Commentary: Differing, Compelling Views on the ‘Welcoming Town’ Article

Photo: Jim Williams (left), Dan Vernick
Editor’s note: Below is an email conversation between Board of Selectmen Chair Jim Williams and Town Meeting Member Daniel Vernick. The exchange began when Williams wrote to the community why and how he would vote on Article 10, the citizen’s petition by Anne Mahon on making Belmont a “Welcoming Community.” Vernick responded to Williams statement which the Selectmen reciprocated. In a time in our country when contrasting political views are likely to result in flaming, profane comments, the viewpoints by each Town Meeting member were treated with respect and understanding.
Jim Williams
To the community:
The BOS  voted favorable 2-1 on Article 10 at the May 1, Board of Selectmen Open Meeting with myself casting the minority unfavorable vote. So, I’ve decided to report my vote and the reasons for it in writing in advance of the report of the BOS vote at Town Meeting for public consideration:
  1. I respect Anne Mahon and the idea that the Town should express its compassion on the  topic.
  2. I understand (and cheer) her right to put forth a citizen’s petition for consideration by Town Meeting.
  3. I understand what’s proposed is not what is widely understood to be a sanctuary city or even a welcoming city as both of these  can include resolutions concerning local enforcement of federal immigration laws, 
  4. I have a deep appreciation for  Anne and the Police Department Command for the work done by the public safety statements rendering them accurately factual, thus neutral politically.

However,

  1. Belmont has already declared itself a “welcoming community” in its Town of Belmont Comprehensive Plan 2010-2020 pps. 1, 5, and 22.
  2. Also, the Vision 21 Implementation Committee report dated April 2015 mentions the idea of welcoming 80 times in the document albeit many instances relate to the surveys reported therein.  
  3. The Town conducts its affairs within the rule of law, and the BOS conducts the general direction and management of the property and affairs of the Town not otherwise provided for law and the Town bylaws for the common good. 
  4. The inclusion of a reference to public safety procedures can create for some a false impression that Belmont has declared itself a sanctuary or welcoming city or town or has joined a network of sanctuary or welcoming towns that,  in fact,  is not proposed by the motion or article.
Therefore, 
  • I am unfavorable to the motion as proposed given its redundancy, the need for all parties and agents of the Town to conduct  Town affairs within the rule of law and the common good, and the probability of a false public impression about the intent of the motion of approved.
Instead, 
  • I would propose that the BOS  commits to Town Meeting that it will charge the Vision 21 Committee with the task of updating a 2020-30  Comprehensive Plan for the Town.
Best regards,
Jim Williams
Chairman, Board of Selectmen

 

From Daniel Vernick

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the explanation – a couple of points in response:

  • Anne Mahon is one member of a broad coalition of Belmontians pushing for this Welcoming Town resolution. It was written not only by Anne but also with the help of many other TMMs, as well as the Police Department, Belmont Against Racism, and others. You make many points about how you “respect Anne Mahon” – but this resolution is not about Anne Mahon. It’s about making sure that Belmont’s immigrant community feels safe and welcome, and there is a broad coalition of Belmontians from numerous groups across town that have been working on this. 
  • You mention the town needing to conduct itself “within the rule of law.” Not only is Article 10 within the rule of law, it simply reaffirms the standard BPD policy that has been in place for years. Passage will not change any policy but will send a message that everyone is welcome in Belmont regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status. 
  • I am confused about your claim that this creates a false impression that Belmont has declared itself a sanctuary town. I will be the first to tell you that Article 10 (unfortunately) does not come anywhere near making Belmont a sanctuary town. But it’s a step in the right direction. 
  • The Vision 21 report, as you mentioned, was in 2015 – that’s before the Trump administration’s immigration orders have caused widespread fear among immigrants and people of color, as well as a sharp rise in hate speech and hate crimes. This resolution is needed to publicly reaffirm Belmont’s policies and values so that no one who lives or works in our community has to feel unsafe or fearful.
  • Similar resolutions have been passed by many other towns, including nearby Waltham, Concord, Newton, and Arlington. Most of those resolutions have been far more comprehensive than Belmont’s resolution. Every nearby city and town that has recently considered a similar resolution have passed it. If the resolution fails, Belmont will stand out as the only town in Greater Boston to reject a Welcoming Town resolution. 
  • I am confused by this statement: “I am unfavorable to the motion as proposed given its redundancy, the need by all parties and agents of the Town to conduct Town affairs within the rule of law and common good, and the probability  of a  public false impression about the intent of the motion of approved.” The exact opposite is true; this is absolutely within the rule of law, is essential to the common good, and the impression it gives to the public is that Belmont welcomes immigrants and that no one should have to live in fear. I am confused as to what you are referring to in these sentences.
  • I wish that we had a far more comprehensive resolution that would have made Belmont a full-fledged sanctuary town, but unfortunately, that is not the case – this resolution is purely symbolic and does not change any existing policies. It does, however, send a message to immigrants who live or work in Belmont that their community supports them and that they are welcome regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status.
This is not and should not be a partisan issue – all sides should agree on this resolution, which is extremely watered down and purely symbolic, as simply a statement of Belmont’s values. 
I am happy to discuss this further. I hope that you understand how detrimental the failure of this resolution would be to the emotional wellbeing of our immigrants, people of color, Muslim community (for instance, Muslim students being bullied at Chenery), and to our reputation as a town. I welcome you to reconsider your position.
Best,
Daniel Vernick
TMM Precinct 1
Jim Williams
Hi Daniel
Thanks for your email. At least,  you care enough to engage. Otherwise, here is my initial reaction to your comments: 

  1. Amongst many other things, I am a Belmontonian as well, and I don’t agree with the motion for the reasons I’ve put forth in writing.
  2. It is always possible that well-intentioned people can be working on bad policy,  yet that fact doesn’t necessarily validate a particular point of view as history has shown over and over again. 
  3. Article 10 did not start out within the rule of law from what I know of it. The Police Command and Selectman Mark Palilllo worked with Anne (who we all know which is important to understand)  to bring the motion into a neutral political space for the common good and so the motion could pass without rancor.  
  4. Great strategy to enable all to vote unanimously in favor except that it will be predictably understood by the wider public to support policies it doesn’t support which does not serve   Belmont’s common good which I have sworn to uphold.
  5. Hence, my opinion and the elephant question of “why do it” at all?.
As for the rest of your commentary, you simply say because you disagree I should agree with you. I’m going to need more than your word on that. I think we need to have more dialogue when we can if you like as I always stand to be corrected. 
Best, 
Jim 
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