The Winchester selectboard took a puzzling position last week when it refused to take a position on a declaration of inclusivity submitted by town residents.
The resolution was presented to the selectboard at its July 21 meeting by town resident Natalie Quevedo on behalf of herself and 32 others. Titled “Resolution Upholding Commitment to Human Rights and Inclusivity,” it would, if adopted, state the town is committed to upholding human rights principles and building a community that is welcoming and inclusive by celebrating and striving for diversity and “equity and respect for all.” Though perhaps a bit wordy — the guts of the resolution are preceded by 10 introductory “whereas” clauses — it would seem an uncontroversial pronouncement of the town’s values.
And it also would be timely. Since July there have been two instances of swastikas being spray-painted in Winchester, including one on the town’s iconic Ashuelot Covered Bridge. That, Quevedo says, led her to submit the resolution, and she told the selectboard approximately 50 residents have now signed it.
Clearly, the majority of the Winchester selectboard had no stomach for taking a stand on the resolution and twisted itself in knots to avoid voting on it. When presented at its July 21 meeting, the resolution did not receive a second, presumably to give the board members more time to review and consult with an attorney on it. Eventually, the board learned its attorney had advised there was no reason not to adopt the resolution if its members wanted to, and at last week’s Aug. 11 meeting member Lindseigh Picard renewed her motion to approve the resolution.
The other members present at the meeting refused to go along, and bringing the resolution to a vote again failed for lack of a second. Chairman Ben Kilanski stated that the resolution had no legal power and that he “[doesn’t] believe in signing a document that isn’t legally binding,” a position echoed by board member Herb Stephens. That’s an odd justification and will certainly lead to inconsistency whenever the selectboard takes any non-legally binding action — for example to adopt a resolution urging the Legislature in Concord to adopt a particular law or to commend a resident for service to the town.
Kilanski also went further and argued against taking a stand on the inclusivity resolution because of the anti-hate statement he made at the June 10, 2020, meeting, at the time of the outcry that followed George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer. As recorded in the meeting minutes, Kilanski stated “it is important that we, the Select Board ... share our views ... that racism, hate, discrimination or any other types of profiling are not only ugly but unwelcome here in Winchester.” In light of that statement, Kilanski argued last week, there is no reason for the selectboard to sign the resolution.
Good for Kilanski for such a resounding statement last year, and we were glad to hear last week that he still stands behind it. Yet it’s hard to find the logic in saying a statement that “shares [the] views” of the selectboard is any more or less binding than adopting a formal resolution that articulates similar views. There’s also a substantive disconnect between Kilanski saying he still stands behind last year’s statement juxtaposed with no selectboard member other than Picard being willing to even cast a vote on the issue.
In his statement last year, Kilanski added that Winchester is a community that “has not had problems with ... hate or ignorance.” Winchester deserves to be justly proud of its community, but the recent swastika spray-painting incidents are a warning that a stronger statement by the town of its values is warranted. If the selectboard can’t bring itself to hold a vote on the resolution, those who signed and presented it should bring it to residents as a petition warrant article at next year’s town meeting.