Fresh on the heels of our last covid-era local government controversy, we now have Warrant-gate, brought to you by exactly the same people who brought to you Letter-gate.
The facts and circumstances are straightforward: A Grafton resident brought a Citizen’s Petition to re-direct $240,000 in tax-payer money away from the proposed “Super Park” to other, pressing capital needs, like school buildings and police cars. The Citizen’s Petition, by right, is supposed to go on the Warrant at Town Meeting, which is the long list of motions we all vote on at Town Meeting. The Town Administrator, however, noted that the language of the warrant article was missing a single word, and so he removed the resident’s warrant article. Seemingly of his own volition.
Oh, and the alleged fatal defect of petition? The Grafton resident wanted the money to be moved into the “capital stabilization fund” as opposed to the “MUNICIPAL capital stabilization fund,” as it is officially called. Yawn.
But there’s more backstory: the warrant article is brought by Colleen Roy, who is running against Jen Thomas for Select Board. The proposed article would have dealt a potentially fatal blow to the park, which long has been championed by Jen Thomas, against whom Ms. Roy is running. The warrant article was removed from the proposed warrant by Town Administrator Tim McInerney, for whom Ms. Thomas just negotiated a brand new four-year contract featuring a large pay increase in year two, and for whom Ms. Thomas helped kill an investigation into his office’s potential employee intimidation charges.
When Ms. Roy emailed Mr. McInerney concerning her petition, Mr. McInerney responded, engaging in a brief back and forth with Ms. Roy. That back and forth was, strangely, interrupted by Chairperson Thomas who engaged Ms. Roy with questions of her own, apparently having been bcc’d by the TA in his response to Ms. Roy.
All of this leading the rest of us to wonder: what the hell is going on here?
Warrant articles disappearing? The TA and chair of the Select Board seemingly answering each other’s email? Teaming up to defeat warrant articles before they hit town meeting floor?
To be very clear, no town official has the right to remove a citizen’s petition from the warrant. All of our collective rights are governed in a combination of state law and the Town Charter.
And the Town Charter is clear. It is legally controlling here. Under Section 2-7(c), the Select Board has direct control over the warrant to be placed before Town Meeting. It states that “the Board of Selectmen SHALL include on the warrant for a regular town meeting the subject matter of all petitions which have been received by it…”
The word “shall” is controlling, and leaves no room for deliberation, equivocation, or flights of fancy from the local Hackocracy. If you, the citizen, collect ten signatures, your petition goes to the Select Board who organizes the warrant that’s the end of it, until Town Meeting. That’s direct democracy, and that’s what we all signed up for here in Grafton.
Ms. Thomas seems to disgaree about the extent of your democratic rights. According to her recent Facebook post, “Citizens Petitions are outside the purview of the Select Board. On April 14th, Ray Mead, the Moderator attended the Select Board meeting for discussion of the Draft Warrant and Special Town Meeting Warrant. The moderator determined that Ms Roy’s citizen petition would be ruled out of order on Town Meeting floor and instructed her how to fix it.”
Where to begin? First, Chairperson Thomas knows better and has been contradicted by the Town Moderator and the Town Charter referenced above. The Select Board is responsible for the warrant. Which leads us to wonder whether the Chairperson really understands the form of government over which she holds immense influence. Or whether she even really cares. This isn’t the first time we’ve been called to wonder, after all.
Further, in messages to Ms. Roy, Town Moderator Ray Mead informed her that her petition could be amended on Town Meeting floor, and that he did not authorize anyone to remove from the Warrant. And of course it could be amended to fix this “error.” Killing a citizen’s rights for what amounts to a scrivener’s error? Are we kidding here?
I wonder if Ray Mead is pissed that a local government hack who appears to never have read the Charter threw him under the bus for her own self-inflicted wound. He should be. I would be if I were him. But, we’ll never know. Ray doesn’t read Planet Grafton.
But all of this incompetency raises the question: Who is running the show here, and to what end? Do they understand the law? Do they nderstand or even care about your rights? Are they in it for their own agenda? Do they respect the delicate balance between the administration’s prerogative and the rights given residents under the Charter? More fundamentally: do they really understand, at long last, what makes Grafton special?
Is it self-governance or Super Parks? Ms. Roy has one answer. Ms. Thomas has another.
Grafton votes June 23.