Select Board - Oct 5th, 2020

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Meeting held via video-conference. These notes cover a subset of agenda items.

Select Board Policy Changes. This discussion is about amending the Select Board's policy handbook.

(Joe Curro) Mr. Curro suggests having a discussion this evening and allowing town counsel to compile the suggestions. Changes would be voted on at a future meeting. The Select Board set a goal of updating their policy handbook. Kevin Greely championed this effort in the past. The talk of changing board procedures has raised a lot of consternation. The changes proposed here a merely codification of the board's current practices. The board holds a Citizen's open forum during most meetings, but there are exceptions. For example, open forum isn't held when the select board is conducting warrant article hearings. We'd like to clarify that in the handbook. Mr. Curro asks if the board would like to go through individual sections.

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon says that citizens open forum used to be held sporadically at best. The board started holding them regularly during her first term as chair, which was in the 1990s. Later chairs have endeavored to keep that practice.

(Joe Curro) Mr. Curro moves to the section on Board Meeting and hearing procedures. He's added a proposed section on Remote Meetings. Again, the effort is to codify current practices. The language was taken from the National Board of School Committees, and is also used by Arlington's School Committee. He'd like to stress that these are meetings for the purpose of discussing business of the town.

There's a proposal for a new section on electronic communications, which suggests differentiating between personal and official posts. It also advises board members to refrain from social media discussions that would be better handled during a board meeting.

(Lenard Diggins) Mr. Diggins supports the changes. At a later time, he hopes the board can discuss whether to support virtual meetings once we're able to meet in person again.

Regarding the Open Forum, perhaps we could place it in the agenda so that people who specifically have to meet with the board don't have to wait a long time. The Select Board can't respond to issues raised during open forums because they're not on a posted agenda. Open Meeting Laws require a properly noticed agenda. One or two board members could meet with the public for an informal, open-ended discussion. But if three or more members are there, there has to be a properly advertised meeting.

(Missed a bit)

(Diane Mahon) Ms. Mahon says the board disables Zoom's chat feature to avoid creating an exchange that isn't reflected in the public record. At some point, people will have to agree to disagree. After that, it becomes unproductive to continue arguing. Ms. Mahon says she tries to respond to everyone that contacts her, but she doesn't feel inclined to keep meeting when there's no agreement.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey prefers to treat this as a first reading of proposed changes to the Select Board's handbook; the board doesn't need to take a vote during this meeting. Regarding exceptions to the open forum, Mr. DeCourcey would like to be clear that the exceptions are exceptions. For example, contract negotiations where the board immediately moves to executive session will not have an Open Forum. He prefers to have Open Forum, subject to a limited set of specific circumstances.

(John Hurd) Mr. Hurd says the proposed changes mirror the Select Board's current practices. Months ago, a resident asked for a written set of rules regarding Citizen's Open Forum, and we referred them to the Board's handbook. These changes are intended to clarify when Open Forums are held. Beyond Open Forum, there are other mechanisms people can use to bring issues to the Board's attention (such as email).

The discussion moves on to the Licenses and Permits section of the Handbook. Mr. Curro wants to make sure the board doesn't do CORI checks unless they're required by law. He suggests a list of things that someone applying for a business permit should not be required to provide, like age, naturalization status, and place of birth. Mr. Curro wants to make an effort to remove systemic biases from application processes.

Mr. Diggins, Ms. Mahon, and Mr. DeCourcey all support this idea.

Town Counsel Doug Heim says he'll take the board proposed changes and comments, and incorporate them into a next draft.

Open Forum. The chair opens the Open Forum portion of the meeting.

(Mona Mandell) Ms. Mandell is very disappointed with the removal of the Black Lives Matter banner from town hall. She feels this sends a signal that black and brown lives don't matter. She thanks the board for clarifications on their Open Forum policy, and believes that participatory democracy is important. Finally, she believes that Select Board members should act professionally. She was offended at Ms. Mahon's behavior at a prior meeting and suggests that Ms. Mahon take an anger management course.

(Rebecca Gruber) Ms. Gruber urges the board to put the BLM banner back. She believes this is very important after the Community Conversations forum with Lt. Pedrini. She feels the Lt. Pedrini did a lot of damage. The banner is only symbolic but it reassures residents, and communicates a commitment to equality. She asks the board to put the banner back.

(Elliot Eicher) Mr. Eicher is speaking on behalf of five families on Mary Street, who support the shared streets initiative. They've been distributing fliers and having meetings to engage with residents of their street. He feels the town was transparent in their efforts to pilot a shared street on Mary Street. He thinks a short six-week is a good way to see what works, and hopes the pilot goes forward.

(Lynette Culverhouse) Ms. Culverhouse appreciates the conversation about Open Forum. She's reached out to members of the select board multiple times, but feels like she hasn't been heard. We're very divided as a country and as a town, and she'd like to focus on moving forward. She cares about equality and justice and wants all people to have a voice. She says that annoyance and entitlement in leadership need to change, and she's not seeing that.

