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Brookline Town Meeting, Wednesday Night

Having gotten through about half the warrant on Tuesday night, most of us expected to finish up the warrant on Wednesday night. Sure enough, we did. Including the infamous anti-spanking resolution. If that's what interests you, just follow the cut tag and scroll to the bottom...


Before we got to the business of the night, TMM Marvin Geller stood up to speak in praise of his son Joe Geller, who has long been one of the five Selectmen in the town. Joe has decided not to run for re-election next year, so tonight was his last night as a Selectman at Town Meeting. His father's comments were very moving.

The first two articles of the evening were actually the last two in the warrant, but we took them first as a favor to some guests. Town Meeting is in charge of naming places in the town as a memorial, and tonight we approved a memorial sign at the corner of Thorndike and Harvard Streets for Maxwell Adler, a resident and Korean War veteran who died during that war in March 1951. We also renamed the Coolidge Playground to "the Judge Sumner Z. Kaplan Park at Coolidge Playground," in honor of another resident who has long served the town.

We then turned our attention to Article 6, which had been postponed from last night because we only got the committee reports last night. This article was about focused residence picketing, in which people stage a protest in front of a person's home. This is a very tricky issue, as I shall try to explain.

Back in 2003, Town Meeting approved a bylaw to prohibit forced residential picketing. The main reason we wanted the bylaw was to protect doctors who provide abortions at places such as Planned Parenthood. Groups such as Operation Rescue routinely protest in front of these doctors' homes, making them and their families feel threatened.

The problem is that it's unconstitutional to pass a bylaw simply prohibiting abortion protests. You have to pass a more general bylaw against all forms of FRP.

And that brings us right into conflict with the first amendment, because by passing this bylaw, Town Meeting skirts the edge of censoring free speech. Because of this, when we passed the bylaw back in 2003, we put in a sunset provision requiring it to expire on December 31, 2004. We also set up a committee to study the issue.

Well, a majority of the committee wanted to extended the bylaw's expiration date for eighteen months and continue its work, and the two motions were considered separately. What fascinated me about this article is that it really divided the left wing. Brookline PAX, a local liberal political action group which routinely supports both free speech and abortion rights, supported the initial bylaw but this time supported letting it expire. I voted with PAX in 2003, and I voted with them again. But the motion to extend the deadline passed, so the bylaw stays in force until June 2006, during which time the committee will continue its work (and I should note that no matter what the outcome of the first vote, both PAX and I supported continuing the committee).

An article to change the Planning Board from an appointed board to an elected one was referred to the Committee on Town Organization and Structure.

Then we had a bunch of zoning bylaws to vote on.

Finally, we came to the last two articles of the evening, and in some ways, the most interesting.

Article 21 was a resolution to urge the Transportation Board to implement a Resident Permit Parking Program within six months, and this takes a little bit of background to explain. Brookline is one of the only towns I have ever heard of that prohibits parking on the streets overnight, and also has a two-hour limit on parking during the day, even on streets without meters. This has led to a lot of dissatisfaction among residents because of the uneven way the ban is enforced. Sometimes a resident will be parked on the street, drive off to run errands, and then return, and even though they were not parked for two straight hours in that same spot, they will receive a ticket. The reason is because a traffic officer might pass by, take note of the cars that are parked there, and then pass by again two hours later. If the officer sees the same car there, he or she might assume that the car never moved in those two hours, and will write a ticket for the vehicle.

There's also the issue that the two-hour limit makes it difficult for people from out of town to visit. One member of the Advisory Committee told the story of how on his wedding day, his brother-in-law from out of town received a ticket for parking in front of the member's house for a little more than two hours. And (drum roll please), his brother-in-law has never returned to Brookline again!

The article passed easily. To their credit, the Transportation Board had already scheduled hearings on this issue even before Town Meeting began, because they saw the article on the warrant and decided to be proactive.

And now, Article 22. And with it comes a story.

