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Town Meeting Warrant approved, but citizen’s petitions called into question

The Selectboard unanimously approved a motion to approve the Town Meeting Warrant with the provision that town counsel reviews and approves the two citizen's petitions on the warrant before the board's next meeting on April 19.

Great Barrington — The Selectboard approved most of the annual Town Meeting Warrant at its regular meeting on Monday, April 22. The annual town meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 6, 6 p.m., at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

Back at its April 22 meeting, however, the Selectboard refrained from approving the two citizen’s petitions to appear on the warrant until they were reviewed and approved by the town counsel.

The first citizen’s petition, listed as Article 26, reads as follows on the draft warrant:

To promote and uphold the spirit and values of Community Policing to which the Great Barrington Police Department (GBPD) has committed, and to enable trained professionals to fulfill the stated missions of their respective schools, libraries, and educational organizations, the GBPD will follow best practices of referring questions and complaints about educational materials to the relevant oversight bodies and their appropriate legal counsel. Specifically, the GBPD will refer any and all initial assessments, investigations, and evaluations of materials utilized in the course of said trained professionals conducting recognized educational practices to the oversight bodies (district committees, trustees, boards) and their policies.

Resident Claudia Shapiro called the legality of the citizen’s petition into question. Shapiro said that, on the original citizen’s petition that she received from Town Clerk Jennifer Messina, the petition is a request for a special town meeting to discuss the proposed policies for the police department.

Messina said that, while there are 13 signatures on the citizen’s petition, above the 10-signature threshold to make it on the Town Meeting Warrant, for a special town meeting to be called, 100 signatures would be needed.

“It was submitted during the window for the annual town meeting,” Town Manager Mark Pruhenski said.

“I understand that, but it’s calling for a special town meeting,” Shapiro said. “That’s not enough signatures, and I’m asking for the record if this will be on the warrant which is what you are approving?”

Chair Stephen Bannon agreed with Shapiro that the petition called for a special town meeting.

The proposed citizen’s petition comes months after the extensive controversy over the police department’s warrantless investigation of a teacher at Du Bois Regional Middle School over a copy of the book “Gender Queer.”

The other citizen’s petition proposed for the town meeting warrant, Article 27, asks for a zoning-bylaw change to amend a portion of Section 9.11, Mixed Use Traditional Zone, that, if approved by town meeting voters, would add several land parcels to the zone.

The purpose of the amendment, as listed in the draft warrant:

In order to address Great Barrington’s housing needs, the owners of the properties at 33 Silver Street and 35 Silver Street seek at town meeting to permit multi-unit dwellings on the properties. Prior to town meeting, the owners of each property shall record deed restrictions prohibiting non-residential commercial uses of the property.

Bannon told the rest of the Selectboard that both citizen’s petitions should be reviewed “and [the Selectboard would] see what town counsel says we should do with this.”

Vice Chair Leigh Davis agreed and made a motion to approve the Town Meeting Warrant with the provision that town counsel reviews and approves the citizen’s petitions, with the board voting unanimously to approve the motion.

Bannon said that town counsel should come back to the board with an answer by the next Selectboard meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, April 29.

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