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David Scribner
Voters at the Great Barrington Annual Town Meeting in the Monument Mountain Regional High School auditorium voting to rename the regional middle school after scholar and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois.

Great Barrington town meeting votes to rename middle school after W.E.B. Du Bois; session continued to Tuesday night

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By Tuesday, May 7, 2019 News 13

Editor’s note: This article has been revised to include new information from town hall about tonight’s meeting.

Great Barrington — Annual town meetings in Great Barrington are often marathons, but tonight’s was so lengthy, so tortured, that it had to be continued until tomorrow night (Tuesday, May 7) at 6 p.m. Same time, same place. 

Before the adjournment at 10:10 p.m. in the Monument Mountain Regional High School Auditorium, the town meeting made history. After lengthy – at times impassioned – debate, voters overwhelmingly approved a motion to endorse the renaming of the regional middle school after W.E.B. Du Bois – scholar, civl rights leader, and Great Barrington’s most famous native son. 

( Click here to see the complete town meeting warrant.)

Several speakers, including three from Multicultural Bridge, noted Du Bois great achievements as a scholar and civil rights leader. A handful of others, including some veterans, objected to Du Bois’ late-in-life embrace of communism. 

See video below of the discussion of the advisory vote to rename Monument Valley Regional Middle School after W.E.B. Du Bois:

The renaming is subject to the approval of the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee, which declined to name its new regional elementary school after Du Bois in 2004 after community members objected. Tonight’s resounding vote in favor perhaps signals that Great Barrington is a different town than it was 15 years ago.

On other warrant items voters rejected a proposal that would have required the owners of short-term rentals (e.g. Airbnb-style arrangements) to register their properties with the town clerk. Critics of the proposed bylaw saw it as a “slippery slope” toward additional taxes and regulation. 

Voters agreed to allocate $650,000 toward repairs for the former Housatonic School, but only after an amendment was introduced to fund almost half of it using reserves rather than through borrowing. The other portion will be funded through the Community Preservation Act, as originally proposed. The CPA’s other funding items were also approved.

BHRSD Superintendent Peter Dillon presenting school budget to town meeting. Photo: David Scribner

Voters approved by far the largest single spending item — the town’s contribution to the operations of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.Click here for a report on the district’s $28.4 million spending plan, a rise of 4.26 percent from last year. Great Barrington’s proposed share is a little more than $16.7 million.

Voters also approved the town’s operating and capital budgets. The combined budget will rise from $11.37 million to $11.55 million, for an increase of only 1.6 percent. Scroll to page 19 of the warrant to see a breakdown of the spending plan and click here for a full Edge report.

Town Moderator Michael Wise opens the 2019 Annual Town Meeting. Photo: David Scribner

Also approved overwhelmingly was an advisory motion telling the selectmen to look into limiting the number of cannabis retailers in the town. There are five either currently open or in the licensing phase.  

Selectboard Chairman Steve Bannon indicated those five, which have already negotiated host agreements with the town, would continue to be allowed no matter whether the board decided to pursue limits or not.

The proposed repeal of the plastic water bottle ban was the last item on the warrant, so it will be taken up on Tuesday night. Officials say all register voters may attend, regardless of whether they attended the first meeting. Here is an email sent from town hall Tuesday morning:

All registered voters in the Town of Great Barrington may attend tonight’s second night of the Annual Town Meeting at Monument Mountain Regional High school at 6 PM.
You may attend tonight even if you did not attend last evening.
It is very important that you bring your warrant with you again tonight as there will only be a limited amount of warrants available.
You will need to check in just as you did last night and will be given a new card for voting.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Town Clerk’s Office at 528-1619 ext. 3.

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13 Comments   Add Comment

  1. W.C. says:

    Re-naming the school is a disgrace and source of shame for what once was a great place to live.

    1. Jerry says:

      Couldn’t agree more. I think guys like us should move.

      1. Jake Gittes says:

        Couldn’t agree more. Time for you to move on, one way or another.

    2. S.G. says:

      W.C…. that means toilet in many parts of the world.

  2. Steve Farina says:

    While it is true that we are entering into a second night, it is also noteworthy that the atmosphere was more peaceful than any of the 3 previous town meetings I have attended. While we did not get to Article 27, it is worth noting that no one used “call the question” all evening. There were murmurs at points, but people held off.
    I for one am glad! There were many things shared, especially during the school naming discussion that were beautiful to hear. It would have been sad to have missed any of it. That discussion was also marked with polite aplause for both viewpoints, even as there was trepidation in sharing views which some knew were counter to the popular opinion.
    All in all, the meeting has been respectful and gracious so far, and hopefully will continue to be so this evening.

    1. Phyllis Berz says:

      Loved your comments!

  3. Steve Farina says:

    Does anyone know the rules of attendance/ voting for tonight? Can anyone registered to vote in GB still show up and have a voice in the remaining items?

  4. Jennifer Clark says:

    I called Marie Ryan, our Town Clerk, and any GB registered voter will be admitted tonite. They do not have to have attended last night. She will have and additional 150 warrant books available. The colored cards we hold up for voting will be a different color. Everyone has to check in and get one of those, at least.

  5. Jennifer Clark says:

    COME ONE, COME ALL! I spoke with Marie Ryan, our Town Clerk, and any GB registered voter will be admitted tonite. They do not have to have attended last night. She will have an additional 150 warrant books available. The colored cards we hold up for voting will be a different color. Everyone has to check in and get one of those, at least.

  6. Michael Wise says:

    Tonight’s session of the annual town meeting is open to all registered GB voters, whether or not they attended last night’s first session. New, different colored voting cards will be handed out tonight. Copies of the warrant will be available, for those who did not pick one up last night.

  7. Jerry says:

    If I can’t make it to the meeting tonight, when will my next opportunity to vote on upholding the plastic water bottle ban arise? A special meeting or just the regular one in 2020?

  8. Phyllis Berz says:

    I wish the Berkshire school system would take advantage of the nonprofit, international, educational, professional development program for middle and high school teachers … take a look at Facinghistory.org … based in Brookline MA

  9. Jim Stark says:

    I noticed that the moderator, Michael Wise, seems less likely than Ed McCormick was to ask for the vote to be counted, and there were one or two times last night when doing so would perhaps have been appropriate.

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