At our last meeting in June, a citizen petitioner named Ron Goldman presented a non-binding resolution, urging caregivers of children to refrain from corporal punishment, such as spanking. One of the nice things about a Town Meeting form of government is that citizens have the right to bring any resolution or article to the Meeting, so long as ten registered voters in the town sign on. However, although our Town Meeting routinely takes positions on many issues, such as the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act, many members felt that this particular resolution fell out of our purview. But at the same time, many did not want to be seen as voting against it. So, in June, the motion was postponed indefinitely by a vote of 105-78.

Mr. Goldman was disappointed by this outcome, and so, as is within his rights, he brought the article back to Town Meeting. This time around we voted on the article, and the motion failed by a vote of 73-75-26.

However, the mere existence of this article led to the best part of the night, when TMM Karen Wenc, who opposed the resolution, told us how she had been signed up to speak about the resolution. The way this usually works is that Sandy Gadsby, our Town Meeting Moderator, asks us to contact him in advance to let him know that we would like to address Town Meeting on a particular article, and whether we would like to speak for or against. Presumably, Ms. Wenc would have gotten in touch with him privately to request a speaking slot during the debate.

However, as it so happens, Ms. Wenc was out and about in Brookline a few weeks back when she heard a voice behind her say, "So, Karen, should I sign you up for spanking?" It was Mr. Gadsby, asking her if she wanted to sign up to speak at Town Meeting on this resolution. But to her friends, it sounded like something else...

As Ms. Wenc told us this story from the lectern, Mr. Gadsby turned a deep red and offered to take a motion to call the question. We all had a good laugh, and then Ms. Wenc continued with her reasons for opposing the resolution.

Now, we do a lot of important business in Town Meeting, as you just saw, but it's things like the anti-spanking resolution that seem to generate the most local news. So for those of you who want to know more, I refer you to the following article in today's Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2004/11/18/brookline_rejects_measure_on_spanking/

We dissolved the Town Meeting at 10:46 PM.



And there you go, more than you ever needed to know about Brookline Town Meeting. Tune in again next Spring when we decide upon the budget for Fiscal Year 2006.

Comments

They're introducing resident permits? Really? That's unexpected... So does that mean only residents can park on certain streets? Or residents can park overnight? Or residents are exempt from the 2-hour limit?...
All it means at that moment is that the Transportation Board is considering the idea, but Town Meeting made it pretty clear that we want something. What it will be is yet to be determined.

If you have ideas, you can go to their public meeting on Monday, November 22, 2004 beginning at 7 PM in the Community Room at the Public Safety Building located at 250 Washington Street. The meeting agenda is at http://calendars.town.brookline.ma.us/MasterTownCalendar/S026D164D-026D16D1 Near the start of the meeting is a time for public comment.

Also, you could email the chair of the Board with your ideas. Let me know if you want to do that and I'll email you his name and email address.
The thing is, I don't live in Brookline anymore... it's more that I want to be aware of what's going on.
Yeah, but you don't have to tell him that you don't live in the town anymore. Or you could express your interest as someone who works in the town.
True. I'd just have to figure out exactly what my thoughts are. :-)

picketing

It seems that the problems with picketing people's houses would come in the form of harrassment, obstruction, and (potentially) property damage. Are there already laws about loitering that would be relevant?

It'd be hard to argue against one guy quietly sitting on the sidewalk with a sign, and pretty obvious that you don't want to permit a mob of 100 to totally block the sidewalk, driveway, and street while shouting slogans at 2AM and throwing rotten tomatoes at anyone who emerges from the house. Somewhere between those two points they're going to have to draw a line.

Re: picketing

Some of what you mention here is exactly why we've had a lot of difficulty with this article. We want to protect both the residents and the people who wish to protest. The question is, how much legislation is too much.

The majority report of the committee included a lot of reports from Planned Parenthood involving two protestors whose actions made a lot of doctors and their families fear for their lives. I think that's what might have convinced Town Meeting to extend the bylaw.

By the way, apropos of community legislation, as a Pennsylvania resident you might want to check out this post from my brother-in-law: http://www.wetmachine.com/index.php/item/175
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