(Anna Henkin) Ms. Henkin feels that some of the select board's proposed policy changes are clear and prudent, but she's concerned that the changes to open forum will allow the board to turn people away at their discretion. She thinks it incentivizes silencing the public, and is a first amendment issue. She says the board is endangering the input of people they represent. Removing the BLM banner was a heinous and cowardly decision.

(Robin Harney) Mr. Harney says the changes to open forum are part of a set of undemocratic changes that are designed to protect Arlington's racist police force. He's unhappy with the fees the town charges for public records requests, and feels that the select board is showing allegiance to a racist police department by trying to curtail open meeting laws. He's demanding change to Arlington's oppressive structures.

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says she's written to the select board many times, but only two members have ever responded to her. She feels that changes to the open forum rules two weeks after removing the BLM banner make it seem as though the board is trying to silence people. She's concerned about racial justice, and thinks there's a strong will to keep the banner. She hopes the board will reverse their precedent, and states that open forum is the only way many of us have to communicate with the board.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson notes that the board chairman controls the agenda, and that Open Forum was never part of all Select Board meetings. He states that presenting to a board is a privilege, and abuse of that privilege is counterproductive. The handbook changes are just codifying the status quo; Mr. Curro noted that this effort was started back in February. He cautions the board against over-defining things in their handbook and states his appreciation for the town manager's work.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik says she was very concerned with the proposed changes to open forum, but was heartened by the discussion. She's concerned that the proposed changes are anti-democratic and a first amendment issue. She'd like to see members of the public at virtual meetings. She says these changes are a consolidation of power under the town manager, and that the town manager's work with the MAPC is a conflict of interest.

(Erin Fera) Ms. Fera is concerned about the open forum changes, and is worried about the use of words like "most" and "at the discretion of". She thinks the last few months were rough with the Pedrini incident. Arlington bought the BLM banner, and we own it. The banner is just a symbolic measure, but we need it. By taking the banner down, the select board is saying that black lives don't matter. She asks the board to put the banner back up.

(Kevin Heaton) Mr. Heaton is concerned that the Select Board will be taking away Open Forum. He thinks that's a basic part of any open meeting. He'd like to see the BLM banner put back up.

(Kenneth Hughes) Mr. Hughes is a retired police offers from Arlington. He thinks this is divisive. He says the police support the black lives matter movement, but not the organization. The organization wants to defund police and disrupt the nuclear family. He doesn't know where the talk about Arlington's police department being racist is coming from. He worked on the No Place for Hate campaign, and says that Arlington has one of the most progressive police departments around. He says the back the blue rally was not racist; they were former police officers that are trying to help people.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak would like to share a personal story that might be relevant to the black lives matter banner on town hall. Over the summer, he attended several events called "the Ride for black lives". You can think of this as a black lives matter demonstration on wheels. A bunch of cyclists meet up in Roxbury, listen to a few speeches, and then parade around Boston -- on bicycles.

These events were organized by members of Boston's black community. Sometimes, the opening remarks served as a platform for members of Boston's black community to tell us white folks exactly how they felt about us. Which is to say, there was a lot of tough love going down during some of those opening remarks. Mr. Revilak wants to relate one of those. He's paraphrasing to the best of his memory:

We're glad to see everyone here today. But I want you to understand something. The struggle for black lives does not end here. If you ride with us, then go home and do nothing else to help black lives, then please do not come back.
Likewise for holding a sign. We appreciate that you're trying to show support, but the struggle for black lives does not end with holding a sign. If that's all you're going to do, then please do not come back.

Like he said, tough love.

The main thing he took away from those remarks: symbolic gestures of support are nice, but they only do so much.

He understands that a lot of folks here like the sign -- it makes them fell good. Maybe that's enough of a reason to leave it up. But he thinks the fellow speaking at the ride for black lives had a point: signs and banners only do so much.

In his opinion, the most significant and enduring form of structural discrimination in Arlington is housing. And it's been that way for over one hundred years. Mr. Revilak realizes that housing is not the board's main purview, but he thinks that's the real issue we have to tackle.

(missed one of the speakers)

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray says that in the last 24 hours, she's learned that this issue comes down to trust. She finds it alarming that there's no one talking about having Open Forums at the chair's discretion. She says the timing is suspicious, and that those who don't trust the board will be suspicious. She questions the board's timing, motivation, and intent. She says that emails to the board don't always make it in to the public record. She would also like participants to be able to see each other during board meetings.

(Sandra Mostajo) Ms. Mostajo wants to express her discontent to the board. She thinks the BLM banner was an important symbolic measure. She says that black lives have been marginalized throughout our country's history.

(Kristin Martin) Ms. Martin is discouraged by the earlier remarks of the former police officer who says that Arlington doesn't have a racism problem. She says that old white men shouldn't make that decision. She says that being black is not a choice, but being a police officer is.

(Kevin Heaton, speaking a second time) Mr. Heaton is concerned that the board is taking away open forum. He says that's a basic part of democracy, especially after the BLM banner was taken down. He'd like to keep the banner and open forum.

There aren't any members of the public who wish to provide comment, and Open Forum ends. The chair calls a 10 minute recess.

(Left the meeting at this point.)