Citizen’s Petitions and Selectmen

In a recent letter to the editor Board of Health Chairman Mr. Nadkarni wrote,

“The Wrentham selectmen did not vote to not put Billian’s second petition on the warrant. After a lengthy discussion of whether or not the selectmen should act as “gatekeepers” on petitions whose content was illegal according to town counsel, they voted to put a “hold” on the article pending more discussions with town counsel.”

When will he and my colleagues on the Board finally attain the rule?  The selectmen have no authority to act as “gatekeepers” for Citizen’s Petitions.

We went through this same thing last year when the board erroneously removed a lawfully executed and Town Clerk certified petition from the Recreation community that sought to place the funds from the sale of the excess loam and gravel at the Rice Complex into the Recreation Department budget.

Last year the board could plausibly claim ignorance on the issue of Citizen’s Petitions. But then we paid Town Attorney George Hall our hard earned tax dollars for his opinion.  His May 29, 2008 response was, “If the petition is valid, it is my view that the article cannot be removed from the warrant.”

My colleagues on the board have known this since last May, yet they once again exercised “gatekeeper” authority by voting on each of the Citizen’s Petitions proffered for this year’s Annual Town Meeting.

The backstory about that last year’s petition is worth remembering now.  It was no secret that my colleagues preferred the money from the “dirt pile” sale go to the general fund.  That was a reasonable position, one which Town Meeting should have had the opportunity to consider.

However, the actions taken to thwart it were not.  First a member of the board made allegations about the validity of the signatures. Then a police investigation followed.  The matter was referred to the District Attorney’s office.  It was determined that no crime was committed.  Reputations were injured.   Out of fear, the petitioner asked that it be withdrawn.  A vote to remove the petition followed.

The end result was that the money went into the general fund.  And Town Meeting was deprived of the opportunity to vote on the matter.  Sound familiar?

Much has been made of “free speech” lately.  And indeed that is one of the founding principles of our great nation. But what about that  other pillar of democracy and civil society, the rule of law?

Citizen’s Petitions are the bedrock of our form of government.  They are guaranteed by Massachusetts law for the purpose of giving community members the opportunity to have input in local affairs.

When public officials knowingly and unlawfully overstep their authority they deprive us of our most basic democratic rights. What do YOU think about that?  The local election is the one place where you cannot be ignored.  Vote on April 6, 2009.

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