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Williamstown voters OK Patriot Act resolution; ask Gov. Romney to recall National Guard from Iraq; approve 10-year tax break for Wild Oats co-op

Posted by Bill Densmore at 9:11 p.m., May 17, 2005

Williamstown voters this evening approved on a voice vote a resolution governing how police and the town library respond to the USA Patriot Act, adding the town's vote to hundreds of communities nationwide expressing concern about civil-liberties aspects of the act.

At 9:06 p.m., Town Meeting voters also approved 104-38 warrant Article 29, directing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney "to forthwith initiate legislation in Congress to effect the immediate return of all Massachusetts National Guard units and personnel now serving in Iraq." The standing vote came after the town meeting defeated, 31-93, a proposal to conduct the vote by secret ballot.

 CLICK HERE to read the full Town Meeting Warrant.  CLICK HERE to read a previous GreylockNews.COM story about the warrant items.

Earlier discussion of the Patriot Act Article 28 by proponent Ray Warner, a retired New York Times copyeditor, called the Patriot Act resolution a compilation of similar resolutions passed in communities throughout the country. He said language related to the town library's observance of Patriot Act provisions was supported by the town librarian.

Warner said three provisions related to town police. "One says, essentially don't spy on people when they are conducting protests or vigils," said Warner. "Another says don't keep presonal information on people based upon their religious or personal beliefs." The police department is also directed to advise town officials if a federal agency seeks information from local police, Warner said.

"You could say, they are not going to do any of this so why have this," said Warner. "[But] there are a lot of things done under the Patriot Act which don't make sense and don't have anything to do with catching people." He cited examples including bank practices and what were described by Warner as inexplicable variations in the way searches are conducted by Williams College security staff at public events. He said the act has the potential to create a massive database of personal information beyond review by the public.

"Williamstown Savings Bank has rules for applying for a CD which ended up with me not getting a CD there," said Warner. "They blame it on the Patriot Act but there is nothing specifically in the Patriot Act which requires them to do it."

Nobody is going to repeal the Patriot Act because of anything Williamstown voters say or do, said Warner. "But we can add our voice to the people who are saying the government has gone too far."

Speaking out against rights erosion

Retired Williams College professor Kurt Tauber spoke in favor of Warner's motion, calling the Patriot Act "excessively, hastily drafted" and a threat to the Bill of Rights. "This act does affect us as we go about our business in town," said Tauber. "Your perfectly legitimate records as a citizen can be investigated." He added: "We can escape complicity in eroding the Bill of Rights by speaking out."

Attorney Donald Dubendorf said he worried it might be a waste of time for town meeting voters to approve a motion directing police not to spy on citizens exercising First Amendment rights or investigate citizens for other than suspected criminal activities. Dubendorf said there was no reason to think the police were doing such things and if they were, "we ought to know about it." He added: "Either this is meaningless, or there is something terrifyingly important and we need to get to the bottom of this . . . the language in here frightens me."

Town Manager Peter Fohlin responded to Dubendorf that he was OK with the the resolution passing as is.

Town resident and Williams College political-theorist Mark Reinhardt spoke in favor of the resolution. He said the Patriot Act oes touch on Williamstown residents. He said 16 aspects of the Patriot Act are up for reauthorization in Washington. "It behooves us to add our voice to that conversation," he said. "We should make our voice heard now." He said he did not believe a reasonable, good-faith reading of the motion would lead a person to believe the police department is currently engaged in First Amendment or non-criminal surveillance.

Margo Krupp, a retired American Civil Liberties Union official, called the resolution, and the underlying Patriot Act "one of the most important pieces of legislation that has come before us in this country and will affect how we live in the future." The two provisions of the motion cited by Dubendorf could not be removed without "eviscerating" the petition, she said.

Motion to strike provisions fails

At 8:38 p.m. a motion was made to eliminate language in the resolution which would direct the town library to have a policy of regular destruction of records that identify the name of book borrwers after a book is returned or that identify the name of an Internet user after completion of Internet use. 

Pat McLeod, the town's librarian, said the library board reviewed and approved the section of Warner's resolution. She said the library's board already has such a policy. "So whether you strike or keep this amendment does not have a bearing on library policy," said McLeod. "We do not keep records of our borrowers. We do have a mainframe system that does have the ability to keep some overdue records. We do support the library bill of rights which protects the privacy of our patrons."

Former state Rep. Sherwood Guernsey spoke against the motion to delete the library language. "We need to support the concept that our rights need to be protected and we need to join in the national conversation about this to convince Congress to make the changes which are required," said Guernsey. "I think we protect ourselve much more by ensuring the destruction of these records."

The amendment motion was defeated on a voice vote at 8:42 p.m.

Applause for National Guard withdrawal

On the National Guard withdrawal resolution, town-meeting voters applauded after a three-minute speech in which Samuel Smith, a community farmer and former international banker, moved the resolution. Smith said it was time for the president and Congress to bring home from Iraq the National Guard as well as professional soldiers.

Bob McCarthy, a former Marine reservist,  argued: "We are not going to solve the problem of Iraq with this vote."  He said National Guard volunteers know when they sign up that they may be involved in conflict. He said he never had to go to war, but he said if he had been called, "I would have gone ... as someone who volunteered at the age of 18. You can support the war or not support the war, I am not advocating that. But if you are a soldier, you are a soldier."

Attorney Peter White opposed the Guard-withdrawal motion. He said he was troubled by the article to the extend it requires removing Massachusetts guard troops from Iraq. "I think we should take great care in identifying Massachusetts as pulling out before the task is done."

Tax break approved for Wild Oats

Earlier, Williamstown voters at the annual Town Meeting adopted by a unanimous voice vote a 10-year tax break for the town's only supermarket -- the cooperative-owned Wild Oats Community market. There was no discussion and no opposition.

Wild Oats is completing an estimated $1-million renovation of the former Dox Video property on Main Street (Route 2) and will then move from its smaller location at the Colonial Shoppping Center. The 10% break on property taxes over the next 10 years was enacted under the state's Tax Increment Financing (TIF) provisions.  The finance committee had approved the break.

With no opposition and on voice votes, town meeting voters also approved general government spending of $5.36 million for the next fiscal year, up from $5.2 million in spending this year, and also approved requested appropriations for both the local public schools and the Mount Greylock Regional School District.

Approved spending included:

-- A 3.9% increase in water/sewer rates, to $2.61 per 100 cubic feet of water used.
-- A 2.7% increase in general government expenditures, to $5.4 million.
-- A 3.7% increase in elementary-school spending to $4.6 million.
-- A 3.7% increase in the town's assessment for the Mount Greylock Regional School District to $3.9 million.  (Lanesborough's assessment is proposed to rise 4.0%, according to the school).

The largest proposed capital expenditures approved were $100,000 for a new tandem-axle dump truck, $80,000 for phase-two replacement of the Milne library roof and $75,000 for