Black Lives Matter banner on agenda
Arlington will hold a Special Town Meeting on Monday, Nov. 16, via remote participation, as unanimously approved by the Select Board on Nov. 4. The meeting will use a hybrid platform of Zoom telephone/video conferencing and ZPato Research-dedicated software, as recommended by Town Moderator John Leone.
All Town Meeting and Select Board members, along with the town manager and town counsel, are being trained on the software, and a “virtual dress rehearsal” was held Tuesday, Nov. 10, for two hours, to ensure compliance with all Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. “We put a lot of hours and effort into this, and I think it will work well,” said Leone.
In a letter to the Select Board, Leone wrote, “I certify that . . . I have tested all components of the system . . . and am satisfied that this system will enable our meetings to be conducted in substantially the same manner as if they had occurred in person at a physical location.” See Town Meeting-related documents >>
“This will be a lot smoother than people think, and I look forward to it,” said Select Board Chair John Hurd.
Several articles readied for Special Town Meeting
Article 25 Resolution/Black Lives Matter Banner at Town Hall
The board requested that Town Meeting support the continued display of a Black Lives Matter banner on Town Hall, until such time as Town Meeting recommends its removal, as voted 4-1 (Len Diggins voted no).
“Town Meeting lacks the ability to direct the Select Board for something that’s under their jurisdiction. Town Meeting can express their opinions; however, it doesn’t bind the Select Board,” explained Town Counsel Doug Heim.
The article’s proponent, Katell Guellec, Envision Arlington diversity task group cochair, emphasized the importance of rehanging the Black Lives Matter banner on Town Hall. It had been there from June 8 to Sept. 30.
“Many groups endorse this warrant article, including the Human Rights Commission, Envision Arlington Diversity Task Group, Arlington High School Black Student Union, Arlington Fights Racism and Mystic Valley chapter of the NAACP. After the banner was taken down, an online petition got more than 350 signatures. This warrant article gathered over 200 in-person signatures within 24 hours to bring this article forward.
“This is a crucial moment in our country’s and town’s history. It’s an opportunity to affirm the humanity of black lives, and denounce the ongoing ways they’re systemically oppressed. Arlington recognizes that and promotes racial equity; our values as a town transcend politics. Inclusivity is important for all, and hanging a Black Lives Matter banner affirms that idea. Refusing to rehang the banner stands out as a visible gap in Arlington’s commitment to racial justice.
“A banner creates an emotional connection between a town and its residents. It lets people know they’re seen, and a valued member of their community. Our objective is to allow Town Meeting to weigh in on this conversation, and to bring more Arlington voices into the conversation,” said Guellec.
Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine pointed out that the Human Rights Commission voted favorably on this resolution and has voted to rehang the banner on Town Hall.
Board members weigh in
Hurd said, “It’s always been a policy to not hang policy banners on Town Hall. We did this in June in reaction to a horrific incident. Our proclamation initially sated that the banner would come down in July. Over the summer, we were still engaging in community conversations and, as a board, decided to leave it up until September, longer than any other banner has hung on Town Hall.
“ We care about Black Lives Matter. The Select Board, town manager and town counsel are all committed to working against racism.”
Board Vice Chair Joseph Curro Jr. said, “I felt proud to raise the banner on Town Hall back in June. We’re one of only five communities (out of 351 in Massachusetts) that has placed such a banner. Traditionally, the only messages displayed on Town Hall have been in conjunction with specific observances or exhibits. We should pass the resolution as the 209 people have signed it, with a strong comment that reflects the Select Board’s concerns regarding Town Meeting’s ability to do this.
Board member Steve DeCourcey said, “The Select Board has gone through a process since June 8, when we first issued the proclamation and voted to condemn all racist acts, and to recognize that black lives matter. I’m fine with Town Meeting hearing about this.”
Board member Len Diggins said, “I support the goals of Black Lives Matter. However, I oppose having any banners on Town Hall, but support them in other places, such as on light poles in Arlington Center. I’m not opposed to having it on public property, but we need some neutrality to certain kinds of buildings. The most important thing it does is protect minorities, because you never know when you’ll be in the minority. A responsible government protects its minorities, so a banner shouldn’t be needed.”
Board member Diane Mahon said, “I’ve spoken with many people of color regarding the banner, and everyone says, ‘That’s what you white people do to make yourselves feel good that you’re against racism.’ What’s more important are actions, policies, forward-thinking steps and to listen to people of color. Our message is to confront systemic racism, and it shouldn’t be around a banner.
Residents air views
Most meeting attendees spoke in favor of rehanging the Black Lives Matter banner.
Drake Pusey, Human Rights Commission member, said, “It was a great idea that the Select Board displayed a holistic statement about inclusivity in our community. Arlington has since received 20 reports of incidents against the Black Lives Matter message, as well as vandalism and harassment. This is a crucial opportunity for our town to make a proactive statement against that idea and reaffirm our commitment to being against racism. Taking down banners makes people forget, which is why murdered victims, such as George Floyd, . . . are often forgotten about until the next horrifying incident brings it back. Until the problem is solved, the community needs that support, and for the Select Board to listen to what Town Meeting has to say.
Rebecca Gruber, said, “The decision to take down the Black Lives Matter banner was a mistake. It’s an important symbol, reminding us of the inherent biases, prejudices and racism we’re all prey to. The banner must be put up and stay up until all lives really do matter.”
Rajeev Soneja, Human Rights Commission member, said, “In June, when Arlington adopted the Black Lives Matter proclamation, was a powerful moment in town. It was a reminder of the disparities for black and brown people. 'Black Lives Matter' is a statement to undo all institutional barriers to all races. The Black Lives Matter banner on Town Hall is a visual reminder of the journey we have to go, and reinforces the belief that this town welcomes everybody.”
