UPDATED April 6: The Arlington Select Board has recommended favorable action on two Town Meeting articles: one that would place limits on the location of demonstrations and another that would try to lower the minimum voting age in local elections to 16.

Chair Eric Helmuth led the three-hour hybrid meeting on Monday, April 1, also attended by Vice Chair John Hurd and members Stephen W. DeCourcey, Lenard Diggins and Diane M. Mahon.

In a 4-1 vote, with Diggins dissenting, the board recommended favorable action on Article 14: Bylaw Amendment/Focused Residence Picketing. The article comes to the board after targeted demonstrations outside Gov. Maura Healey’s home by a New England-based neo-Nazi group in mid-October 2023 and mid-February 2024.

“Some of these [protests] have had significant impacts on the neighborhood as a whole, especially those that have occurred in the late evening,” said Town Manager Jim Feeney. “However, the town was not in a position to restrict the activity in any way given the classifications of the roads, given that they are statutory private ways and have to remain open to the public.”

Feeney read potential policy proposals and asked the board to consider a measure that may provide some relief to residents, noting that it is expected that the governor, who moved to Arlington less than a year ago, would support this measure.

Supreme Court case cited

In a followup email interview with YourArlington, Feeney emphasized that Healey did not request this measure. He wrote, “I will again stress [that] the proposed bylaw may have arisen from experiences outside of the governor's private residence, but it does not target a specific group or apply only to certain residences. Instead, it applies to any group targeting any private residence via picketing anywhere in town.”

Feeney said that the proposed article does not violate the First Amendment right to free speech because it prohibits only focused picketing and leaves open other ways to communicate these messages.

He said the proposal sticks closely to language used in a 1988 Supreme Court case, Frisby v. Schultz, which prevented protesting outside a private home.

After about an hour of deliberation, Helmuth said in his closing remarks, “Protests and demonstrations happen regularly at the State House on the steps outside the governor’s suite, sometimes loudly. The governor keeps a public schedule, goes to public meetings all over the state, and people can -- and do -- show up with protest signs there.”

Although citizens have the right to protest, Helmuth argued that there are many other places and opportunities to protest. “There is no lack of access to the governor or any other public official to express your political [views] and exercise your constitutional rights.”

Diggins explains stance

Diggins was the only dissenting voter in this matter, saying he believes that the town bylaws are remarkably quiet on protests -- and that they should not be interpreted to infringe on a citizen's right to protest.

“I seriously thought there might be protests in front of my place [of residence, early on], because of my position on things, and people were pretty angry with me about my position,” Diggins said at the meeting, referring to when he first joined the board and took a stance on an issue concerning displays of banners.

“It never occurred to me to even think about creating a bylaw that would outlaw protests of that type in this town,” he said.

Countering Helmuth's argument that people are able to protest elsewhere, Diggins said that they can indeed protest, for instance, in front of Town Hall, but, once inside of the building, those who work there tend to become oblivious to what's going on outside. “But a [potential] protest in front of my place [of residence would get] my attention," he said. “It's a more effective ploy.”

Teen advocates for lower voting age

Sophie Shen, an Arlington High School junior, presented the case for Article 22: Home Rule Legislation/Lowering the Voting Age to 16 in Local Elections -- and won a unanimous thumbs-up from the board.

“There are numerous reasons why we should consider lowering the municipal voting age to 16,” said Shen. “Doing so can improve civic education/civic engagement -- and empower young people.”

Shen believes that lowering the voting age can act as a catalyst for increased voter turnout and that encouraging voting early on will increase turnout for Arlington voters as a whole going forward.

Arlington is not the only town in eastern Massachusetts trying to lower the voting age; Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have already submitted home-rule petitions to the state to that effect.

Members of the board believe it is going to take a long time to pass in the legislature, but with increased numbers of petitions comes more awareness of the issue. “As we see more communities maybe attempt to do this, maybe there will be more momentum at the state level,” said DeCourcey.

Arlington resident Chris Loreti spoke against the proposal, claiming that 16 is too young to vote. Shen replied that those who signed the petition were teachers and also some people who had just turned 18 -- showing that people who were consistently around or who recently were young teens agree with this proposal.

Stratton Safe Routes to School endorsed

The board unanimously voted to recommend support of Article 53: Appropriation/Takings for Stratton School Safe Routes. John Alessi, senior transportation planner in the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) Division of the town, presented the article, which requests language concerning a project in and around the Stratton Elementary School,180 Mountain Ave.

The project would mainly take place on Hemlock Street and Dickson Avenue, with some improvements on Mountain Avenue and Wheeler Lane. It would provide new or repaired sidewalks, curb ramps, curb extensions and Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons.

The purpose is to place sidewalks in connection with the Commonwealth Safe Routes to School Program, “a national movement that aims to make it safer and easier for students to walk and bike to school.” If all the next steps are authorized, the project would begin construction in the summer of 2025.

In other business, the board:

· Approved the Department of Health and Human Services' acceptance and use of funds from the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture Grants Committee; Mass Cultural Council;

· Approved the installation of temporary banners for the Rotary Club of Arlington’s 100th anniversary;

· Approved two special (one-day) beer and wine licenses: one on April 13 at the Robbins Memorial Town Hall for Menotomy Beer Hall and one on April 27 at the Arlington Community Center for ACA Spotlight Fundraiser;

· Approved the appointment of Melissa McInerny, an economist at Tufts University, to the Council on Aging;

· Scheduled a future Select Board meeting on Wednesday, April 17, 2024;

· Approved a request for a Special Town Meeting to reexamine Town Meeting warrant Article 12, which concerns the  John J. Bilafer Arlington Citizens’ Scholarship Fund;

· Decided on opening and closing of Special Town Meeting, to open on Tuesday, April 9, at 8 a.m., and to close at 4 p.m. that same day;

· Recommended “will report” on Article 20, indicating an intention to consider this matter at a later time; the article would update the Town Manager Act to reflect the transition of the Town Clerk’s Office from an elected to an appointed position;

· Recommended no action on Article 21, a petition for home-rule legislation to amend the senior citizen property tax exemption;

· Approved the wording of these articles: Article 15: Bylaw Amendment/Prohibition of Fair-Trade Restrictions - Fur Products;

·Article 16: Bylaw Amendment/Pet Sale Restrictions/Retail Pet Sales; Article 17: Bylaw Amendment/Right to Pet Companionship; Article 18: Bylaw Amendment/Historic Building Demolition Delay; Article 19: Vote/ Extend Time for Artificial Turf Study Committee and Report.

Helmuth later explained via email: “We took our main vote on Article 17 at an earlier meeting where we had the public hearing and full discussion; the vote you’re referring to on Monday [April 1] was [just] to approve the wording of Town Counsel’s summary of the Select Board’s rationale that we will print in our report to Town Meeting. As with all warrant articles we hear, we are only recommending a certain course of action to Town Meeting; the deciding vote will be made by that body [Town Meeting is scheduled to begin its deliberations April 24].”

Watch April 1 Select Board meeting:

March 10, 2024: Heights restaurant operating for nearly 13 months without license, Select Board learns

 This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Jessie Castellano was published Friday, April 5, 2024. It was updated the next day to add a video of the meeting, to supply the name of an opponent to a proposal for a lower voting age in future municipal election -- and to correct errors by the editor in the lead  and the headline.

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