.
If you are interested in serving on this committee please send an email to me: JDLmoderator@gmail.com ,by August 31st. Please include your preceint number and position on the issue.
So the committee was a sham, packed with 8 in favor of the ban or amendable to doing the politically expedient thing and four outgunned, naive landscapers. This farce was intended to rubber stamp whatever Greeley decided, as evidenced by his statement that he will be submitting his own warrant article in the Special Town Meeting. This is an important point, since it is highly unusual for the Board of Selectmen to float a competing article with a citizen initiated article. Best, it exposes Greeley for the equivocator he is; outspoken against the ban and the supposed friend to the landscapers, while rejecting out of hand the petitioner’s article that clearly asks for the ban to be rescinded. Greeley is pandering to the ban supporters, while trying to keep the ban opponents happy. You may ask why, but you merely have to recognize, Greeley is up for re-election in 2013 and he can’t alienate the politically active, minority who voted in the ban and feels comfortable bamboozling his base, those many thousands who oppose the ban.
Make no mistake about this Arlington; your elected officials do not like to be told what to do and they will try their hardest to deny you of your civil rights if you seek to petition them.
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