Anna Henkin, Human Rights Commission member, said, “The timing of the removal of the Black Lives Matter banner was irresponsible―just after the Back the Blue rally— which emboldened and empowered those people. Our society doesn’t value black humanity and the humanity of other groups. That banner says that black lives’ humanity matters, and is a symbol that gives people hope that they matter.”
Melanie Brown, Human Rights Commission member, Town Meeting member, said, “Symbols matter. After the Black Lives Matter banner came down, the HRC received a rash of human rights calls. Many people calling for the banner to be put up are black. The important message here is that plenty of people want to see this matter brought before Town Meeting.”
Eric Dion said, “We understood that the Black Lives banner wasn’t going to be a permanent fixture, and are not asking for it to be now. Doesn’t taking down the banner send a more powerful message? Why raise a banner just to take it down with no action plan in place? When the next inevitable incidents of police violence occurs, do we raise a banner just to abandon it again when it’s convenient? That sends a bad message.”
Elizabeth Dray, Town Meeting member, said, “One of the most upsetting Select Board rationales to not rehang the Black Lives Matter banner is that having a banner is divisive, not having one is neutral. Just because something is divisive, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Neutrality is not the right approach in the face of injustice.
“For the Select Board to prioritize the feelings of residents who are racists and bigots over the feelings of Arlington’s black and brown residents is appalling. We need to listen to people of color. For the Select Board to see this banner as a political, not a human-rights, issue is wrong. Acknowledging that Black Lives Matter by rehanging this banner on Town Hall is the absolute minimum for the leaders of Arlington to acknowledge our nonwhite residents. Policy actions are more important than the banner, but not mutually exclusive”
One resident express opposition to rehanging the banner.
Gordon Jamieson, Town Meeting and Envision Arlington member, “I’m against rehanging the banner, which was initiated by the Select Board, although the concept is great. It’s more important to decide what we can do going forward.”
Article 8 Acceptance of Legislation/Bylaw Amendment/Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund
The board unanimously approved to authorize a municipal affordable housing trust fund that supports the development of affordable housing in Arlington, and establishes a new bylaw for its administration.
In a letter to the Select Board, Jennifer Raitt, director of planning and community development, wrote, “The trust would be a public body and the Trustees would be special municipal employees. This trust would provide the ability to act quickly and nimbly, particularly when a real estate opportunity becomes available that aligns with the trust’s goals.”
This proposal is “another way for the Town to support low- to moderate-income individuals and households to achieve housing stability, and a concrete step for the town to take in advancing race and equity goals,” Raitt wrote.
Speaking at the Nov. 4 Select Board meeting, Raitt said, “We need as many tools as we can get to create and preserve affordable housing. We have lots of tools and resources, such as the Housing Corporation of Arlington, but could always use more, such as opportunities to work with other housing organizations that preserve and/or create affordable housing.”
“A trust fund would streamline the process for affordable housing. We’ve identified a number of areas of opportunity where we want to be able to work, and see the trust as being an excellent resource to do that. Seven other communities―including Belmont, Winchester, Reading, Brookline and North Andover― have these trust funds. This way, Arlington can leverage the capacity that we already have to make our future work even better,” added Raitt.
Karen Kelleher, Housing Plan Implementation Committee, Town Meeting member, said, “Housing affordability is a crisis in Arlington for our existing residents and a concern about our diversity. The housing market is changing around us and that is changing the demographics of our community. If we don’t act proactively, those trends will continue.”
“This tool is flexible, and will allow us to have conversations about our future strategies. Affordable housing needs funding. This article will create the vehicle for affordable housing, not fund it,” continued Kelleher.
Select Board, others offer opinions
Hurd said, “This is a good step in the right direction.”
Curro said, “It’s a no-brainer to adopt this. This tool is important, and builds on the board’s previous work. This tool will allow us to continue to push work forward.”
DeCourcey said, “It has a lot of flexibility, which can create opportunities.”
Diggins said, “I support this. They’re doing really good work.”
Board member Mahon said, “This is a great idea and will help individuals achieve housing stability. It’s geared toward low-to-moderate income individuals; however, you won’t reach low-income households using Zoom meetings. I recommend two different strategies, one for low- and one for moderate-income applications, and if there’s any kind of ranking, try to fill the greatest need first, which is low. Who will be in charge of this program―this committee or the planning department? What tools do we have, or will get, to start building this trust?”
Raitt responded, “The plan is the Housing Action plan, and it will happen when other trustees are named. Individuals and bodies may have different opinions of the most applicable and/or deserving of housing, and we want to have as much input as possible. The trust also serves to act on new opportunities, so we’ll still have the flexibility to pursue new opportunities. We plan to have community-based partnerships with organizations that focus on housing and social justice issues. Real synergy can be created as a result of this trust.”
Pat Hanlon, Town Meeting member, said, “I support this initiative. It’s important to preserve the flexibility of this body, so that when opportunities arise, the trustees are ready. We also need to support funding, so the affordable-housing agency can assemble resources to achieve the town’s goal.”
Jordan Weinstein, Town Meeting member, suggested that “With good real estate in Arlington and sellers getting such appreciation on their property, it’s reasonable to think there might be a mechanism to say that it’s appropriate to give back to the community
” to those with different financial circumstances.
The Select Board unanimously approved the following warrant articles be presented at the Special Town Meeting (See memo on these articles):
- Article 5 Home Rule Legislation/Bylaw Amendment/Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
- Article 6 Vote/Establishment of Police Civilian Advisory Board Study Committee
- Article 10 Acceptance of Legislation/Gold Star Family Tax Exemption
See the ACMI video of the Nov. 4 meeting:
Oct. 27, 2020: Parking meter charges reinstated as new app arrives
This news summary, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020.